The Way, The Truth And The Life

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“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going away to prepare a place for you? And if I am going away to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will welcome you into my presence, so that you may be where I am. You know where I am going, and you know the way.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have known me, you will also know my Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will satisfy us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? The person who has seen me has seen the Father. So how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? You believe, don’t you, that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own. It is the Father who dwells in me who does his works.

Believe me, I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Otherwise, believe me because of the works themselves. “Truly, truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I am doing. He will do even 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 you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.”

“Strike the Tents”
“Kiss me, Hardy”
“Such is life!”
Question: What do these three phrases have in common?
Answer: They each have three words in them!
Better answer: They are all the last words of famous men (Robert E. Lee, Lord Nelson and Ned Kelly, respectively).

Now I don’t know why so many famous last words come in three’s (‘Et tu Brute’) but I do know that in some cultures people take your last words very seriously, believing that a person’s whole life can be encapsulated in their final words.

I find that a rather disturbing theory, as I suspect that my final utterance will probably be “urrghhh”, which I hope will be a less than adequate summary of my life. Even so, I can appreciate why people take a person’s last words seriously, and I think we should take a person’s last words seriously, which is why I want to exhort you to listen up to our Gospel reading today as they contain some of Jesus’ last words.

These words from John chapter 14 are not Jesus’ last last words, of course. Those last last words, spoken from the cross, are the ones we reflected upon a few weeks back now on Good Friday, but these are amongst His last words, taken from a dialogue that took place during the Last Supper – a dialogue generally referred to in scholarly circles as ‘the final discourse’.

And if you read through the whole discourse you’ll find that it does read like someone’s last words – a little like the conversation that takes place around the bedside of someone who knows that their time is short, with their children huddled about, feeling distressed and confused and wondering what is going to happen.

“You know where I am going, and you know the way”, says Jesus (v. 4). “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” replies Thomas (v. 5), like a frightened child who has no idea what he will do if daddy isn’t there!

Indeed, the whole passage reads like a dialogue between a parent and his children. The kids are asking, “Where are you going?”, “when are you going to come back?”, “who is going to stay with us while you are gone?”

Jesus ‘disciples here aren’t so much worried about what is going to happen to Jesus as they are about what is going to happen to them without Jesus. They are uncertain, confused, they aren’t ready yet to face the world without their father, or at least, like all children who huddle around the bed of a departing parent, they don’t think they are.

And Jesus speaks to His children words of comfort. He promises them indeed that He will not leave them alone but that He will send to them ‘the comforter’ and that through ‘the comforter’ He will stil be with them, and He promises too that He will go and prepare a place for them and that when he has gone and prepared a place for them that “I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am, you may be also!” (vs. 3)
And you’ve heard those words before, I’m sure – most likely at a funeral!

I have taken a lot of funerals and I have read those words at every funeral I have taken, and I have been to quite a few funerals that others have taken and these words have been read at most of them too (the handful of secular funerals I’ve attended being the only exceptions).

We find in these words both comfort and strength in the face of death, and that is fitting, as they were spoken by Jesus with a view to giving comfort and strength to His disciples in the face of His own imminent departure and death.

It is fitting that we read Jesus’ words about the Father’s house and its many rooms when distressed by separation and death. What is ironic though, in my view, is that we never add the words that Jesus followed these with – namely, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” – as these words were likewise calculated to give comfort and strength to the weak and fearful.

Maybe some people do add these words about Jesus being the way, the truth and the life to their funeral liturgies. I’m not sure They aren’t included in the prayer book I use, and I suspect that they aren’t included in many, for I must confess that almost invariably, when I hear this verse quoted, it’s not to bring comfort to someone who is in distress, but rather it’s being used hit somebody over the head with the supposed inferiority of their religion.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. This is the verse we throw at Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus. Jesus said that He was the way, the truth and the life. Therefore everything you believe is garbage!

John 14:6 is the favourite proof text of people like Pastor Terry Jones – that character from Florida who tried to organise a Quran burning. “No one comes to the Father but by me”, says Jesus. That means that nobody who isn’t a part of the Christian fold (and, more specifically, a part of the doctrinally-correct, Evangelical, Bible-believing end of the Christian fold) isn’t going to get to the Father!

‘No one gets to the Father but by Him.’ It’s very simple! There’s only one way! It’s like booking a cabin for our bush camp next weekend. If you want to get a cabin and a bed you’ve got to come by me! Nobody comes to Binacrombi but by me, which might sound a little disturbing. Actually … nobody comes to Binacrombi but by Narelle, my assistant! Some of you who know her may find that even more disturbing!

Anyway, I get this verse thrown at me all the time because of my tendency to fraternise with people from other religious groups (most especially because of my friendship with so many Muslims of course). Well-meaning brethren confront me with this all the time – sometimes in person, sometimes by phone call, but most often via the anonymity of the Web. They say to me, “You need to read John 14, verse 6: “Jesus said … “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”

And the assumption, of course, is that I must be a no-good liberal – one of those weak-minded Christians who abandoned His belief in the Bible years ago for an ephemeral faith in the basic goodness of all people – somebody who has resigned himself to the belief that all religions are basically the same. And this is not the case at all!

I remember listening years ago to a certain local member, speaking at an anniversary of the terrible Bali bombing that cost the lives of some of our local residents here, who appalled me when he offered his analysis of the terrorist attack by saying something like, ‘what a shame that a little thing like religion should separate people so radically?’

I confronted him afterwards and encouraged him not to trivialise other peoples’ religion, assuming that theirs is just some inferior variation on your own. Most people, I would suggest, who blithely assert the equality of all religions, do so simply because they can’t be bothered to examine any religion closely enough to understand what it’s really about!

It is very easy to say the politically correct thing – that all religions are equally true and have an equal contribution to make and that nobody has a monopoly on the truth.

Personally, I think it behoves us, if we are going to reach out in love and friendship to people of other religious traditions, to start by assuming that people of other religious traditions probably take their faith just as seriously as we do ours, and by assuming that their faith understanding is probably just as complex as ours is. Of course that doesn’t mean that we therefore have to agree about everything (or anything)!

Personally, when it comes to the differences between Christianity and Islam, for example, I believe that those differences are deep and profound, but that surely doesn’t mean that I don’t have anything to learn from my Islamic sisters and brothers, just as it surely doesn’t mean that I’m obliged to show contempt for what they have to say!

That I disagree with my Muslim friends in some things surely does not mean that must disagree with them about everything, and it most surely does not mean that I don’t need to love and respect them just as much as I do everyone else.

Of course I don’t bother saying all this to those who attack me online and elsewhere, as they normally don’t have the ears to hear it, though I do sometimes point out to them what Jesus actually said – that HE was the way, the truth and the life – not that Christianity as a religion is ‘the way’, nor that Christian doctrine (as hammered out over 2000 years of creeds and councils) is ‘the truth’, let alone that life in the church – whether it be the church of Terry Jones in Florida or even church as it’s experienced in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney – is ‘the life’.

Even so, it misses the point, for these words from Jesus were never intended as a polemic, but as words of comfort and strength for disciples in distress.

When we feel anxious and alone, when we are not sure where Jesus is going or how long He is going to be or why He ever left us in the first place, He says to us, “I am the way and the truth and the life”.

‘Look to me! It doesn’t have to be so hard! It’s not that you did anything wrong or that there is some great task that you have to fulfil in order to get yourself right with the Father. I am the gate to the sheepfold. I am the way to the Father. I will take care of all of that for you. Yes, you are confused, and yes, there are lots of things you don’t understand, but you don’t have to understand everything either. Just leave all that to me. If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. I and the Father are one. You can trust me on this. There is nothing more that needs to be done. You can relax. I am the way, and I love you!’

Last words are very important. I still remember the last words my father said to me before he died. He had three words for me too: “go home son!”, to which he then added another three: “I’ll be fine!”

And I did go home, and I’m sure he is fine, and I guess he was trying to make things easier for me in what he said, and I suspect that when my time comes I’ll be trying to do the same for those I leave behind. It’s the final act of love that parents give to children, just as Jesus, in his last discourse, gives these words to us:

‘I am the way and the truth and the life. Be at peace. Relax. I’ve got it under control. Believe in God. Believe also in me! No one comes to the Father but by me.’

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