Updated: May 17, 2020
Father Lawrence Bausch
Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)
In the name of the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
Under the weight of our current pandemic, we have been reminded in stunning ways just how “small” our world has become. The last century has seen an unexpected rise in mobility and forms of communication which put us in contact with one another in ways that can make us feel as if we were one large neighborhood. The Biblical teaching that we are all connected (Adam and Eve) has been made dramatically clear. Perhaps because of this phenomenon, today’s Gospel contains phrases which can be read in vastly different ways. In today’s homily, we will look at some of the challenges these words present and consider how we might best apply their meaning in our lives.
The primary challenge in treating John 14:6 today seems to be in the final sentence, when Jesus says “No one comes to the Father but by me”. For many, whether they like the statement or find it offensive, its primary point is exclusivity. It seems to claim, in common language, that “only Christians are saved”, or “only Christians will go to Heaven”. Some Christians preach this message. Many non-Christians use this interpretation as precisely why they are NOT Christian. To them, it sounds narrow-minded, self-centered, and irrational, and makes Christianity seem like an unloving, self-satisfied cult. I believe that this division is based on an incorrect interpretation of Jesus’ words.
To explore this, we will need to look at what Jesus said before these words. They present this challenge in a different way, and give us the opportunity to look more deeply at the root of our misunderstanding.
A fundamental Biblical teaching is that the human race is separated from God because of sin and cannot find its way back. One could say that each of us is like a jigsaw puzzle- we have all pieces necessary to complete the picture, but we’ve lost the box top and don’t know what we are supposed to look like. A central element of this condition is that we tend to believe that we are responsible, individually and collectively, to fix the problem. Therefore, we are accustomed to having prophets who point out “the way”, but not someone who IS “the way”; we are open to sages, teachers and gurus who reveal truth to us, but not someone who IS “the truth” himself; we are grateful for the various “Scriptures” which show us the “good” life and how to live it, and the variety of inspired persons who give them to us, but not a person who claims to BE “life” itself. This helps us to see why many spiritual leaders who have come after the Incarnation try to establish their credibility by rendering Jesus as a prophet (Islam, Baha’i, etc.) or as a non-unique “son of God” (Mormonism). Perhaps not surprisingly, both Islam and Mormonism are exclusivist religions in ways that Christianity is not. For us, it is Christ who is exclusive and not our religion as a religion.
How may we understand the uniqueness of Jesus?
The simple answer is based on the orthodox theology of creation, fall and redemption.
1. First, humans were made in God’s image for a loving relationship with him.
2. Second, we squandered this opportunity through our self-centered choice to doubt Him.
3. Third, we cannot fix this problem; only God can.
4. Fourth, God fixed it by uniting his divinity with our complete humanity in the Incarnation.
5. Fifth, the breach between God and man was healed in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
For this reason, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through him. In John 14:11 we read Jesus saying, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me….”
For us to say that Jesus is the way means that we see that allowing him to guide our steps from within (“not my will but thine be done”) is the way.
To say that Jesus is the truth suggests that we take our considerations and choices back to him, ensuring that what we do reflects the Gospel as we saw above.
To say that he is the life implies that it is Christ in us who is our true life, and that to live in him is how we connect most deeply with others.
To overcome the charge of exclusivity as it is often understood today, we Christians need to help others understand who Jesus Christ is and is not. We distinguish him and what he alone is capable of from the function of Christianity as an institution or belief system.
In another famous passage, John 3:16, we read, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
If we make it our daily intention to connect with those with whom our lives intersect with this same love, we can go a long way in opening levels of trust between us. This will be perhaps the most important activity we can do in sharing who Jesus truly is: our love or respect for them will build the trust which will make it possible to share Jesus Christ as the source of that love. At that point, Jesus’ declaration that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life” can be understood most clearly! Amen
LET US PRAY: Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.