The Way the Truth and the Life
Finding the path from our place to the beach, at Long Beach, is pretty easy and obvious. We take the path every morning because we like the destination, a walk along the beach. About 30 years ago I walked the Kokoda Trail with a friend. We self-navigated and carried all our own provisions. I carried the map and notionally was responsible for the route we took. It was nerve racking. On the first day I was not absolutely certain we were on the right path until we reached the spot, we had planned to stay the night. Stray a few metres from the path and the vegetation obscures the route. We took the track, not because of the destination – Port Moresby, but because of the journey. Most people will take a path in their lifetime which is not about the destiny, but about the journey. Apart from Kokoda, I have taken several such adventures, including six youth pilgrimages to places on the globe of poverty and deprivation, as well as physical journeys such as Compostela in Spain and the Inca trail in Peru. In each case the destination was internal growth and understanding, hopefully fostered through the journey.
What about life itself? Most of you have been travelling for 70 years or so. Would you say your life has been defined by the journey or the hoped-for destination? Perhaps, as shall discover in this text, they are the same, the journey is the destination.
Today’s extraordinary reading is about all of this. My reflections are unapologetically influenced by Archbishop William Temple’s 1939 timeless commentary on John’ gospel.
Today’s text is preceded in chapter 13 with the foot washing narrative, the prediction of Judas’ betrayal, and the humiliation of Peter who Jesus predicted would betray him not many hours hence. With all this back of mind reminder of human fickleness and frailty, John has Jesus launching into confirmation of God’s reliability, predictability, and service of us.
He starts by drawing on a familiar picture of eastern life, the camel train. A camel train would travel a set and predictable distance before resting, and being refreshed. These resting places were called, in the Greek, monai. A person called a dragoman would go ahead and ensure that adequate provisions, including water, were there for camels and human travellers. In this passage Jesus is likened to the dragoman. John’s inference being that there is no part of the human journey that Jesus has not taken, and in preceding us, has not prepared for us.
In his commentary, Temple argues the passage is not first and foremost about the destination, despite the fact this is one of the most common passages read at a funeral, but about the whole human journey. Further, that if the journey is taken in company with Jesus then the journey and the destiny are the same, it is all the ‘Father’s house’.
A conventional human life has predictable resting places associated with birth, schooling, early adulthood, marriage, career, retirement, and old age. COVID 19 has unwittingly cut across all these familiar experiences and drawn the global community into a common monai, or resting place. It may not feel like a place of refreshment, but it is necessarily a place of reflection, of re-evaluation, of preparing for the path ahead. How we experience this place will vary considerably. For many the economic disruption is going to have life changing consequences far more serious than the virus itself. For others mental health implications are going to be exacerbated. More significant than the virus itself, is how we respond to the place in which we now find ourselves. We will live through it, but how?
John goes on to shed wonderful light on this quandary.
You will remember from the Old Testament account of Moses’ call, that he refused to go unless God revealed himself, he said he wanted to know who had sent him. The divine reply was “I am who I am”, or as sometimes translated, “I cause to be who I cause to be”.
In his Gospel, John declares he wrote to show that “Jesus is the Son of God and that in him we might have life”. Crafting a significant literary tool, he attributes the divine name, ‘I am’, to Jesus. He constructs seven “I am” sayings: I am the Light of the world, I am the bread of life, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the gate, I am the vine, I am the Good Shepherd, and here: “I am the Way the Truth and the Life”.
In our reading of this ‘I am saying’, we realise from the context, his emphasis is “I am the way”. He is the way, because he is also the truth and the life.
Since my days as a theological student I have been deeply influenced by two books by a monk named, Harry A Williams. One volume is True Wilderness and the other True Resurrection. In True Wilderness Williams distinguishes between what he calls inside and outside truth. To Williams outside truth is the data and information which explodes exponentially around us minute by minute. Unless in some way it shapes us, it has transient significance. Inside truth is far more significant. It is ‘aha’. Margaret and I have two foster daughters. One we have always remained close to, the other we lost contact with for a long time, until recently. It has been such a joy to reconnect with her. Life for her has been fraught and traumatic. She says now she is happy, has found herself, and able once more to relate. – Inside truth. Inside truth is always relational – indeed it is personal. Truth has to do with knowing. In the bible when knowledge is spoken of it is always associated with inside truth, with personal knowing. The key to personal knowing is awareness that love empowers everything, frees everything, redeems everything. Love of God, love of others and equally important, love of self.
We believe that life is of God and that it is essentially about the practice of love. Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life because in him all that is of God has been pleased to dwell. Further, in taking human form, through dying and rising, he has taken the humanity of all human beings. The life that is in him is available to us all. In this passage there is discussion about his going away and that where he is going, they cannot come. But the paradox John wishes us to understand is that in his very going away it becomes possible for him to be present, not just at one time and in one place, but at all times and in every place. The spirit that is Jesus is the spirit of life.
One of the common themes running through commentaries of the COVID 19 shutdown experience, is the rediscovery by so many that life is about relationships, not as we had assumed about position or possessions.
In a very intense way Andrew Constance (our local State member in the headlines for various reasons this last week), has been tormented by the bushfire experience and through it has found that much of what he had known, accepted, and prosecuted in politics is thoroughly pointless, or worse, demeaning of life. He deserves our prayers and understanding as he continues to work it through.
As we read this passage, we have had confirmed for us the reality that journey and destination are the same. God in Jesus has gone before us in all life’s experiences, including death itself. It is all the ‘Father’s house’. The room is always prepared, and the table is always set. Responding with love, as best we are able, is to have already arrived.