If you have a red-letter edition of the Bible, then you know the longest section in the entire New Testament comes between chapters 12 -18 of John’s Gospel. Five straight chapters of Jesus talking almost without interruption. After his public ministry ends and his passion begins, Jesus has a lot to say in this farewell discourse because he’s trying to prepare the disciples for his departure.
And leaving is devastating, especially when it is the Savior of the World. In response to the feelings of abandonment and coming isolation, Jesus offers his most comforting language, a series of statements intended to embrace the disciples long after he’s physically gone.
And yet, today’s scripture, verses 6 and 7 in particular, have been plastered on signs and shouted from pulpits as weapons to inflict harm, as trials to render judgments, all in God’s name. So the question for us today is, considering the background and Jesus’ intention, why has this text been so misunderstood?
John 14:1-14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, 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, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? 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 say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do 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 in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
Jesus isn’t talking to outsiders, but preaching to the choir.
God has a room for everyone.
We don’t have to spend our time troubled by life because God will take care of us.
Group of people, tells Rev. Jim Walker, were gathered for festive conversation about God and life. An angry middle-aged man walking by himself was out on the corner with a sign that said, “Unless you repent and accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you will surely burn in Hell for all eternity.” The man walked up to the window where we were sitting, with the same angry face, and shoved the sign up on the glass. Up close, the man looked lonely and miserable. The pastor in the group wondered, “Who’s really in Hell here?” The group motioned for the man to come and join them, to sit at table. “We’re buying.” But he scowled and walked away, sign in tow. He turned back and looked like one of those people trapped in their Christianity.
What’s so misunderstood about this text is its evangelistic intent, exactly who is being converted. It’s not the Samaritan woman, because Jesus has already raised a glass of living water with her. It’s not the Jewish Pharisee, because Jesus has already told Nicodemus he can be born again. It’s not the government official, because Jesus has already raised his son. It’s not the woman caught in adultery, because Jesus told the church authorities to drop their stones. It’s not the prostitute under the table, because Jesus blesses Mary for anointing him.
As Mother Teresa says, “It is never in the first instance about changing the world, but rather changing ourselves.”
Jesus isn’t trying to convert the world around him, he’s trying to convert his own disciples. After I’m physically gone, and you’ve grieved the devastation of my absence, remember what I said and live what I did:
I am the way. Christianity isn’t a weapon or a verdict or a trap but rather a faith with moving feet that’s always headed in the direction of holiness.
I am the truth. Christianity isn’t an intellectual exercise of facts to be memorized or questions about tomorrow’s salvation to be answered, but rather a stirring of the heart to be manifested in the here and now.
I am the life. Christianity isn’t a religion of closed caskets, where what’s dead stays dead, but rather a relentless invitation to live as God created you, to have your eyes wide open to the resurrection happening right in front of you, to be a full participant in the kingdom of heaven coming to earth.
So if you’re feeling like Thomas, unsure of where you’re going, or like Philip and can’t recognize the God right beside you, then remember that the earliest followers of Jesus didn’t say they were one of the elect, didn’t say they were saved, didn’t even say they were Christians. They called themselves People of the Way.