Quiet Houses

Quiet Houses

Homily for Easter 6

May 22, 2022

Quiet Houses

Homily for Sunday, May 22, 2022
Sixth Sunday of Easter
John 14:23–29

Jesus said to Judas (not Iscariot), "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

These words from today’s Gospel are Jesus’ answer to a question posed by “Judas (not Iscariot)”—but… what was that question?  Today’s Gospel offers a “Jeopardy”-like moment to guess the question that prompted Jesus’s answer.  Did Judas ask Jesus, “What does it mean to be your disciple?”  Or did Judas ask (under, say, “Trinitarian theology” for $1,000), “Who is the Father?”  Or perhaps Judas asked (under “Christian Basics” for $2,000), “What is love?”  What was the question that prompted Jesus to answer, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

Judas’ question is in the verse immediately preceding today’s lesson: “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”  Judas’ question is worth noting because his question—“How is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?”—plays into one of the key tensions in John’s Gospel: that of public versus private, of what is large and visible and meant for all, versus what is small and quiet and meant for only a few.

For example, in John Jesus’ ministry and teaching are at once “private,” intended for “his own”—“He came to what was his own,” writes John (1:11)—and yet Jesus’ ministry and teaching are public, intended for all—“I am the light of the world,” says Jesus (8:12).  Or again, in John Jesus’ suffering and death are public, for all—“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (12:32)—but Jesus’ resurrection is private, Jesus first appearing only to Mary Magdalene (20:11–18) and then only to the eleven (20:19–29).

The “public / private” tension in John’s Gospel plays out in John’s account of the sending of the one whom John calls “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.”  “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,” says Jesus, “whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything.”  Whereas in Luke’s Gospel the coming of the Holy Spirit is very much a public event—as we will hear in two weeks’ time at Pentecost, in Luke the Spirit came with “a sound like the rush of a violent wind” upon a “crowd” of “devout Jews from every nation under heaven,” that was so numerous Peter in his speech addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem” (Acts 2:1–21)—in John, the coming of the Holy Spirit is quiet and private.  John’s “Pentecost” happened “When it was evening,” writes John (20), in a house, “the doors of [which]… were locked” (20:19), where Jesus “breathed on them”—just on them, the eleven—saying, merely, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  No “rush of a violent wind,” no “tongues, as of fire,” no speeches to “all who live in Jerusalem.”  John’s “Pentecost” was so small, so quiet, that Rilke could have been speaking of this, John’s “quiet Pentecost,” when he wrote (of God), “Du bist der Leiseste von Allen, die durch die leise Häuser gehn”—“Of all who move through the quiet houses, you are the quietest.” (The Book of Monastic Life, I, 45) (p 105)

About houses and homes—which Jesus mentions in today’s lesson: “Those who love me will keep my word…and we will come to them and make our home with them”—they, too, play a role in John’s Gospel.  It was to “where he was staying” that Jesus invited the first disciples to “Come and see,” and they remained with him that day (1:39).  It was “the home of Lazarus” (12:1) toward which Jesus was going when he raised Lazarus from the dead.  Again, it was in the home of Lazarus in which Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with nard, such that “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (12:3).  And at the crucifixion, Jesus said to the disciple whom he loved, “’Here is your mother.’  And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home,” writes John (19:27).  When Jesus says in today’s lesson that, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them,” he does so from within a rich context both of inviting and being invited into the intimate space of people’s homes.  If Luke’s Pentecost is one of being sent out to “pour out [God’s] Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17), and is cosmic in size and spectacle, with “portents in the heaven above, and signs on the earth below,” as Luke writes (quoting the prophet Joel) (Acts 2:19), John’s coming of “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit” is small, quiet and inward, into individual hearts, where Jesus and the Father “will come to them and make our home with them.”

While grateful to Luke for the pomp and imagery of Pentecost—what would Pentecost be without Luke’s “violent wind” and his “tongues, as of fire”?—John’s “quiet Pentecost” invites us more fully to recognize and appreciate not only how much Jesus seeks to enter our lives, but also the quiet way in which Jesus tends to enter our lives.  Writing about that quiet way, here is the former Pope, Benedict XVI:

It is part of the mystery of God that God acts so gently… that God becomes human and so can be overlooked… that he suffers and dies and that, having risen again, he chooses to come to humankind only through the faith of the disciples to whom he reveals himself; that he continues to knock gently at the doors of our hearts and slowly opens our eyes if we open our doors to him.  And yet—is this not the truly divine way?  Not to overwhelm with… power but to give freedom, and to offer and elicit love. (Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, page 276)
The Risen One … must be perceived… by the heart, in a way so that God may take up God’s abode within us.”  (St. Peter’s Square, October 11, 2006)

“Of all who move through the quiet houses, you are the quietest,” wrote Rilke.  John’s “Pentecost” is quiet and intimate because John’s experience of God is not of a God who overwhelms with power, but who wishes to have with us a relationship of freedom, and in which God offers and elicits love.

I wonder, where might the Risen One gently be knocking on the doors of your heart?  I wonder, where might Christ be seeking with the Father to come to you and to make his home with you?  And I wonder, might you open the doors of your heart to let him in, to receive the peace that he wishes to leave with you, his own peace that he wishes to give you?  If we but had eyes to see and ears to hear, we would not let our hearts be troubled, neither would we let them be afraid.  For we would perceive the desire of the Risen One for us, and we would notice him, who is the quietest of all who move through the quiet houses, coming with the Father to us to make their home with us.

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