As things in our world unravel through this strange time we are in, we are left to wonder where it will lead and what will come of all this. Will we simply return to normal, whatever that was, such that these months of isolation and solitude, of connecting via the digital world, will feel like a strange dream from which we emerge? I suspect that for many there is a yearning that it will all go away, and everything magically be restored. There is much pain and struggle, both health issues and economic. The situation in the Developing World doesn’t gain much media attention and their plight is more serious than it was before all of this.
For some people, there is a pondering: does this pandemic provide a deeper experience and insight into life in our world? Do we look around and see things differently? Are we drawn into a deeper sense of relationship and life with each other and the Earth? Do we really want to return to what was? Was it really that good, that just and fair? Was it sustainable for the human race and the Earth and its creatures?
Maybe there is a deeper awareness emerging amongst some people. We have time to recognise the needs and struggles of one another. We can see and feel the sense of struggle the Earth has been liberated from over these last months – the air is clearer, rivers are clearing and there is a peace within the world beyond our doors and concrete edifices. Social isolation has been difficult, and we’ve felt disconnected but perhaps that helped us appreciate more deeply being connected to other people. Maybe we’ve discovered other ways of being beyond busy-ness and making more money to spend on more stuff… Maybe we can appreciate a simpler way of being that touches us more deeply and allows us to live more fully into each moment – rather than projecting onto the future moment(s) that never seems to arrive. Maybe Covid-19 has enabled us to recognise that humanity is not the centre of everything. The Earth and creatures live more freely without humans interfering so much. The Earth doesn’t really need us – as much as we need the Earth.
This strange time is confusing and difficult and there is much suffering amongst people who are struggling economically to make ends meet. The poor will always suffer more. There is also a recognition of the change that has come upon us and we wonder what the future really will be like. There is grief as we recognise the loss or change and confusion as we struggle to make sense of where all this is taking us, requiring from us and what the post-Covid-19 world will be like. It is puzzling, confusing and uncertain.
In the passage for this week (John 14:1-14) the disciples are puzzled, confused, and uncertain as Jesus speaks openly of the ending of their journey together. He is approaching death and will no longer be them – at least in the same incarnate way. Jesus will be put to death and move through it to the mystery of resurrection and ascension. He will return to the place where he belongs, ‘home’ in God. He tells them not to allow their hearts to be troubled nor afraid but to believe in him and in God, that there is hope and life, comfort and belonging! He says he goes to prepare a place for the disciples and where he is, they will go also – they know the way. Dear Thomas interrupts with questions and doubts, confusion, asking: ‘We don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?’
Jesus responds with words that have been used in various ways since. He says to Thomas: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.’ This is either the height of egotistical arrogance or profound truth and wisdom. On the lips of some world leaders these words become dangerous realities – communist rulers, fascist dictators – and even leaders of liberal democracies who seek to control truth and wisdom and use the force of positional authority, personal power or media spin to control and manipulate news and information. Either Jesus is deluded or pointing us to something deeper and more life-giving then other relative truths in our pluralistic society.
In Jesus’ day, these words stood him in stark contrast to the powers and authorities of his world, namely the Roman Emperor. Caesar was all-powerful and Roman Imperial Theology/Religion legitimated his authority, power and the truth of his words. His word had the power of life and death and was the uncontested truth. To deny the truth of Caesar was treasonous and warranted death. For Jesus to claim that he is the way, he is the truth and he is the life-giving one, was to proclaim that Caesar was not – the way, truth or life.
In our world Jesus’ words stand against the pluralism of competing truths that lay claim to our lives – economic truths, ideological truths, political truths, religious truths and the claims made upon us by anyone and everyone. There is no shortage of truth if we are willing to listen to the world around. I wonder, though where this multitude of truths lead us? Personal opinion and ideological belief systems make all manner of promises but where do they lead? What is the ‘way’ predicated by these ‘truths’ and what is required of us as we pursue economic and material prosperity or growth in ‘standards of living?’ What is the impact of the extremes in individualism and a world driven by personal rights over and against the needs of others? When we accumulate more for ourselves, who inevitably misses out and what is the impact on the lives of other people – especially the poor of the world?
Jesus proclaimed and lived a way that was, and is, grounded in love and compassion. It is characterised by forgiveness, mercy, justice and the inclusive embrace of all people. This way of love transcends the violence and individualism that impacts our world in too many ways. Jesus tells the disciples that if they have seen him they have seen God. If they have looked into the life and being of Jesus, they know what God is like – love, deep and profound, all-encompassing and life-giving. According New Testament Commentator, Rev Dr Bill Loader, Jesus’ claim to be the way, truth and life, “is a fundamental Christian claim. For some it justifies an exclusive claim that denies that God is to be found anywhere else. For others it justifies the claim to find God wherever God is recognisable by such words and deeds, even where Christian claims are not made or not known… Trust that God is the way Jesus told us and demonstrated to us. That means two things, especially as we now think canonically and include more of the story of Jesus from the other gospels: we can trust in the God of compassion in which there’s a place for us (even if we know nothing else!) and we can know that the meaning of life is to share that compassion in the world – there’s a place for all! We can join that compassion wherever we recognise its ‘Jesus shape’, acknowledging it as life and truth and the only way.”
We are invited into the place of belonging, in God, where find our home, our peace and our life. This way is the way of Jesus, a way that draws us into love, relationship, mercy, forgiveness, justice and faith that trusts in the One at the centre of all things.