Let’s say that San Francisco is the beginning of the voyage. Sydney, Australia is the destination. At the same moment a tramp steamer, a luxury liner, a submarine, a sailboat, a Lamborghini, a single-engine Cessna, and a Boeing 747 airliner begin the journey. All will try to journey to the same destination. Every journey will be encounter different things along the way: storms, rogue waves, turbulence, trade winds, potholes, headwinds, end-of-the-road, and more. For a time, we might be lost, adrift, or stuck in one place. Every tale of the journey will be different. The lessons learned along the way unique. Not all will make it to Sydney. We hope that most will
In its own way, the entire Gospel of John parallels the San Francisco to Sydney trek. The destination, Jesus, is the same; there is a whole flotilla of characters – and there is the telling of moments of faith. In the telling of this Good News, John first introduces us to our destination, Jesus: the Word made flesh that makes the mercy and grace of God known in the world: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). We turn the page to John 2 we discover that Jesus, at the wedding in Cana, is the one in whose presence God’s grace is available. Jesus’ grace and mercy is like the wine, the best has been saved for last and there is a super-abundance of it pouring into the world. This is a destination worth setting sail towards.
And then St. John turns the page and begins to describe a number of encounters with various people – people like you and me: Nicodemus; the Samaritan woman; the man born blind; a person caught in adultery; Martha, Mary, and Lazarus; Peter, and Pilate. Each encounter is a chance that they “may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief … have life in his name.”
Nicodemus walks away confused. As a leader and teacher of the Jewish people, all he thought he knew had been turned around in his conversation with Jesus. He eventually figures it all out and three years later he is there at Calvary as a believer. His passage from doubt to trust took a while.
The Samaritan woman at the well comes to faith but only after a whole lot of questions. But that same day she trusts and begins her career as an evangelist of the Good News.
The man-born-blind slowly comes to belief as he is challenged to say what he believes. He dodges a question or two along the way, but in the end, he is staunch in his faith. After the same question for the umpteenth time, he replies to his inquisitors, “I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” (John 9:27) At that point, they throw the man out of the synagogue. Faith sometimes has consequences.
Martha is busy about many things and (perhaps?) fails to recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior as quickly as Mary. But I guess she got a little less busy and found a moment of quiet and came to a deep faith.
Peter walks on water, professes Jesus as Messiah, denies he is a follower of Jesus, is restored and forgiven, and begins the life of St. Peter of Rome. At the end of his life, there is a story that says St. Peter, fleeing from the persecution in Rome by the Appian Way, was surprised to come upon Jesus. So, he asked Jesus “Domine, quo vadis?” (Lord, where are you going?). And the Lord replied, “Venio iterum crufigi” (I am coming to be crucified again). Peter understood. He returned to Rome, was arrested, and crucified upside down on a cross. Peter had his ups and downs, but he believed even unto death.
Pontius Pilate gets a private conversation with Jesus. Nada. Zip. Nothing. His wife came to believe.
At the end of all of this comes Thomas, as something of a climax of this cast of characters. Thomas’ movement from skepticism to doubt – and then profession of faith – is, I think, St. John’s hope for all of us. That after hearing the Gospels, experiencing Lent and Easter, we will, like Thomas, make the confession that Jesus is our God and our all. Desu meus et omnia.
Thomas reached his own “Sydney.” We celebrate with him. Like him, we discover there are lands and oceans beyond our Sydney. And the journey continues. Thomas’ continued to the Indian Continent.
All the characters in the Gospel of John encountered Jesus in the flesh. We encounter their stories. We hear about the signs, the miracles, the people, and more. The stories are our lines of sight, our navigation beacons, our guiding stars.
More than any one of the characters and their one story, we receive all the stories and the knowledge that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”
We who have received the stories we are blessed. It is in the words Jesus says to Thomas. “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (John 20:29)
We become characters in St. John’s gospel. We set out on a journey similar to every disciple and apostles gone before us in time and place. We set out on a journey very different and yet destined for the same place. Sometimes we will be confused and unsure, sometimes there will be great moments of faith, sometimes questions leading to more questions, sometimes we will fail to recognize Jesus, and sometimes Sydney is within sight.
Upon arrival in Sydney, eventually you will hear Jesus say, “Quo vadis?
“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” There are always more people to hear the story. Quo vadis?