Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
As luck would have it, I’ve just happened onto a conversation that relates to our Gospel lesson. Come with me; let’s listen in…
“I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”
“Pretty profound, huh?”
“Actually that passage has always bothered me. It sounds really exclusive. I’m not convinced that Jesus really said it.”
“What! It’s right there in the Bible. It’s sacrilegious for you to say such a thing!”
“Oh, don’t be so quick to judge. Listen for a moment and hear me out. Each of the gospel writers tells the story of Jesus differently, but John is the most unique. If you look at the earlier gospel writers, of Mark, Matthew and Luke, Jesus calls himself the Son of Man, the Son of God, even the Messiah – the anointed one, but he never describes himself as the only way to God. Look at his life – he associated with tax collectors, sinners, the chronically ill – the persons society wouldn’t touch. Jesus showed compassion, mercy, forgiveness. It’s just not consistent that he would then condemn all those who would come to God in a different way.
So I asked myself just what I think this passage means. I think it means just what it says.”
“Huh?! You just said that you didn’t believe Jesus said those words.”
“I’m not convinced that Jesus actually said those words, but that does not nullify the message. This passage, along with several others in John, is not found in any of the other gospels. I think the writer of John put those words into Jesus’ mouth (a completely legitimate writing technique at that time), as a means of identifying the beliefs of his Christian community,
how they saw Jesus and interpreted his story.
In the early decades of Christianity there were many different Christian sects, just as there are today. And there was a certain amount of competition to identify the true Christianity, not to mention the tension between Christianity and Judaism; they often set themselves over and against the other. Jesus had no reason to do that. He was Jewish, and we have no indication that he ever intended to leave his faith tradition.”
“So, if Jesus didn’t say those words, what does that do to your faith? Seems to me that you’re picking and choosing what you want to believe and what you don’t.”
“It’s tempting to want to see the Bible in black and white: Interpreting Scripture literally is a modern notion that was certainly not known or intended by the writers of Holy Scripture — Old or New Testament. There are all sorts of contradictions in the Scriptures that require study, prayer, questioning, and struggling to get through.”
Why, the great Episcopal scholar William Porcher Dubose himself, said that skepticism and criticism are essential in the search for truth, for ‘What is skepticism but enquiry, investigation, examination? And what is criticism but separating, distinguishing, judging,
What’s that verse in Isaiah – ‘Come, let us reason together says the Lord.’” (1:18)
“Looks to me like you can make the Bible say whatever you want it to.”
“Exactly – if that’s what you want to do. It’s more difficult to back up and try to get a glimpse of the big picture – of who Jesus was by looking at his life and actions: what he was trying to say about God and the kingdom of God on earth, of which we’re a part.”
“Then how do you interpret this passage?”
“I think it’s important first of all to look at context: both the context of the book of John within the time and place in which it was written, and the context of the story: Who is Jesus talking to? He’s talking to his disciples, and for them, Jesus certainly is the way, truth and life. This passage is part of what is known as the farewell discourse of chapters 13-17. Jesus won’t be with the disciples much longer. He’s preparing them for that time. The disciples are confused and disoriented to hear that Jesus will be leaving them, but that they know the way.
“‘We don’t even know where you’re going, much less the way,’ Thomas responds. Jesus assures them that the way is right there with them. To know Jesus is to know the way.
“For me, Jesus is one way, one path to God. It’s my way, my faith tradition; my community. It’s gotten me through a lot in life; it’s my roots. But that’s certainly not true for everyone.
“John Spong says, ‘The only way into the reality of God is to live into the meaning of the Christ life, to discover the freedom to give yourself away.’2 The disciple of Jesus is one whose life is characterized by love, which is the laying down of their life. The disciple, like Jesus, reveals God.
“Another way to interpret this passage is to substitute the word ‘love’ for Jesus. Love is the way, the truth, and the life. No one gets to God but by love, for God is love.
“I believe if you try to live by the Commands to love God, self, neighbor, and enemy,
and use that as a measure to interpret and apply Scripture, you won’t get far off the mark.”
Interesting conversation, huh? I’m going to have to give this some more thought…
1 Armentrout, Donald S. A DuBose Reader, p.xxvi.
2 Spong, John Shelby. The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, p 185.