Today’s reading has to do with how Jesus describes himself – and it’s waaaaay beyond what our brains can most easily grasp – but we’ll try. Jesus uses one of the ‘I AM’ statements in John’s gospel to describe his character and purpose. We looked last week at his sheep metaphor, where he described himself as both the Gate for the sheep and the Good Shepherd… (10:9,11). His other ‘I am’ statements include, …the Bread of Life (6:35), after the feeding of the 5000 with a miraculous supply of bread, …the Light of the World (8:12), after absolving the woman caught in adultery, …the Resurrection & the Life (11:25, 26), after the raising of Lazarus, …the True Vine, with us as the branches (15:5), as he described himself as everything we need to live. Each time using this God-formula to describe himself – equating himself with the great ‘I AM’ of Exodus 3:14.
For today, we are looking at how he says: ‘I AM the WAY, TRUTH and the LIFE, and that no-one can possibly get to God other than by means of Him.
I suspect that it’s the misinterpretation of this passage that has been the cause of more division and hatred of ‘others who are not like us’ than virtually any other text. It has all too often been understood not only as Jesus teaching of Himself as the only true way to God but also that all other ways are wrong! And while I actually do believe some of that, it’s definitely not in the sense that it is all too often applied. I DO NOT believe that Jesus is presenting himself as the best of among a whole number of religious options!
This is not a competition, it’s a revelation! Jesus is certainly not being competitive, nor divisive, exclusionary, and any interpretation of this text that does that misses the point. In fact, what Jesus is saying of himself here is more radically INclusive than anything we could ever come up with on our own! Richard Rohr writes[i] that Christ is the light that allows people to see things in their fullness. He goes on: The precise and intended effect of such a light is to see Christ everywhere. In fact, that is my only true definition of a true Christian. A mature Christian sees Christ in everything and everyone else. That is a definition that will never fail you, always demand more of you, and give you no reasons to fight, exclude or reject anyone.’
What Jesus IS saying that wherever we find his truly life-giving way of living/ being/ seeing, we find him! Christ, and the way of Christ, is what constitutes truest life for all creation! And that is quite regardless of cultural or social or even religious background!
How are we seeing the way of Christ as revealing God’s character in the world today?
Christ as the epitome of all purely selfless love. This way of Christ is what gives expression to all of what God is and so what we, made in God’s image, are as well!
And we do know it when we see it, wherever it may be, or from whomever it may come.
I was recently reminded of Gandhi, from the Hindu tradition, who was just stepping onto an already slowly moving train, when he lost one of his sandals, down between the tracks. Instinctively, he kicked his other sandal onto the tracks as well. He later explained: ‘what good would just one sandal be to the person who later found it?
Surely, that sentiment describes something of what Christ looks like. But who can do that: live a life of purely selfless love that always puts others first? With all our suffocating insecurities and personal needs, vulnerabilities… All our lack of faith. All our instinctive greed & selfishness? Our insatiable egos? Seriously?
And yet Jesus insists we can! He goes on in verse 12[ii] to say that ‘those who believe in him WILL do the works that he does and will, in fact, do even greater works…’ He is re-assuring us that even though we all SOOOO struggle to live up to much of what he is about, we remain useful for God to show the world both what God’s character actually is as well as how profoundly precious they are!
And what’s more, as the Church, we are still, in fact, God’s first plan to do so! It’s the whole and entire reason why we, as the church, exist!
Jesus speaks with enormous confidence about that – having said that there is room for us all in God’s house. Of course, that is a promise of something that awaits us all after death but, perhaps most importantly, it’s a promises to us here, now, while we are still alive!
There is room for us to become and to be doing all of what God intends us to be and to do.
May that be our reality as Christian, Christ followers! Far beyond just some remote theories which we may struggle to believe, may our faith come increasingly to align our living with what Christ has revealed to us to be and do…
Dear God, forgive our constant doubting of who you are/ why you’ve come/ what you are doing. We confess that we doubt because we can’t always see your hand at work – not in us, or in the world. And that when we DO see your hand at work, we confess that we don’t always recognize it as such, nor do we understand it. Perhaps it’s our fear that you will want us to get involved that stops us, O God.[iii]
And yet, we believe O God, that as we are in Christ, you DO have such plans for us. May we live into those plans. We pray today, on this Mothering Sunday, for all those mothers and mother-figures in our lives and in this world: …people who come instinctively to love as they live lives of Christ-like nurture and care not just for themselves but for us, and others. Thank you for them all, dear God. We pray that we may be useful to you as we join in their witness, as we learn to care more for others…
The Lord’s Prayer
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[i] Richard Rohr ‘The Universal Christ; Convergent Book, 2019:33
[ii] John 14:12 Paraphrased
[iii] Italic prayer paraphrased from writings of William Willimon