Jesus the Way
May 31, 2014
“I am the way, says Jesus, and the truth, and the life.”
Jesus is the way. As you may know, the Gospel of John is punctuated with “I am” statements of Jesus: I am the bread of life, the gate, the vine, and so on. Today we are given the sixth of these I am statements of Jesus: perhaps the most magisterial, and the best known. Today I want to concentrate on the first part of Jesus’s “I am” saying. I am the way. Or, if you like, I am the road. I am the path.
Friday’s dilemma was this: my day off, a sunny May morning beckoning, and the need to write a sermon if the weekend wasn’t going to unravel. Solution: do some preparatory work, and then let the thoughts and prayers mull while I walk. What could fit better than to contemplate the way, the path of Jesus while walking the ways and paths of the Peak District.
For me, walking is one of life’s great pleasures. Walking is a great place for conversations to happen and relationships to grow in an unpressured way. For Jesus and his disciples, lots of important conversations and encounters happened, while they were on the road together. In Mark chapter 10 , we hear how Jesus began teaching the disciples how the Son of Man must suffer and die and rise again, while they were “on the way/one the road to Jerusalem.” Linda reminded us a couple of weeks ago how this is echoed in the Emmaus Road story is which the Risen Jesus comes to meet his friends are they are simply walking along the road. The Greek work is “hodos” – the way – the same word as we find in Jesus’s “I am” statement. Jesus is the way, and he meets his friends when they’re walking on the ordinary road, the familiar route.
Being out walking is a place for relationships to happen and deepen. I love that, but I also very much enjoy walking on my own. Because I enjoy wild flowers, I often find myself stopping to take a closer look at a plant – noticing the number of petals, the shape of the leaf and the texture of the stem. I find that paying attention in this close way makes me more observant to other things going on – to the bird and insect life, the formations of rocks, the shapes in the landscape. For me the slowing of pace needed for really observant walking is a good way in to prayer, a stilling of the self and a shifting away from what is me and my concerns towards what is not me – the otherness of God’s creation, the otherness of God. An ordinary footpath, over a stile and crossing a field can be a place of encounter with Christ.
I am the way, says Jesus. I am the “hodos” the road. I am the footpath. I am the truth and the life Jesus says, yes, I am the goal to which you’re heading, I’m your destination, but I’m also the means by which you arrive at your destination. Why don’t you come my way?
According to the Acts of the Apostles Jesus the Way was so important to the early church that this was how they identified themselves. In Luke’s story of the early Christian community, we only come across the word “Christians” once, in Acts chapter eleven. We find the church referred to as “the Way” or “the people of the way” six times. Now as then, we are the people of the way that is Jesus. His way is our identity as Christian people.
And of course, following a way implies a choice. As I set off on my walk on Friday, I chose a favourite route that I know well. Not needing to follow the map means that I’m more freed up to pay attention to what I’m seeing. The golden cowslips above Sheepwash Bridge are just finishing. There’s a patch of russet red wood avens by Lathkill Cave that I haven’t noticed before. When I get to One Ash Grange Farm I notice that there’s a fine new wooden signpost at a junction. Lathkill Dale this way, Limestone Way that way. When there’s a choice of ways, a clear signpost is what we need.
When Jesus begins the work of bringing about God’s Kingdom he sets up a very clear signpost. Repent, and believe the Good News, says Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark, this is the very first imperative, the first command we have from Jesus. There’s a decisive choice to be made. You’re standing at a junction. Which way will you choose? Will you choose the way of self, the religion of me, my rights, my needs, of looking after our own, and damn the rest of you, the way of anxiously having getting and keeping…… or will you risk yourself to the way of risk and vulnerability, the way of letting go, the way of loving and trusting to the God who entrust himself to us?
Following the way of Jesus is a choice, a commitment that precludes other choices and we find this set out in the Gospels quite starkly, You cannot serve both God and money, says Jesus. You can’t have it both ways. Which way will you take?
As I was speaking this week to Nigel and Jayne who are having their children baptised next week, we looked at the baptismal promises: I turn to Christ. I repent of my sins. I explained that that isn’t just a one-off promise but the pattern of the Christian life: that following the way of Jesus means a constant re-orientating of our selves, turning away over and over again away from all that is sinful and destructive and towards the love and goodness of Jesus. We do it every day, rediscovering again and again the well of forgiveness that is there for us.
Jesus is our way to God. “No-one comes to the Father except through me” says Jesus. This saying is often understood as an exclusivist claim for Christianity over against other world faiths: if no-one comes to God except through Jesus, then how can Jews and Moslems and so on know God?
To me, this is a mistaken use of this text. The context is one in which Jesus is describing the intimacy of his relationship with the God whom he speaks of as his Father. There is no sense of any comparison being made with other world views. Jesus is speaking as a faithful Jew to other faithful Jews: we need to remember that in the Gospels, Jesus commends the faith of figures as varied as a Samaritan woman, a Jewish tax collector and a Roman centurion without requiring any confession of faith from them. We can easily distort the meaning of biblical text by lifting them out of context and using them to bolster a pre-determined position of our own.
Yet there is no question but that for Christian people, Jesus is the way to the Father. And more than that: Jesus is the Father’s way to us. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews writes that Jesus has opened up for us a “new and living way”, to the throne, the very presence of God. Jesus is the way: but not in the sense of a long mountain road that we have to slog up to meet with God. In Jesus the way God comes to meet us. In Jesus we see God embracing the leper, God feeding the hungry crowd, God challenging the empty piety of the religious elite, God calming the storm. In Jesus we see God sitting down to eat with the socially excluded. In Jesus we see God being faithful unto death, and God standing in the upper room bringing peace. Jesus is God’s way to us, his way of overcoming all the distance we put between ourselves and him by the sinfulness of our self orientated lives.
If Jesus is the way, it doesn’t matter if we’re on the first step of the way or whether we’ve been walking it for miles. We can be present to God in Christ wherever we are, offering where we are and who we are to him, to be made and re-made anew. Jesus is our life, and our truth, and he is our way.