John 14:1-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe[a] in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[b] 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”[c] 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know[d] my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me[e] for anything, I will do it.
Missouri is the Show Me State, but the disciples of Jesus – at least in the Gospel of John – are a “Show Us” group. During this Easter season, we’ve already read about Thomas’ request to see and touch the wounds of Jesus, but in this reading from John we go back to the hours before Jesus’ crucifixion. In the chapter prior to our reading, Jesus has shared his final meal with the disciples and washed their feet. Now, as they sit around the table, Jesus engages them in conversation. Having intimated that his time with them was growing short and that where he was going – they couldn’t follow (John13:31-35). Upon hearing this, the disciples want some assurance that their decision to join up with Jesus wasn’t in vain. That is, if Jesus is going away (and Peter will betray him – John 13:36-38), they want to know what will happen to them.
And so Jesus offers them an answer to their questions. For many these verses will be very familiar. They offer both words of comfort and challenge. As for words of comfort, I have often turned to the opening verses of chapter 14 in funeral meditations. It is comforting to families and friends to hear that Jesus has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us. There is no need for their hearts to be troubled, for Jesus is going to prepare a place for the disciples (and hopefully for us as well). When we bid farewell to a loved one, it is helpful to hear that life, in some form, will continue on after death. As to the nature of these dwelling places – we can leave that to our imagination. These verses can easily offer a theme for a sermon – a continuing conversation about the meaning of resurrection not only for Jesus, but for us as well.
Whereas the first several verses offer comfort, verse six can be troubling. The question that Jesus raises in the minds of his disciples concerns the pathway to this new home that he is talking about. How do we get there? It is Thomas who points out that they don’t know where Jesus is going – he wants a map of some sort so they can find their way to Jesus. In response, Jesus provides an answer that has proven difficult to make sense of for many in the church: “I am the way . . .” and “no one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus tells Thomas that he is the pathway – if you believe in him you will find your way to the Father. To know Jesus is to know the Father. The problem with verse six is that it sounds so final and exclusive. Many want to ask about the rest of humanity that either has chosen not to follow Jesus or perhaps have never heard about Jesus. Are they lost? Are they without hope? For those who envision and broader, more welcoming and inclusive faith, the narrow pathway this verse seems to suggest is a non-starter. For those of us with a more welcoming and inclusive vision, what should we make of this passage? Let us keep those questions in mind as we continue the conversation.
Thomas has asked Jesus to give him a map so he can find the Father. Philip is even more direct, for he too seems lost. Being a true Missourian he says: “show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus seems a bit non-plussed at this – have I been with you all this time and you still don’t know me? Have they not seen the Father in him? Can we hear in Jesus’ voice a sense of resignation that after all this time with them; they still don’t know his identity? Do we know his identity? Do we see the presence of God in Jesus – the one whom John identifies as being the Word of God in the flesh (John 1:14)? If we do, then we will do the same works as him? If we believe – if we put our trust in him – then we will be empowered to do that which Jesus has already done, and even greater works, because he is going to the Father. His physical absence – his entrance into glory – makes it possible for him to provide them all that they desire.
And so we return to verse six. It is easy to read this in a way that builds fences that separates the chosen from the unchosen. Many have interpreted this text in that very way. But there is another way of reading it. Instead of focusing on the fence, we can focus on the center. Jesus is offering himself as the revelation of God. That is a constant message in John – if you see Jesus and his works then you’ve seen God. There is mystery here. We can’t explain fully the way in which this is true, but we can live in such a way that our lives are marked by this trust in the life and teaching, the death and resurrection of Jesus that we can find our way home.
Show me the way! “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” There is no need to build a wall of self-righteousness, insisting that we’ve gotten it right. We can simply rest in divine grace and follow the pathway to God that Jesus embodies – that should be good enough.