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Today is Mothers’ Day and I wanted to wish all the mothers in our midst a very blessed Mothers’ Day. And I mean this for all of you who are biological mothers, spiritual mothers, mothers in any way, shape or form. For some of us, our mums are no longer with us and that can be hard on days like these. For those who always wanted to be mothers but couldn’t, days like these are difficult too. I know during this circuit breaker period, some of our mothers are physically and geographically separated from their children and vice versa. This is true for me too and I hope we will find creative and loving ways to connect with our mothers and children in the midst of the present situation.
People often say I look and sound like my mum. And that reminds me of what Jesus said in our passage for today. Jesus was talking to the disciples before he was going to leave them. John 14 was part of his long farewell conversation with them before his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Jesus was comforting them and told them not to let their hearts be troubled, to trust in God and also in him. Thomas said they had no idea where Jesus was going and Jesus replied, “If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is.” And then Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father and then they will be satisfied. By now, Jesus was probably a little exasperated with the disciples. He said, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!”
“Have I been with you all this time, and yet you still don’t know who I am?”
This question gripped me when I was reading this passage. It gripped me because I realized Jesus was asking me the same question too. This question was originally directed at the disciples but it continues to be a relevant question for us who are followers of Christ today. How well do you know Jesus? Has Jesus been with you all this time, and yet you still don’t know who Jesus is?
I think we sometimes give the disciples a hard time. We think they are so clueless. If we had lived with Jesus day and night, surely we would have known the first time round. Surely we would have got it. Surely we would have understood. Here was a group of disciples who lived and served alongside Jesus for three years, and now they were sharing an intimate meal with their Teacher, and they were bewildered by what Jesus was telling them.
“After all this time,” Jesus responds, “do you still not know who I am?”
It seems crazy that people could be with Jesus day in and day out, and not recognize their experience as an encounter with the Divine — with God’s own self. “If it was us, we would have known!” That’s what we’d like to believe. But how often do we ignore God when God is right there next to us? How often do we miss God’s presence in our moments of stillness, when we’re surrounded by nature, when we’re breaking bread, when we gather together, when someone shows their love for us, when we’re among the least of these – the hungry, the hurting, the homeless? How often do we miss God’s hand at work in our lives and in the world?
We are not so different from the disciples. Like them, we sometimes get caught up in our efforts to know all about God that we miss God’s very self and presence when God shows up in the ordinary things.
That’s why Jesus’ answer to Thomas is such an important one. In verse 6, Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 7 If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”
Jesus was saying two things here. The first is that when we truly see and know Jesus, we are coming face to face with God. And the second is Jesus’ statement that he is the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through him.
This “I AM” declaration by Jesus in John 14:6 has traditionally been singled out, quoted, and interpreted to mean that believing in Jesus Christ is the only exclusive way to God and to salvation. As a result, it has often been used to exclude people by determining who’s in and who’s out of the Christian club. And I’d be the first to admit that I have been guilty of misunderstanding and misusing this verse in the past.
But today, I want us to relook at this verse together and see how we might have taken it out of context and held onto this very limited understanding, which can sometimes be harmful because we become too quick to judge where people are on their way towards God. In holding on to a narrow interpretation of this verse, I think we have missed out on a much deeper meaning of this “I AM” statement that comes with a lot more richness and responsibility for the followers of Jesus.
1. The context of this “I AM” statement
Firstly, let’s look at the context where Jesus made this declaration. When Jesus replied to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”, it was within the context of an intimate conversation between Jesus and the disciples. This was Jesus’ farewell conversation with his beloved disciples after his last meal with them and before his death on the cross. It was to tell them how they should live and treat others once he was no longer with them on earth. It wasn’t meant to be a universal statement about all other faiths, and who’s in or who’s out. It was Jesus speaking face to face with his disciples about those who follow him, and the life we are to live. So using this statement to exclude people because they don’t express faith the same way as we do is missing Jesus’ point. This statement was first and foremost for Jesus’ disciples and followers to check in with themselves how they are relating to God through Christ.
2. Knowing the Way and Truth as a Person
Jesus is reminding Thomas that faith isn’t knowing about the way; faith is knowing the Way. In the same way, faith isn’t knowing about God; faith is knowing God. And when Jesus says I am the truth, it means truth is not a doctrine or a proposition. Truth is a Person. This might be a bit hard for some of us to wrap our minds around because we are used to talking about the truth as an idea or a thought. But Jesus says he embodies the truth. He is the Truth. And when we come to know Jesus as a person, we will know the truth. This means that truth is slowly unveiled to us as we grow to know Jesus more.
As Presbyterian preacher and writer Frederick Buechner explained, “Jesus didn’t say that any particular ethic, doctrine, or religion was the way, the truth, and the life. He said that he was. He didn’t say that it was by believing or doing anything in particular that you could ‘come to the Father.’ He said that it was only by him—by living, participating in, being caught up by the way of life that he embodied, that was his way” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking).
Faith is about us knowing Jesus intimately and coming to the Father by “being caught up by the way of life that Jesus embodied, that was his way”.
3. ή όδὸς: “The Way”
When Jesus said “I am the Way”, I think he meant “way” as in the course of behaviour or a way of life, and not the pathway somewhere. I say this because in v.5, Thomas disputes Jesus and says they do not know where he is going, so how can they know the way? It is clear that Thomas is speaking of “the way” as a route, a plan or a pathway towards a place. But Jesus comes back with the reply that “the way’ is not something knowable like a map, but something knowable like a person.
When we look at these three points put together, it becomes clear that Jesus was focusing on the importance of our relationship with him in this passage. If you read John 13 and 14, you would see that Jesus was basically setting the example of what it means to love and serve others the way he does. What he tells his disciples is that we are to love one another the way he has loved us. We are to wash each other’s feet, to serve and take care of one another, the way Jesus washed his disciples’ feet during the Last Supper. This was his way.
And immediately after this farewell conversation, if we follow through to the end of Jesus’ earthly life, we see that Jesus’ way also involves death and resurrection. And that’s what Jesus means by “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” For us, this means dying to an old way of being and being born into a new way of being, into a new life. In John 12:24, Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus’ way to God involves us dying to an old way of being and being born into a new way of being, into a new life. This means growth and transformation like the kernel of wheat that falls into the earth and dies so that it can grow anew and bear much fruit.
With this in mind, instead of using this John 14:6 verse to judge others for not “believing” in Jesus, maybe we need to ask ourselves and our Church how are we following in Jesus’ way? And how are we not following Jesus?
Maybe we need to be asking ourselves: how are we loving and serving others like Jesus did? How do we take care of the outcasts, the sick, the oppressed, the poor, the hungry, the hurting, the homeless? How are we challenging and changing the unjust systems that take advantage of the marginalized? Are we ready to lay down our old ways of being and allow God to birth new ways of being and doing in us? To come to the Father through Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life, we need to first be willing to lay down our lives, our old ways of being, and let God birth new ways of being in us.
During this period of upheaval and uncertainty, we may be tempted to ask where is God in all this? Perhaps like Philip, we are asking, “Show us God! Show us some proof that God cares. Then we will be satisfied.”
In the prologue to John’s gospel, John explains, “No one has ever seen God but Jesus the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known.” In other words, he is saying if you want to know what God is like, if you want proof that God cares, look at Jesus. Look at how Jesus loves you. Look at what Jesus did to show us God’s heart. Look at Jesus.
Jesus, who was born as an oppressed minority in an occupied land,
Jesus who was an immigrant,
Jesus, who surrounded himself with the poor, the sick, the marginalized and the “untouchables,”
Jesus who was criticized by the religious for hanging out with sinners,
Jesus who treated women with dignity and respect,
Jesus who taught his disciples to love their enemies, to give without expecting anything in return, to overcome evil with love,
Jesus who suffered,
Jesus who wept,
Jesus who – while hanging on a Roman cross – said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Through his life, Jesus showed us that God suffers, God forgives, God fellowships with the poor, God cares for the sick, God loves God’s enemies.
And with a God like this, let me ask you:
• How is your heart troubled today?
• How does knowing that ‘Jesus is the Way’ comfort, guide and inspire you?
• How is the ‘Way of Jesus’ especially relevant to you in and for our world today?
Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.” God’s promise to love us, to make room for us, to know and be known by us, never ends. Therefore our hearts need never be troubled. God is with us even in this time, and we can continually come to God our Parent through Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life.
And Jesus doesn’t just end here. In John 14:12, he gives a commission to the disciples and to all of us, the present-day disciples, to continue this work when he is physically gone from this earth. 12 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.”
In other words, Jesus is saying: “Now it is you who will be my hands and feet in the world. I am depending on you to love the world — to love and to serve others the way I have loved and served you. Know that you are never alone and I have given you all you need to do the same things I have done. Grow in my way, my truth, my life. The more you know me, the more you know God.”
As children of God, may we all grow in the likeness of God as we grow to know Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Amen.