The Way, The Truth, The Life
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where [I] am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.
John 14, 1-10
“No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14, 6
I have not been misquoted. I really have said – on numerous occasions, in fact – that Bibles ought to be kept locked up in a fortress surrounded by artillery troops and sharpshooters. I actually have stated that no one should be allowed to touch a Bible without doctor’s orders. In this, of course, I’m being provocative. I’m being deliberately provocative because it’s clear to me that all of us – particularly believers – need to recognize what a dangerous, dangerous instrument the Bible is. For many, reading scripture is playing with fire. More apt, perhaps, is to say that reading scripture is playing with nuclear weapons.
I don’t come away from the passage I just quoted with any information at all about what is going to happen to me when I die, or about who will go to heaven, or about who will be kept out of heaven, or about how to determine who has been saved and who hasn’t. That’s not what the passage is for – but there are a lot of people who claim to have garnered answers to these questions while reading this passage. These ‘answers’ about salvation and the afterlife have been the source of a mountain of human misery over the generations. These ‘answers’ have walled people off from each other and generated oceans of mistrust. These answers have severely distorted the truth – which is that God is calling us to be reconciled one to another. God wants each of us to stand in solidarity with the entire human family and to be tireless in our efforts to form brotherly and sisterly bonds with each other.
Reading the Bible does you no good if you misread it. You’re far better off being ignorant of the Bible than misinterpreting it. The reason we can concoct such wildly different interpretations is that a person is only going to find, in scripture, what he or she is looking to find. Our understanding is shaped by the questions that are pressing to us, the questions that are uppermost in our minds – and we give ourselves away with the questions we ask.
Let me draw an analogy. Imagine an elderly woman on a hospital bed. Her doctor has told her that she needs immediate surgery in order to live; but that there’s no guarantee the surgery is going to be successful. The priest has been called and he’s at her bedside, administering the sacrament. Also at her bedside are her grown children. The sons and the daughters are all together but they’re each having their own experience depending upon what is uppermost in his or her heart.
The elder daughter is wondering how much pain her mother is going to have to suffer, the elder son wants to know what her chances are of ever being well again. The younger daughter is trying to figure out how she can show her mother how much she loves her; but the younger son has the most interesting question of them all. He’s trying to figure out how soon after she dies her will is going to be read.
Same hospital room. Same mother. And yet, each child’s experience is shaped by whatever question matters most – whatever is absorbing his or her attention. You can see, I’m sure, how each one gives herself or himself away.
When we read scripture we encounter the Word of God. That is, we meet Jesus where he is. To open the Bible is to be transported to Calvary for a private audience with the Christ. How will you make use of your opportunity? What question will you offer to the bleeding, dying, divine Savior of the World? Are you going to open your mouth and say, “Am I going to be rewarded with everlasting happiness in heaven?” That might be what you’ll say. That might be what you’re saying – and if it is you’re giving yourself away.
Suppose, however, that you approach the Lord with a heart full of gratitude. Suppose you are eager to thank him for the joy that can only come from knowing the Father. What question would you ask? It seems to me that you would want to know how to help others become as joyful as you are. The question you ask will determine what you take away from the encounter.
To those who are aflame with a desire to share with others the happiness they themselves know, what matters most is learning what they can do to bring others to the Father. For these, it is of immense practical concern to discover that their task is to simply get out of the way. You can not bring someone to the Father, neither can I. It’s the work of Jesus, and any action that is rooted in us is going to be counterproductive.
We can, and should, devote a lifetime to the task of learning the knack for ‘not doing’. Much to my surprise, I’m not actually that important in God’s work of salvation. As a matter of fact, I’m an impediment. My ‘gospel’ won’t save anybody. When I read the fourteenth chapter of John my eyes are open to the importance of acquiring humility. I come to understand why I should actually desire to become meek. It finally makes sense to me why St. Paul said, “In my weakness I am strong.” Little by little I come to terms with the counterintuitive wisdom of the Church.
Jesus preached a gospel of repentance – “Repent, and receive the Good News.” That is, “First repent, receive the Good News afterward.” The person who tries to receive the Good News without repenting is only going to find bad news. Bad news for him, and bad news for everyone else as well.
Repentance is tough; but it’s pretty straightforward. Just get over yourself! The shocking truth is that you’re really nothing, you’re nobody; but when you examine your life you’ll see how many of your behaviors and attitudes and feelings derive from the ludicrous notion that you’re more important than others. In your self-examination you’ll discover how selfish you are, and how much you discriminate. That’s what you’ve got to repent. It’s only after you come to terms with the fact that you’re not the way, the truth and the life that you can make sense of what God is saying to you.