Photo by Michael Swan.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life

By 
  • May 7, 2014

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year A) May 18 (Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12)

Tension between various groups has been a fact of life in the Christian Church right from the beginning. Human nature is fairly constant.

The division of labour also made an early appearance. This first mini-crisis was over the distribution of food — the Greek-speaking members of the Jewish Christian community felt that they were being neglected by the Hebrew speakers. A sound spiritual solution was soon found. Seven men of good standing were chosen and installed as “deacons.” These were not deacons in the modern liturgical sense. It is fairly obvious from the context that their main task was to distribute the food and wait on the tables during the communal means.

After all, the word “deacon” derives from the Greek for “serve or wait on.” It later evolved into a much broader role than depicted here, and in the first generations of the Church there were also women deacons. The importance of this account is that they arrived at solutions to tensions and problems that were both spiritual and practical. Those who held authority in the community were also willing to delegate responsibility without feeling threatened or diminished. The focus for the apostles remained on prayer and preaching the Word of God.

Such solutions are good as long as they are accurate descriptions. It would be easy to use this and similar solutions as a way of evading the “heavy lifting” in community life. When we face inequality or tension in our own Church community it should not be an occasion of quarrelling, scapegoating or division. A community united, at peace and with an atmosphere of loving support is a powerful attraction for those seeking a spiritual home.

The early Christian communities searched the Scriptures for passages that illuminated their understanding of the life, ministry and death of Jesus. Metaphors for Jesus abounded — body, high priest, rock, living water and in this passage, stone. Psalm 118 speaks of a stone rejected by the builders but later used as the cornerstone — perfect! But followers of Jesus are also stones — part of a new living temple built by God. We all share in the role of Jesus the Christ and the ministry of the people of God. Being chosen is always for service, not superiority or exclusion.

Confusion and anxiety reigned at the post-meal discourse by Jesus. The disciples were upset and afraid because He was leaving them. They could not quite understand His cryptic assurances that He was coming back for them and that they already knew the way to the Father. His insistence that He was the “way, the truth and the life” need not be taken in a dogmatic or exclusionary sense. The “formula” referred to Jesus Himself rather than institutional Christianity. The pattern of the life of Jesus — love, humility and submission to the will of God — could be considered the path or way to God. Jesus is the truth in that He revealed the true nature of God, which is light and love, in a human form that humans could comprehend. He is life because He has the power of life within Him and the ability to grant eternal life.

Physical resemblance was out of the question — in John’s vocabulary seeing meant experiencing and understanding. Encountering Jesus is always an experience of the nature of the true God. Finally, Jesus left them with an incredible promise and invitation. Those who walk the same “way” and remain in Him will experience the indwelling of both Jesus and the Father. They can also expect to do even greater things than He has done. This is not just a cheap giveaway or something to treat lightly. Jesus was intent on sharing all that He had received from the Father with those who believed in Him. To have faith in Jesus, however, means a life of true spirit-filled discipleship and loving service to others.

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