I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life
Fifth Sunday of Easter. Fr Andrew Brookes finds consolation in the divine identity of Christ.
‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ These are some of the most quoted words of Jesus. Taken on their own, they are powerful words that speak to all manner of situations. Yet when we consider the situation in which they were first spoken, they reveal a particularity and even greater potency to speak to us and help us.
Jesus spoke these words to his closest disciples at the Last Supper, facing and addressing his imminent death. The enemies of Jesus in Jerusalem had been planning how to kill Jesus for some time. Their plans are now in place. Further, they intend that his death will not just end his life but will utterly humiliate and discredit him. They will make a public spectacle of him as someone rejected and even cursed by God, a blasphemer and a religious charlatan, mad or bad or both. Such a person should not be believed, trusted or followed. They intend that the movement and community Jesus had worked to establish will be killed off with him.
When Jesus speaks these words, he proactively addresses and combats this situation. He wants to prepare his disciples to accept and understand his death and what will follow it correctly. He will accept death but in claiming to be the Way, the Truth and the Life there and then, he makes it plain that he is not being outmanoeuvred and knocked off course by his enemies. He embraces death intentionally, seeing in it the way to fulfil the divine plan of which he is the principal agent: he is the Way. Though he will be condemned both as a blasphemer and a political rebel by the highest authorities within Judaism and Roman Rule in Palestine, these charges are false: he is the Truth. Though he will die a horrendous death, his body terribly tortured and brutally broken, this death will not be end of him or his work: he is the Life.
Spoken merely as a man, these words would probably ring hollow and very likely be drowned out by the event and impact of his humiliating death. But Jesus identifies his cause and himself with the Jewish understanding of God. For Jews, God is seen as the one who teaches the way we are to live here, and the way to follow to be with God forever. God is the Truth, full, unchanging truth and the deepest reality that exists. God is the life, the fulness of life, everlasting life, and the source, giver and sustainer of all created life.
Jesus is not only claiming here that God is on his side, but he claims to be God. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life – because he is God. He uses the Greek phrase used to express the divine self-revelation to Moses at the Burning Bush, ‘ego eimi’, ‘I am who am’. Jesus says, ‘I am who am the way, the truth and the life’, meaning ‘I am God who am the Way, the Truth and the Life’. He meets any doubt or fear on the part of disciples about his death head on. Being condemned for blasphemy and killed cannot deflect God from his purpose and way or distort or falsify the truth he embodies and proclaims or kill off his divine life.
His purpose in saying and doing all this is not just to show us that Jesus is God but to bring about our salvation and to give the disciples, and us, confidence in accepting this salvation. He is offering us the way to salvation. He reveals the truth of that salvation by showing it is God reconciling us to himself through the death of Jesus. To those who accept this, he gives a share in the life of God, eternal life.
The resurrection of Jesus testifies to all this. It vindicates Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. But he spoke these words beforehand to help the disciples believe – and to help us believe and to receive salvation and walk and grow in the grace of salvation.
These words speak of the heart of Jesus’s identity and mission. It is important that we see them not just as interesting ideas about Jesus for our speculation but as statements of who and what is necessary for our salvation, that is, for us to be saved from our sin, and brought into close and lasting relationship with God. Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, is at work in all the situations we face to bring about our salvation. But Jesus spoke these words into a dark and difficult situation for his disciples. What it tells us is that nothing need separate us from the light of Christ and the love of God. Through his words, he brings his light and presence into all our situations. In all of them, not just the easy ones, we can encounter Jesus as the Way, Truth and the Life. So let our hearts not be troubled. Let us maintain our trust in God always. Let us bring all our situations to Jesus to be better helped by him. Let us also bring other people to Jesus, however many questions or doubts or pains they bear, for Jesus wills also to speak to them, to help and save them, for there are many rooms in his Father’s house.