Pastor Dale E. Austin John 14:1-14
There are very few verses in the Bible whose meaning is more hotly debated and even argued than when Jesus responds to Thomas’ question in the sixth verse of today’s reading. When the disciple asks to know the way to God, Jesus responds by telling him that he is “the way, the truth and the life.” Then he adds that most controversial of all comments, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Now just what did he mean by that?
The adamant and unyielding answer which many Christians will offer cannot be found in the scriptures. “Well, obviously he meant that you have to accept him as your personal Lord and Savior.” In the first place, the word “personal” never appears anywhere in the scriptures – not even once. Second, Jesus never said anything of that sort. This traditional response accepted by many Christians puts words into Jesus’ mouth which he never spoke.
Moreover, the traditional understanding is that we have to lead people to Christ through discussion and convincing. But in doing do, we almost treat Jesus as some entity which is “out there” somewhere, and we then have to show people the way to this distant entity. It’s leading by directive: you must do this; you must believe that. You must accept his as your personal Lord and Savior or you’ll spend eternity in Hell.
I have a hard time justifying this line of thought from a personal perspective. The whole concept seems to take Jesus’ words and twist them around to mean something other than what he actually says. Yes – he tells us that “No one comes to the Father except through me,” but what does “through me” mean? That’s where we dig ourselves in, by adding layers of interpretation to those words which just aren’t supported by anything that Jesus says. To me, any concept which has to rely upon that kind of distortion has to be misleading at best – and probably entirely false – even though it may be an incredibly popular idea.
Throughout the scriptures, we are reminded, again and again, that we are the living revelation of who Jesus is. He isn’t some entity “out there” to whom we need to introduce others. We don’t need to drag someone to the throne of God. He lives within us and is revealed through us. If anyone is going to meet Him, that’s where they will find Him.
Jesus’ response to Thomas’ question is, admittedly, vague without the traditional added interpretation. But any time we find ourselves saying, “Well, that means. . . .” we’re treading on thin ice. It’s a clear indication that we’re reading something into the text which isn’t really there to begin with. Jesus’ own words are quite limited, and open to a variety of understandings. For any of us to say that there is one and only one way to understand his words is incredibly arrogant.
Jesus was no universalist. He firmly believed that there would be individuals who would not make it into the Kingdom of Heaven. But I also find it difficult to believe that he was anywhere near as restrictive or exclusive as we are often told. “Thomas, you say that you want to know the way to where I am going. Just walk in my footsteps. I am the way – I will get you safely there as long as you follow my witness and my example. Anyone who wants to go there will have to do the same.”
To know the Father is to follow in the example of Jesus and to live as he lived. But if that is true, then the way to lead people to Christ is by example and not by directive.
Isn’t that what the scriptures tell us all along? If we are Christians, then we are to be living witnesses to the life that Jesus himself lived while on earth, and now continues to live in and through us. The request which Thomas makes is not “Tell me the way.” He isn’t asking for a discussion or a lecture on how to live his life. He wants someone to show him the way.
That’s the more challenging part. For some, it’s easy to speak of their faith and to rely upon their words to convince others of their need for Christ. But if their lives do not reflect all that they’re saying, those words will be hollow and empty. People need to be shown the way – in how we care for them, or how we are concerned for them. Jesus tells Thomas – and everyone else – that he has already been shown the way. Now all he has to do is to walk in that same way, in the way of Jesus. And that will lead him to the same place as Jesus.