5th Sunday of Easter
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me. (John 14:4)
In the history of the human race, I believe it’s safe to say, there has never been a more astounding claim made by a human being than is made in these words of Jesus Christ. To claim that one knows the way to God is one thing, and this claim has been made often enough in man’s history, but to claim actually to be the way to God is a claim of an altogether different magnitude. Only Jesus Christ ever dared to utter such words.
To claim to know the truth about God is astounding enough, especially today in the western world — where fewer and fewer people seem open to such truth claims when it comes to matters of religion — but to claim actually to be the Truth, is in any age, an assertion of an altogether different magnitude than simply the claim to know the truth. And, finally, to claim to know the secret of life is an astounding claim, whether made by a scientist, poet or mystic; but to claim to be Life itself is a claim that leaves the mind reeling, if it is taken at face value.
However, the reason that so few people today really believe in the Jesus of the Gospels is perhaps not so much because He dared to make such tremendous claims, but rather because so few people are really interested in finding the truth, or the way to God, or the Life Everlasting that Jesus proclaimed himself to be. Some biblical sceptics will even deny Jesus made such claims in the first place since they see the Gospels as pure fiction written by his followers. But far larger numbers of unbelievers today don’t bother confronting such claims at all simply because they no longer take seriously the very possibility of our knowing objective truth in matters of religion, period.
Religious truth is seen by these convinced sceptics as totally subjective, a mere matter of unsupportable opinion. So, if knowledge of objective truth in religious matters is ruled out from the start, why would they think its worth searching for the way to God and the Life that has no end? The result is that morew and more people don’t pay much attention to these claims, and really don’t take Jesus seriously. They don’t bother to confront the claim that there is only one way to God, because they don’t think they can really know if there really is even a God. They don’t concern themselves with questions about an unknowable life beyond this world, but choose to focus exclusively on the life they already know in this world. If a scientist comes along who speaks about prolonging their life in this world, that may catch their interest, but talk about life beyond this world, no so much. Who has time to worry about something that we can’t know the truth about anyway?
But for those who have at least some openness to truth, and they still are present in large numbers in spite of the educational system they suffer through today, we can say that the central claim of Christianity is perfectly captured in Jesus’ assertion that He is the Life, that is, the Light of Men (John1), and that thus He is the Truth, that is, the truth about God and the truth about man. To make such a claim is clearly equivalent to the claim that He is equal to God, for God alone is the Truth in the absolute sense.
Indeed, Jesus makes this challenging claim many times, but using other words. For instance, in this same passage, He does so when He says that He and the Father are one, and when he says that the Father is in Him and that He is in the Father, so that to see Him is to see the Father. If He is the way to the Father, Who is the Truth itself in the absolute sense, and the Life which is Eternal, it is only because He and the Father are perfectly one, because the Father is in Him, and He is in the Father. If all this is is true, then He is the perfect image or reflection of the Father, even in his humanity, and thus to see Him is quite literally to see the Father, in so far as God can be seen at all by man.
Such a claim, Jesus quite readily recognizes, can be accepted only by faith. That is why he begins this dialogue with his disciples by telling them that they must have faith in the Father and faith in Him. There is absolutely no way of verifying the truth of His claims by reason alone, by science, by any purely human means of knowing truth. Yet, the truth it is, and it is just as objectively true as any truth discovered by science. To believe in Him can only be the result of a divine gift freely accepted, which he offers to all, the gift of faith. Nonetheless, Jesus does not speak of faith as a blind leap in the dark, but rather He presents faith as having the support of man’s reason. For even if reason cannot see the objective truth of these claims directly, reason can at least recognize the divine witness to the truth of these claims in the miracles that Jesus performs; thus, He says, “or else believe because of the works I do.”
The works that Jesus is referring to here are the objectively knowable testimonies of the Father to Jesus’ truthfulness, and these proofs are objectively witnessed works that surpass human powers. These are the same “works” he pointed to when John sent word from prison asking if he were indeed the Messiah: tell John, He said, “...the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Mat 11:5) These are the works that bear objective witness to the objective truth which can only be ultimately accepted by faith, for they bear the mark of the Father’s power, the Father who is in Jesus accomplishing these works, precisely to bear witness by His authority to the fact that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
Faith is a path to objective truth which surpasses reason, enabling us to assent not blindly, but based upon the authority of God who alone can bear witness to such truth. The Father Himself bore witness to the truth of Jesus’ claims, precisely through the works that Jesus did: “or else believe because of the works I do.”
No man has ever performed such miracles as Jesus Christ did, as recorded in the Gospels. And, thus, if you wish to debunk his extraordinary claims, you first have to debunk the Gospel miracles themselves. That is why modern skeptics, inside and outside Christianity, have for several centuries now been attacking the miracles in the gospels as pure fictional creations of the irrational faith of the early Christian community.
But, of course, their own deconstruction of the Gospels by removing whatever smacks of the supernatural, especially miracles, leaves them with a massive problem. How, then, do these same sceptics explain the massive historically verifiable fact of the growth of the early Church, under the leadership of men who must have known either that Jesus Himself was a total fraud, the greatest fraud and blasphemer in human history, or they must have themselves created this fraud out of whole cloth. And since they based this whole religion on the fraud of the resurrection, the miracle of all miracles, which they must have concocted, they above all knew that Jesus never rose. But how then do they explain the Apostles’ apparent ready willingness to suffer death for the Gospel, when they above all would know that there is no such thing as resurrection from the dead?
However, why these people should go to such lengths to confront the claims of Jesus, when they supposedly know they are false and ridiculous, is really not so great a mystery. If Jesus is believed by many of us to be the Truth, then many of us will be convinced that much of what our world says about truth is nonsense, and we will also be convinced that His truth will judge their lives to be false in many ways, but also our own lives at times. If Jesus is the way, then the Cross becomes inescapable for those who seek God through Him. Now the world hates all talk about the Cross as essential to human fulfillment, and we Christians some times shrink from that truth ouselves.
If Jesus is the Life, then the world will stand convicted of despising anything beyond life here in this world, and we too will be convicted of living like the world at times. In short, if Jesus is God, then the world is condemned for not believing in Him, and we are condemned to the degree that we ourselves for not really submitting to his way, to His truth and to His Life.
But Jesus tells his disciples, those who put their faith in Him, not to let their hearts be troubled by all this unbelief, including our own weakness at times, for whatever the world may say or do, and whatever our personal failures may be, none of this can change a thing that God has decreed. As St. Peter says: Jesus is always the stumbling block, and “those who stumble and fall are disbelievers in God’s word; it belongs to their destiny to do so.” On the other hand, those who believe are in truth a chosen race… chosen by God … and Jesus has gone before them to prepare a place in His Father’s house for them, a place this world can never reach. And He will return to claim His own one day, so that where He is — that is, in the Father — those He makes His own may also be with Him, by being in Him. Ultimately, that is what Life is really all about, and the joy Life brings to the hearts of true believers the world can never understand and can never take it from them.