I'm blogging with the lectionary this year, and this week's Gospel reading comes from John 14:1-14:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (NIV)
Sometimes we give the disciples a hard time.
We chuckle with incredulity at their petty disputes over who will be greatest in the kingdom. We smile at their perpetual confusion over Jesus’ parables and roll our eyes at their requests to call down fire on their enemies. We’ve forever enshrined poor Thomas as “Doubting Thomas,” Peter as the denier, James and John as the guys who slept through the transfiguration. We’d like to think that, had we walked with Jesus in the flesh, we would have gotten it the first time. We would have understood. We would have known.
It’s tempting to have the same reaction to the portion of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse we find in John 14. After many months of serving alongside Jesus, the disciples are sharing an intimate meal with their Teacher who, to their dismay, is hinting about his impending death.
When Jesus tries to comfort them, they demand more revelation. Thomas wants to know the way to the Father's house. Philip asks to see God.
“After all this time,” Jesus responds, “you still don’t know who I am?”
It seems preposterous to us that people could be in the presence of Jesus day in and day out, for three years, and not recognize their experience as a God-encounter, as a brush with the almighty.
But is it?
How often do we ignore God when God is right under our noses? How often do we miss God’s presence in the very places Jesus said we would find it—in bread, in wine, in water, in the Word, where two are three are gathered in his name, among the least of these? How often do we let our preconceptions about what God ought to look like and what God ought to do keep us from getting involved in where God is actually moving?
Like the disciples, we have a bad habit of getting so bogged down in our esoteric quests to know all about God that we miss God’s very self when God shows up in ordinary things like water and wafers, the sick and the poor, the Church and even the incarnation.
Here, Jesus offers a corrective. He reminds Thomas that faith isn’t knowing about the way; faith is knowing the Way. He reminds Phillip that faith isn’t knowing about God; faith is knowing God. Truth is not a proposition. Truth is a Person. And that Person doesn’t always show up in the ways we expect—in our lives or in the lives of other people— so we best keep our hearts open.
Now, John 14 has become a go-to text for discussions around salvation, exclusivism, and religious pluralism, which are worthy discussion to have, but that tend to pull verse six out of its context. I won’t say much about that today, except to mention that it’s worth keeping in mind that these words were spoken in an intimate setting among Jesus’ closest disciples, so we should be careful of interpreting them as applicable only to those who believe differently than we do.
After all, when Jesus describes judgment, he doesn’t give us the image of himself standing, arms folded, in front of the gates to the kingdom declaring, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.”
No, when Jesus describes judgment, he says, “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick an din prison and you did not look after me…”
In other words: “I was right under your nose and you missed it.”
Let those with eyes see. Let those with ears hear.
So, with this in mind, it’s a relief to see how patient Jesus was with his disciples. Even after they missed out and misunderstood over and over again, Jesus kept showing up, offering grace and giving them another chance.
I suppose I'll be smirking a little less next time I read of their misadventures.
D. Mark Davis with "Incarnational Truth vs. Propositional Truth"
Emily Heitzman with "Jesus as The Way of Life"
Questions for discussion and reflection:
This is a lengthy passage with more angles than could be covered in a single blog post, sermon, or even a book. (We didn't even talk about the house with many rooms!) What stood out to you? What imagery resonated with you? What words or phrases gave rise to questions, ideas, convictions, or insights?
What do you think Jesus meant when he said to Thomas, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"?
And if you too are blogging with the lectionary, or have written about this passage in the past, please leave a link to your post in the comment section.
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