Chapters fourteen through sixteen of St. John’s Gospel are referred to as Last Supper Discourses. Chapter seventeen follows these discourses with has become known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. I want to emphasize here that Scripture scholars refer to these important passages in the plural – discourses.
Such discourses are not uncommon in the Scriptures. Important personalities in both the Hebrew and the Christians Scriptures will often offer a final statement before they die. In so doing, Jesus is following in the footsteps of the patriarchs of the Book of Genesis, Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy, and King David in the Book of Kings. Sometimes they are short statements, but in the case of Jesus it is rather long. One can almost imagine the evangelist trying to cram all of his memories of Jesus’ last night into one beautiful discourse.
The opening passage of the farewell discourse is the well-known I AM statement: I AM the way, the truth and the life. To fully understand what Jesus is saying and what the evangelist is trying to convey in this statement, we must consider what the Christian community is experiencing at the moment that John is writing this Gospel.
These men and women are fearful for several reasons: persecutions are beginning to flare up throughout the Roman Empire, almost all the eyewitnesses to Jesus' life, ministry, passion, death, resurrection and ascension have died, and they are being expelled from the Jewish synagogues. One might think that the last of these three would be the least important. However that thought comes from our mindset. For the Jewish Christians, we have to remember that the Temple and the synagogue represented a way for them to enter God's presence. Without it, they could not experience God's presence in their lives. Chapter fourteen begins and ends with an admonition to put aside such fears.
It is best summarized in the three-fold invocations of the Penitential Rite we used this morning:
Lord Jesus, you have shown us the way to the Father. . .
You have given us the consolation of the truth. . .
You are the Good Shepherd leading us to eternal life. . .
With these assurances girded around our waist, we really have nothing to fear.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator