Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. And “no one comes to the Father—meaning ‘God’—except through me.” How many times have you heard these words before? As if these are simple things to just believe, and that will solve all your problems! And does this mean that anyone who doesn’t believe that Jesus is the way to God, well, must that mean they’re not saved, or not on the side of salvation, probably suspect and best to be avoided?
It pains me when Jesus’s words are misused like this, as if faith in Jesus requires some kind of test to prove you’re worthy, and the way to study is to read the Bible—or better yet: read a pamphlet—to learn the formula and get the right answer.
To me, this would be like getting invited to a banquet, so I decide to make the time and show up hungry, ready to eat. But when I enter the banquet hall, there’s no smell of delicious food to greet me. Instead, I find my seat at the table, and there on my plate is a stack of recipes. I’m supposed to eat this? I’m hungry so you gave me instructions? Yeah, the host says, smiling—this is the way! You can do it yourself! No thanks.
When Jesus tells his disciples—as a group gathered together, this is not a secret conversation with one or two of them—when Jesus says “I am the way,” remember this happens during a meal. Specifically, this is the last meal he will share with his beloved friends before he will be arrested and put on trial and will be crucified and die. He’s not hastily organizing a succession plan for the reign of God movement after he’s gone; he’s reminding and encouraging his followers that they already have everything they need to keep going.
Thomas, who speaks up for the people who need clarity and evidence as part of their understanding, says: We don’t know where you are going, Jesus. How can we possibly know the way?
This is when Jesus says: I am the way. And the truth. And the life. If you want to know God, come with me: I’ll introduce you. The way is not a test: it is a relationship. The way is not an interrogation: it is a love letter. The way is not a recipe: it is a fragrant and filling and nutritious meal. The way is not solitary: it is communal.
You could easily miss that point about community when reading through the words of Jesus’s speech, with all these references to “you.” In our English language, “you” could mean a single individual, as if Jesus is having a private one-to-one conversation with only you. And it’s not wrong to have a personal relationship with Jesus—in fact, please do have one-to-one conversations with Jesus—but here, Jesus is speaking to a group.
And in case you’re not a scholar of the ancient Greek language, Professor Angela Parker—who is such a scholar, and Assistant Professor of New Testament and Greek at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia—points out that, in Jesus’s statement which is usually translated “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” the your is plural and the heart is singular. “Do not let y’all’s heart be troubled.” Jesus imagines the entire group of disciples collectively possessing one heart.
Do not let y’all’s heart be troubled—this isn’t just about one person’s faith: this is about the whole community’s faith. What is the heart of a whole community? What kinds of things trouble the heart of a whole community?
Probably what troubles the heart of a community are systemic problems that affect lots of people—you know, like inflation and increased cost of living, affordable housing, access to healthcare including gender-affirming care and mental healthcare, widespread problems like gun violence or addictions or reckless driving or bank collapses or arguing about public education for children or public access to education by way of public libraries or financial support for higher education.
You personally might not be affected by all of these problems that exist in a community, but you definitely know someone who is affected. That means our communal heart is troubled. Sometimes even your individual heart is troubled to the point of breaking.
Christians will sometimes say “Jesus is in my heart,” and yes, we hold Jesus close and carry his resurrected life within us. But beloved, do not forget: you are also in Jesus’s heart. Our community heart is healed and restored and held together by Jesus himself. It is never too late for reconciliation and healing. Nothing is broken that God cannot fix. Nothing is hurt so profoundly that God cannot bring healing somehow. As we just read in the confession earlier in worship, we ask God to “create in us a new heart.”
Jesus comforts his worried disciples with a word of peace, and because we know the rest of the story, we know the risen Christ returns from death bringing peace as well. Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, is more than the absence of conflict. Shalom is also abundance of life for the whole community.
Shalom is not your personal reward for good behavior; shalom cares for the heart of the whole community. Who is hurt and where is healing needed?
ELCA congregations are asked during the month of May to learn about and pray for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, a group particularly vulnerable to violence, although little is done by governments or law enforcement to find or even address the disappearance of these women. We join our prayers as part of the ELCA’s Truth and Healing Movement, acknowledging the truth of the history of injustice against Native Americans and repenting for the wrongs our church perpetuated or participated in—Lutherans operated boarding schools for Native American children. And this movement is about healing, by building relationships with indigenous communities. This is an expression of shalom, peace as abundance of life in the risen Christ.
And before you get worried about all the injustices running rampant in the world and before you give in to despair—How can we possibly know the way forward?!—remember Jesus is with you. Jesus is with us, calming and healing our troubled collective heart.
It’s important to remember that focus on Jesus, because the world may not reward you for your faith. Like Stephen, whose story we read from the book of Acts, there may be stones thrown at you. Professor Amy Oden, of St. Paul School of Theology in Oklahoma City, notices that Stephen, as he is on trial for his faith in God, fixes his gaze into heaven and sees Jesus. Professor Oden writes:
“Stephen’s gaze is a prophetic and defiant act. This kind of gaze refuses to hand over one’s consciousness to the loudest voice or the most frightening bully. His gaze is a prophetic stance that proclaims the reign of God, the kin-dom, right here and right now, even in the face of an angry mob who wants to dominate his gaze and colonize his consciousness. Eyes fixed on Jesus liberate our attention from those who wish to dominate it.”
Stephen isn’t focusing his gaze or his energy on the injustice against him, and he isn’t focused on the ones committing the injustices, which might paralyze him. But, as Professor Oden writes:
“…because he continues to focus on God-with-us even in this horror, he is steady, he is clear, he continues to bear witness to the love of Jesus. Even as he is being stoned, his words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (verse 60) reveal he is rooted in love. This is what radical, prophetic defiance looks like. Focused on Jesus, we are freed from blaming, defending, explaining or winning.”
How will you stay focused, fix your gaze on Jesus and on the love that heals and transforms? Jesus will remind you: you already know the way because, as he said: I am the way. Keep going, all of y’all, together! Jesus promises that you’ll be doing even greater things than he has done. Ask him, and watch it happen.
 Article in workingpreacher.org, accessed 05/06/2023, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-of-easter/commentary-on-john-141-14-6  Thanks for reminding me of this, Salt Project: https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2020/5/3/i-am-the-way-salts-lectionary-commentary-for-easter-5  https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-of-easter/commentary-on-acts-755-60-6  Ibid.