Serving Him in the Tangle: 5th Sunday Easter
The Apostle Thomas speaks three times in the Gospels. Most famously, in the episode after the Resurrection when he is unable to believe until he sees the Lord and says, “My Lord and my God.” He also has what I think is the most heroic speech of any Apostle before the Resurrection, when Jesus insists on going to probable death in Jerusalem and Thomas tells the others, “Then let us go die with him.” Today we’ve heard the only other time he speaks in the Gospels. Three doesn’t sound like many times, but it’s more than most of the Twelve. This time, it’s a brief but profound interchange between Thomas and the Lord.
Jesus begins by speaking in a familiar vein. “Do not be afraid” is one of his constant themes, and here he begins by saying “Let not your hearts be troubled… in my Father’s house there are many rooms… you know the way where I am going.” It sounds reassuring and serene.
But Thomas isn’t quite buying it. “We don’t know where you’re going, much less the way!” And I love him for that, because he’s speaking for all of us at one time or another. We aren’t always calm and serene. We don’t always go through life with the peaceful assurance that we’re heading the right direction on the right path. So God bless Thomas for his honesty and for giving voice to all the people who feel lost or insecure or unsure. It takes a good solid relationship with Jesus to be able to face him with all our doubts and questions, with no pretense or show. “Where I am going you know the way,” Jesus says. “No we don’t!”, Thomas replies, and if you can’t relate now, there has been or there will be a time when you can. Thanks to Thomas trusting the Lord enough to say it out loud, we have the Lord’s reply recorded for all time on the Sacred Page.
“I AM the way, and the truth, and the life.”
He’s the answer to both big questions: where are we going, and how do we get there? And those are questions that vex us on every level. It’s true of humanity as a whole, fallen and confused and torn in a thousand conflicting directions. It’s very much true of our nation: we can’t agree on what the good is we wish to achieve, still less how to achieve it. Most poignantly, it’s true on a very personal level. Where I am headed? And even tougher, what’s the path to get there? I don’t mean generically, I mean specifically: we’re asking, “what’s my path, right here, right now?” These questions can spin you about until you’re ready to despair of having a life of purpose and meaning. Then you’re just sort of coasting, and your life isn’t really about anything, and in the end you’ll look back on it and think, “hmm, was that it?”
As is so often the case, Jesus’ answer is simple but not easy. “I am the way and the truth and the life.” He’s the path and He’s the destination. And that’s enough. You might have been looking for something a little more pedestrian, but the fact is there’s only one satisfying fulfillment of our lives, and only one way to get there, and Jesus Christ is the answer to both.
That doesn’t tell you whether you should make the sacrifices necessary to send the kids to Catholic School across the river, or whether you should go for that career change, or what kind of care is best for your elderly parents, or whether you should marry the person you’re dating… sometimes we want God to do all our thinking for us, and that’s just not something that God does.
It brings to mind a line spoken by another St. Thomas; actually I can’t figure out whether St. Thomas More said these words or whether they were placed in his mouth by playwright Robert Bolt, but here is the quote: “God made the Angels to show His splendor — as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind.”
I remember those words often when I’m wondering why things are so confusing, why the path is so hard to find, why the way ahead is obscured in such heavy fog all the time. God made man to serve Him in the tangle of his mind. Having a mind all tangled up is frustrating and exhausting, but it’s tremendously comforting to realize that precisely this is our calling and precisely thus God has asked us to serve Him. He has other creatures to do His will with perfect precision and clarity. He has us to serve Him in our uncertainty, our tangledness, our muddling through. If you think God wants you to serve Him with perfect clarity and certainty, then you’re going to feel like a total spiritual failure, and lots of people do feel exactly that. But if you can take to heart the insight of Thomas More, and the answer Jesus gives to Thomas the Apostle, you’ll still have the unclarity and uncertainty, but you’ll know that you can serve God exactly in the midst of them.
He is both the destination and the path: the way, the truth, and the life. So live your life and make your decisions, as best you can. Pray constantly for guidance but accept that God sometimes wants you to serve Him in the tangle of your mind. And trust that as long as you’re with Christ things are going to turn out fine. Because then your life is about something, and in the end you’ll look back on it and think, “hmm, He really was with me all the way.” Let not your hearts be troubled! And ask for some help and inspiration from St. Thomas the Apostle and St. Thomas More, who each in their own way could be the twin Patron Saints of Muddling Through.