Word on Wednesday – by John Mason
‘One Way?’… August 6, 2014
One of the objections to Christianity is its exclusiveness. At a time when tolerance is seen as a virtue it seems hard to accept that Jesus Christ alone provides us with access to God.
What we often forget is that Christianity arose in the first century Roman Empire when there were hundreds of religions and philosophies – the rationalism of the Epicureans, the moralism of the Stoics alongside the Roman pantheon of gods, occultism, mysticism, dualism, pantheism, animism, spiritism, and much more. It was into this world Jesus spoke his startling words: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
In responding to questions people have these days, I find it more helpful, not to quote Bible texts per se, but rather to relate something of the Jesus narrative. ‘Story’ draws people in and introduces them to aspects of Jesus’ life they have either forgotten or never known.
Jesus’ words in John 14:6 were spoken in the context of his telling the disciples he was going away to prepare a place for them (and for us). “And you know where I am going,” he added. But, Thomas, one of the disciples, expressed his frustration. ‘How can we know the way?’ he said.
Thomas’ frustration. We can sympathize with Thomas. The idea of going to heaven and meeting God seems surreal. Rationalist scientists have problems with the idea of spirits floating around in a vague, unknown world. This may be the reason why Thomas at first couldn’t accept the idea that Jesus had risen from the dead. At least he was willing to admit that he didn’t understand. And Jesus didn’t condemn him, cutting him down with angry words. Rather, he was patient with Thomas, suggesting that he respects this kind of honesty.
It’s important to note Jesus’ words. He doesn’t say, ‘I’ll show you the way’, but rather, ‘I am the way’. He doesn’t say, ‘I’ll tell you the truth’, but rather, ‘I am the truth’. He doesn’t say, ‘I will give you eternal life’, but rather, ‘I am the life’. He was saying to Thomas, ‘The way to God is not some mystical path you must discover. Rather it involves a relationship – one you have already.
Jesus is telling us that behind the universe is not a mathematical equation or a scientific formula but a person. The only way we’re to make sense of our human existence is by recognizing that complex person who is the truth.
Is all this a delusion, a fantasy? John the Gospel writer tells us that the cross of Jesus didn’t only kill Thomas’s master: it killed his faith as well. ‘I’m not going to believe in him any more’, he said. Then he saw Jesus, alive. “Put your finger here and see my hand…,” Jesus said (John 20:27).
Was Thomas deluded? We need to remember that the first Christian sermon was preached only a few hundred yards from Jesus’ tomb. Everyone there that day knew that if the account of Jesus’ resurrection was false they could check the tomb themselves. Yet when Peter insisted that Jesus was risen from the dead, we don’t find three thousand cynics, but three thousand converts.
It’s inconceivable that this disillusioned band of Galilean peasants could have transformed the world in the astonishing way they did, unless what they believed and preached was true. No, they were not deluded. They had seen Jesus, risen from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection affirms his uniqueness for us. No one else, before or since, is like him. Jesus is unique. Truly he alone is the Way to God. Well could Peter the Apostle say, ‘Salvation is found in no one else…’ (Acts 4:12).
John G. Mason