The Way, the Truth and the Life

Fifth Sunday of Easter (A). Acts 6:1-7; Ps 32; 1 Pet 2:4-9; John 14:1-12

What does the world think of Jesus Christ? When his name is not being trampled on as a form of blasphemy, the vaguely pious secular view of Jesus Christ is that he was a good man, one of a number of good moral teachers, such as Buddha, Socrates or Confucius. The problem with this view, however, is that Jesus is so unique. Buddha taught the noble eightfold path, but Jesus says, “I am the Way.” By careful questioning, Socrates revealed philosophical truths, but Jesus says, “I am the Truth.” Confucius exemplified a noble form of life, but Jesus says, “I am the Life.” No one who says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” as Jesus does in today’s Gospel, can be regarded simply as a good moral teacher. As C. S. Lewis argued, the only three options open to us are that Jesus is either mad, or bad or God himself. The reduction of Jesus to the status of a good moral teacher interpretation simply cannot hold water.

What does it mean to say, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life?” There are at least two significant aspects to the term ‘Way’. First, ‘knowing’ a way is rather more intimate than simply ‘knowing about’ a way, and perhaps underlines the interpersonal aspect of the Christian life, since knowing Christ is much more than simply knowing about Christ. But the second thing which is significant, I think, is that one can know a ‘way’ without fully grasping the destination in advance. The people of Israel did not have any conception what would happen to them when they set out to the Promised Land, and alternative paths often seemed more attractive, but those who were faithful reached the Promised Land. Knowing the way without yet knowing the destination is different from building a house, for example, when one normally needs to have the plan in advance, and indeed Jesus is even described as the stone that is rejected by the builders. Hence there is an element of trust involved when we do make a decision to let go, surrender to grace and follow Christ, the Way.

What about the words, “I am the Truth?” To gain at least an outline of what this claim means, it is first important to ask Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” Philosophers tell us that truth is principally about correspondence. So when a thought corresponds to some state of the world then the person thinking is said to grasp a truth, to ‘know’ something, or when some worlds correspond to some state of the world, a person is said to speak the truth. So when Jesus says, “I am the Truth,” some kind of correspondence is implied. In fact, there are at least two sense is which Jesus Christ is a correspondence. He is the Word, not an ordinary word which does not express everything about it subject. He is perfect Word, “the image of the invisible God,” (Col 1:15), in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19). He is also the perfect man, son of Mary, who is the Immaculate Conception. So Jesus is the Truth in two senses: being the perfection of God and the perfection of man, and acting like a kind of bridge between earth and heaven.

Finally, Jesus is the ‘Life’. This word is not ‘life’ as in the everyday sense, as when Peter says, “I shall lay down my life for you.” The word used in Greek is used uniquely of the life of the Trinity in the New Testament and in a few other special contexts, such as the life of the Eucharist, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you shall not have life in you.” The goal of the Church is not to make slightly better citizens or simply ‘to do good’, in the worldly sense of the word. The goal of the Church is gather humanity to Christ, to this divine life in the Kingdom of Heaven.

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