Text: John 14:1-14
Title: The Way
This text is frequently read at funerals, and for good reason.
It contains promises that are profoundly comforting in the face of the death of a loved one.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Believe in God; believe also in me.
2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that
I go to prepare a place for you?
3 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 be also.
4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.
Let us pray…
The setting for the passage is Jesus’ farewell address at his last supper with his disciples.
Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet and has explained to them
what this means (13:1-20).
He has foretold his betrayal by Judas, and Judas has slipped out into the night (13:21-30).
He has told his disciples that he will be with them only a little while longer, and that where he is going, they cannot come (13:33).
He has also foretold Peter’s imminent denial (13:36-38).
No wonder the disciples are troubled.
Their beloved teacher is leaving them, one of their own has turned against them, and the steadfast leader among the disciples is said to be on the point of a great failure of loyalty.
It is as though the ground is shifting beneath their feet.
Jesus responds to the anxiety of his disciples by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” (14:1).
Jesus calls them back to this fundamental relationship of trust
and assures them that he is not abandoning them.
Rather, he is returning to his Father, which is good news for them.
In speaking of his ascension to the Father, Jesus assures his disciples that this is also their destination.
There are many dwellings in his Father’s house, and he goes to prepare a place for them, so that they will be with him and dwell with him in his intimate relationship with the Father (14:2-3).
When Jesus says that they know the way to the place where he is going (14:4),Thomas, like most characters in the Gospel, takes Jesus quite literally.
He wants directions, a road map to this place (14:5).
Jesus responds by saying that he himself is the way:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).
Now this verse is problematic for some Christians.
Unfortunately, this verse has often been used as a trump card,
or worse, as a threat, to tell people that they better get with the program and “accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour”
in order to be saved.
To interpret the verse this way is to rip it from its context and do violence to the spirit of Jesus’ words.
This statement by Jesus is a promise, a word of comfort to his disciples. Jesus himself is all they need; there is no need to panic,
no need to search desperately for a secret map. Jesus adds,
“If you know me, you will know my Father also” (14:7a).
The conditional phrase in Greek is a condition of fact, meaning that the condition is understood to be true:
“If you know me (and you do), you will know my father also.”
So that there can be no misunderstanding, Jesus adds,
“From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (14:7b).
This time it is Philip who is not quite convinced.
“Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (14:8).
Jesus’ response contains perhaps a hint of frustration:
“Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9).
Here Jesus echoes an affirmation from the prologue of John’s Gospel: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart (literally, in the bosom of the Father), who has made him known” (1:18).
This is the whole of Jesus’ mission, to make known the Father,
to reveal who God is.
According to John, Jesus, who has come from the bosom of the Father and is now returning there, is the fullest revelation of
the person and character of God.
If we want to know who God is, we need look no further than Jesus.
All the words that Jesus has spoken, all the works that he has done, come from God and show us who God is (14:10-11).
This passage has everything to do with life here and now because Jesus entrusts his mission to his disciples.
“Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (14:13-14).
Yet here is where Jesus’ promise becomes a little hard to swallow.
Greater works than these?
Greater works than healing the blind and raising the dead?
And you will do whatever we ask in your name?
We have all known the pain of praying for healing that did not come, of feeling powerless in the face of disease and death.
How can these promises be true?
Perhaps our problem is that in hearing these promises, we expect to do these greater works in the same way that Jesus did them —
with miraculous power that instantly solves the problem at hand.
Yet even miracles are not guaranteed to produce faith.
Many in John’s Gospel who witness the “signs” that Jesus performs
have trouble seeing the work of God right before their eyes.
By the way, the “kingdom of God” is not the focus of the Gospel of John.
Rather, the “signs” serve to reveal the true identity of the one
who performs them.
Perhaps the most striking difference between John and the Synoptic Gospels is the manner in which Jesus speaks.
Instead of short, concise sayings, or parables, Jesus speaks in long, extended discourses.
The metaphors and symbols of John are also different from those
in the Synoptic Gospels.
Jesus’ metaphorical way of speaking is self-referential and does not point to the “kingdom of God,” the root symbol of the Synoptic tradition.
This is because John depicts Jesus pre-eminently as the “Revealer.”
He comes from God and he reveals God.
Even the healings are occasions for long monologues in which Jesus “reveals” the deeper significance of his identity and the nature of his work.
Toward the end of John’s Gospel, Thomas sees the risen Lord and confesses, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28).
Jesus responds, “Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
This is not so much a scolding for Thomas as a blessing for us who
have not seen and yet believe, however feeble our believing may seem.
Jesus promises to be with us through the power of the Spirit,
to work in and through us to accomplish his purposes in the world.
This does not necessarily happen in easily visible, spectacular ways.
Yet wherever there is healing, reconciling, life-giving work happening, this is the work of God.
Wherever there is life in abundance, this is Jesus’ presence in our midst.
“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (1:18).
Jesus has made known to us the heart of God, and he has entrusted this mission of “making known” to us.
Where might we see Jesus’ work and presence in our midst?
How might we show others the very heart of God?
Now I want to circle back to the controversial verse, John 14:6.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
Now Jesus refers to “the way” several times in this passage.
By the way he does not name a charted route to take or a physical location to reach.
The use of the definite article “the” has led to a misinterpreted suggestion of exclusivity inconsistent with the teaching and ministry of Jesus reflected in the gospel narratives.
Even in the Johannine account, Jesus presents an expansive care
for the whole of humanity and creation, “I have other sheep that
don’t belong to this sheep pen.” (John 10:16)
Jesus does declare himself as “The Way.”
Remember the early Christian communities, fearing persecution,
referred to themselves as “followers of The Way.”
The way is mentioned six times in the Book of Acts.
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.
About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way.
I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison,
But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets.
But Felix, who was rather well informed about the Way, adjourned the hearing with the comment,
“When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.”
Certainly, at the time of John’s writing, that phrasing – THE WAY
would have been known, and John would have intentionally
made the connection.
It’s also important to note (in light of how this passage has been used to advance antisemitic ideology) that Jesus did not renounce
or denigrate Judaism.
His critique was cantered on religious leaders who created their own impossible standards for others to follow, who choose rigid adherence to established norms over meeting human need, and who sought monetary gain from those seeking grace.
That critique would seem to be cautionary for any religious tradition
and leaders in any age, including current Christian communities who have become lost in following The Way.
The Way is a Person, not a path or a place.
Jesus is the embodiment of an abundant and flourishing life in relationship with the Holy One and with creation.
It’s a way of being on earth as in heaven.
The Way is Truth.
The Way is Life.
The Way is an invitation to new life transformed and assured both in Christ and like Christ.
His point is that if they truly know “the way,” they do not even need to know the destination, for their arrival at the right destination is guaranteed.
There is an ambiguity to “the way” that the reader must be aware of, even though the disciples are not.
“The way” is not a literal road or path, nor a mere set of directions,
but metaphorically a “way” of life, a commitment to “follow” Jesus.
The Way anchors and centres us. The Way guides and challenges us.
The Way makes the bridging of blessed distinctiveness and difference a space for joy, celebration, and thanksgiving rather than
a reason for fear, demonisation, and retreat. The Way is the embodiment of living life abundantly.
And, when our way seems unclear, we can turn toward Jesus to find “The Way” prepared for us.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, let them embrace and rest in “The Way.”