1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And 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. 4You know the way to the place where I am going.”
5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
In an online discussion group to which I belong, someone posted a message yesterday stating that “orthodox is an arrogant word.” In a sense I know what the person meant, because we have all seen orthodoxy used in an arrogant way—as a club to beat someone who disagrees with us over the head, or as a way of making ourselves out to be better than someone else.
But orthodoxy literally means “right praise” or “right belief.” Without some standard—some way—of knowing what is right belief, how do we know if what we believe is the truth or a lie? Only in matters of religion do we take this view—that it is somehow arrogant to say what is right belief and what is not. Scientists are not free to change the value of Pi or the Law of Gravity depending on how they feel about it. The notion that matters of religion are any different admits a kind of agnosticism: It assumes that we cannot know the truth. Therefore anyone who claims to know the truth is being arrogant.
Sociologists have noted two trends that have increasingly dominated western society since the 1960’s. The first is radical individualism. The second is radical egalitarianism. Radical individualism says that “I am free to believe what I want to believe.” And radical egalitarianism says, “No one else has the authority to tell me any differently.”
By that standard, John 14:6 contains the most arrogant statement in the New Testament: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” My most recent sermon at a conference in the Diocese of Albany a few weeks ago was on a similarly politically incorrect text: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12). What are we to think about these statements that speak of the uniqueness and exclusivity of the Gospel message?
It is important to note the context of Jesus’ statement: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus is giving his disciples (and all who believe in Him) this assurance: “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.”
To which Thomas responds: Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” And Jesus gives him the only roadmap he will need to enter Jesus’ promised heavenly reward: “I AM the way.”
And, lest we fail by taking our eyes off Jesus and looking to that which cannot save us, he guides us, like the Great Shepherd that he is, and gently points us to the straight path: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
It is also important to note when this conversation between Jesus and the disciples occurs. (And remember that the original text had no chapter and verse divisions.) Jesus has just predicted that Judas would betray him to death and that before the rooster crowed the next morning, Peter, the chief of the apostles, would deny him three times. Then, with no change—same setting, same conversation—Jesus says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
When we fail Jesus, betray, and deny him: He says the same to us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me… I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, you may be also.”
And when we say, “But Lord, we do not know the way,” He assures us: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is not the statement of arrogance. This is the statement of God’s true LOVE and GRACE.