May 18, 2014
The other day I was listening to a podcast from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation called The Spirit of Things. The topic for the program was the importance of faith in people’s lives. When the host of the program, Rachael Kohn, asked the Christian on the program what his favorite verse in the Bible was he said, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s John 14:6 where Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father save by me.” When Rachael Kohn asked him why that verse was his favorite of all the verses in the Bible, he said it was because that verse had assured him that he had found the one and only way to get to heaven.
I think that is so interesting. Is that really what this verse means? Is this proof that Christians, or more narrowly those who his man would describe as real Christians, have cornered the market on salvation? Is believing the right things what this whole thing is about, after all. That’s the whole question behind the book we are currently reading in study group. In The Future of Faith Harvey Cox points out that there is a big difference between having beliefs about Jesus and having faith, or what Cox says should be translated trust, in Jesus.
I think that’s what Jesus is getting at in this story from John’s gospel. Though that 6th verse has become the cornerstone for those who say that it’s what we believe about Jesus that matters, I think Jesus is trying to get the disciples and us to realize that it’s what we trust about him that matters.
Lots of us have read the stories about Jesus in the gospels. Or if we haven’t read them as much as we know we probably should, we are familiar with the stories. We know about Jesus. Does this interpretation that what Jesus means here that only a relatively few people are going to get into heaven and the rest are going to burn in hell for eternity sound like the Jesus we know?
It’s like that whole thing people do with their interpretations of Revelations and the end times. All of his life Jesus went about doing good. He taught us to love each other. He said there was nothing more important than forgiveness. He said we need to welcome in the outsider, to lift up the lowly. He said violence never does anything for us but create more violence. But there are a lot of people who say that when Jesus returns it’s no longer Mister Niceguy. He is going to come back and it’s going to be all about violence, death, hate, and retribution. He is going to delight in the death and destruction he brings with him. Does that sound like the Jesus we know?
Maybe that’s all true and all that Jesus wants from us is to believe the right things about him. I could be wrong, but I think this story is telling us that what is more important to Jesus is what we trust about him.
Let’s put this story in context. John doesn’t mention the Last Supper in his gospel, but he spends several chapters of the gospel writing about what happened on the night that Jesus was betrayed. The men and women who were with Jesus hadn’t figured it out yet, but Jesus was saying good-bye to them. Jesus knew that in a few hours the Romans were going to grab him and that he would be, literally, picking up his cross.
He’s the one who was about to be dragged off, tortured, and hung naked on a cross. But he was trying to comfort them. So he said to them don’t be frightened by what’s about to happen. Trust God, trust me. He said stuff to them that should have been said at his funeral. “I go to prepare a place for you, in God’s house.” And then he said something that I think is at the heart of this story, “you know the way.”
Thomas replies to that by saying, “You are out of your mind Jesus. Like just about always, we have no idea what you are talking about. We don’t know the way. We need a roadmap, the directions. You know go right for 4.5 furlongs and turn left on to the road of Jericho. If you reach Bethany you have gone too far. That kind of thing.” The disciples so desperately wanted something they could put their hands on, something that would show them the way so they wouldn’t have to figure it out.
Jesus had to be so frustrated. Here it was at the end and they still didn’t get it. So he just looked at them and said, “You don’t get any things like doctrines, statements of faith, or creeds. You don’t get things to believe about the way. You just get me. Because I am the way. You’ve got to trust that the way I have lived is what will get you to God’s house.”
I don’t think Jesus simply meant heaven when he was talking about the many rooms in God’s house. For Jesus, living in the presence of God was being in God’s house and there was plenty of room for everyone. The road or way to heaven starts on the roads of this world.
So Phillip chimed in, Phillip who was one of the first disciples that Jesus called, one of those who had been with Jesus the whole time. And he said what we need you to do Jesus is show us God and we will be satisfied. So Jesus looks at Phillip and said, “You know Phillip you have been with me this whole time and don’t you get it. Don’t you realize that I’ve been showing you God this whole, crazy time. You’ve seen me. Don’t you trust that what I’ve shown you is who God is? Sure it’s different than anything you have ever been taught about God. Just think about it. Look at what I have done. I have shown you God over and over. And it’s not over yet. One of these days you will see that you do trust me, trust that I have shown you the way to God, the way to be in God’s presence.”
It wasn’t over because Jesus not only had this great trust in God but he also trusted that the disciples would become what he had always imagined they would become. They would, he trusted, do greater works, we would do even greater works than he did. How? By trusting the way Jesus showed us. Trusting that he had shown us God. The greater works are not miracles and great shows of faith and Christian courage. The greater works come because of the faith and trust that following Jesus is all about.
Jesus set us on the way that leads to truth and life, the way that shows the world God. That is all the work we need to do. Just trust that what Jesus did and said and what he showed us about God was right. And amazing things will happen. And if we need help along the way Jesus says just ask, and we will get what we need.
That guy in Australia said John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me,” was his favorite verse. The more I go on, the more my favorite verse is simply the one where Jesus says ‘follow me.’ And I trust him that it is in the following that I will discover that he is the way to truth and life.”