Jesus said, “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.”
Our gospel reading for today is one that is often used for funerals. For grieving families this is a passage of great comfort and hope. It affirms for us that the person we love who has died has not been lost, that death has not destroyed him or her. It affirms that God has a place for all of us, a mansion, a dwelling place, and that once this life is over, we will find our home with God.
But while this passage is especially comforting in times of grief, it is not simply a reading meant to speak about what happens after death. In fact, this is a passage that has equally important lessons to teach us about life, about how we are supposed to live as Christians.
Unfortunately, many people have focused on this passage’s apparent exclusivity. If Jesus is, “the way, the truth, and the life,” and no one comes to the Father but by him, then salvation is the exclusive property of Christians. But how can one think that a loving God intends to exclude from himself ⅔ s of the world’s population who are not Christian? Why would Christ’s sacrifice be for so few when we know that God loves us so much? I do not believe that this passage is intended to exclude anyone. Rather, when Jesus says – “I am the way, the truth, the life” – this is Jesus speaking to his closest friends, he is trying to show them that the ways of his life must be the ways of their lives.
And this is the crucial point; when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” he is not telling his disciples what they have to believe, he is telling them what they have to do. Nowadays when people ask, “Do you believe in Jesus,” they mean do you believe there was a man named Jesus who lived 2000 years ago. Do you believe he performed the miracles reported in the Bible? Do you believe he rose from the dead? Do you believe he is the Son of God? In other words, when people say do you believe in Jesus, they mean – can you intellectually agree with these statements the way one agrees that the world is round or that light travels at 186,300 miles per second?
But this is not what Jesus meant when he said to his disciples – Believe in me because I am the way, the truth and the life. It would make no sense to ask people who walked and talked and ate lunch with Jesus to believe in him. Of course they believed in him, he was there in front of them. When I was a teenager and my father tried to teach me something he would say – “believe me Randy,” but that meant – “trust me, follow my lead, I know some things that you don’t.” In the same way, when Jesus says to his disciples and all of us, “believe also in me,” he isn’t simply asking that we acknowledge that he is who he says he is, rather he is saying – trust me, follow me, use my way as your way because it is the way that leads to God.
Unfortunately, 2000 years separate us from Jesus and so we spend too much of our time struggling with belief. Simply believing in Jesus seems like an end in and of itself. But belief is not enough. To be disciples must mean that we place the paths of our lives on his path, that we model our lives on his life. This means dying to the idea that this life is our own possession when it actually belongs to God. This means dying to the idea that this life is meant for our amusement when it is actually meant to be lived in service to others. This means dying to the idea that security lies in the attainment of power when in actuality security can only be found in self-sacrificing love. Amen.
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer)