The Biltmore Estate outside of Asheville, North Carolina, is the only work of George Washington Vanderbilt II. The 178,926-square feet mansion was constructed between 1889 and 1895. It sits on 800,000 acres amid the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Last year, a group of colleagues and I attended an event near the Biltmore. After the event, we drove to the mansion for a tour. As we walked up the road to the entry, we could not stop staring at the enormous and elaborate structure before us.
Wide-eyed and with our mouths agape, one of my colleagues mumbled, “I wonder if this is what Jesus meant by mansion?” While my friend meant it as a joke, his question is interesting to ponder.
In the Gospel of John (chapter 14), Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; also believe in me. In my Father’s house, there are many mansions. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself so that where I am, there you may also be. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
Sometimes, it can feel as though Jesus is talking in riddles. “Many mansions” and “You know the way” are perplexing and confusing phrases.
The disciples had no concept of what it meant to live in a mansion. When they traveled with Jesus, they slept on the ground just like their teacher. Mansions were for the rich and powerful, not for fishermen of their social rank.
Thomas speaks up and expresses the disciples’ confusion, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
His question seems to hint at the confusion and interest in these mansions. If Jesus knows something they do not, then he should tell them.
Jesus, then, reveals the actual lesson: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.”
For me, Jesus was not talking about a literal mansion like the Biltmore. The Greek word used for mansion is moné, meaning a dwelling place. In my interpretation of the text, Jesus used mansion as a metaphor to signify God’s love.
More so, I do not believe Jesus was exclusively talking about life beyond, even though that’s how most Christians interpret the passage. Instead, Jesus was talking about the importance of radical inclusion in the here and now with future ramifications.
Jesus showed the disciples the way, truth and life. God’s house (the divine loving embrace) is big enough for everyone. Only when we try to exclude people does God’s love appears shallow and judgmental.
Jesus’ use of the way (hodos), truth (alétheia) and life (zóé) demonstrated the divine example he provided for the disciples. Jesus was following the way of God. Therefore, God’s love and grace were working through Jesus to extend a theology of inclusion.
He put the image of a mansion in the disciples’ heads for them to conjure a bigger divine love than they had ever imagined. Jesus knew God’s love knows no bounds. God’s love is accepting, gracious and kind.
God’s love was like the father’s actions in the prodigal son parable (Luke 15). After the son left and squandered his inheritance, the father welcomed him back with loving arms. There was no judgment. The father just embraced his son with acceptance, grace and kindness.
If Christians could just learn to build a bigger house in their hearts, then the world would be a much better place. God’s mansion would never look like the Biltmore Estate, for that structure is far too small.
CEO of Good Faith Media.