The Utter Boldness of Jesus’ Claims to Divinity

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 that there has never been a more astounding claim made by a human being than is made in these words by 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 and to claim that no one comes to the Father except through Himself is a claim of an altogether different magnitude. Only Jesus Christ ever dared to utter such words.

Likewise, to claim to know the truth about God is also quite bold, especially today in the western world  where fewer and fewer people seem to be open to such absolute truth claims when it comes to matters of religion. But, again, to actually claim to be the Truth, is in any age an assertion of an altogether different magnitude than simply the claim to know the truth about God.

And, finally, to claim to hold the secret of life, of life everlasting, would be an astounding claim would it not, whether such a claim were to be made by a scientist, a poet or a mystic. But to claim to be Life itself, the very source of all life,  is a claim that leaves the human mind reeling when it is taken at face value.

We should be able to understand how such bold assertions of Christ challenged even men of deep faith, let alone unbelievers in Jesus’ own time or any age since Jesus. However, it seems to be the case that the real reason that so few people today believe in the Jesus of the Gospels is perhaps not so much because He dared to make such audacious claims, but rather because so few people in our time are really interested in finding the truth, or the way to God, or the Life that is truly everlasting all of which Jesus proclaimed himself to be.

Indeed, some biblical scholars today even deny that Jesus ever made such claims in the first place since they see the Gospels  written by his followers as more mythical than historical. But by far the larger number of unbelievers today don’t even bother confronting such claims at all simply because they no longer take seriously the very possibility of our knowing objective truth when I comes to matters of religion.

Religious truth is seen by vast numbers of people who identify themselves as Christians at large as simply subjective truth, a mere matter of  unsupportable opinion. So, if knowledge of objective truth in religious matters is ruled out from the start, why would anyone think its worth searching for the way to God and the Life that has no end? The result is that more and more people in our day don’t pay much attention to these claims of Jesus, which means they 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 a way or even is a God. They don’t concern themselves with questions  about a  life beyond this world which they think have no answers anyway. Rather, the modern skeptical Christian chooses to focus exclusively on the life they already know something about, life in this world.  So, if a scientist comes along who speaks about the possibility of prolonging their life in this world, that may catch their interest, but if someone talks about life beyond this world, not 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 first, that He is the Life and  the Light of Men (John1), and, second, that  He is the Truth, that is, the fullness of Truth about God and the truth and about man. And thirdly, Jesus claims to be the only way to reach God – that we all have to go through Him to the Father.  To make such astounding claims, then, is clearly equivalent to the claim that He is equal to God, indeed that He is God, for God alone is the Truth and the Life in the absolute sense of those terms.

Now, Jesus makes this challenging claim many times, but using other words. For instance, in this same Gospel passage from John, 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, He means that they are truly one, and that is why to see Him is to see the Father.  If Jesus is the way to God, the Father, – Who is the Truth in the absolute sense, and Who is the Life in an absolute sense, Eternal Life – He is the way 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 true, then man can see the Father in Jesus because Jesus is the perfect image 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 in this world.

Now Jesus quite readily recognizes that such a claim can only be accepted 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, it is the truth, and it is just as objectively true as any truth discovered by science. Nonetheless, to actually believe in Him can only be the result of a divine gift freely accepted which he offers to all, the gift of faith.

Interestingly, however, note that Jesus does not speak here about of faith as if were a blind leap in the dark, as many people today think about faith. In this Gospel Jesus teaches that faith also has the support of man’s reason.  For even if reason cannot see the objective truth of these claims directly, which it can’t, reason can at least recognize a divine witness to the truth of these claims in the miracles that Jesus performs. Thus. Jesus says to his apostles, “or else believe because of the works I do.”

The works that Jesus is referring to here are the objectively historical and thus objectively knowable testimonies of the Father to Jesus’own  truthfulness, and these proofs are witnessed in His 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 truthfulness of Jesus’ teaching, even though the reality he proclaims can only be accepted by the gift of supernatural faith. His miracles witness to His truthfulness for they bear the mark of the Father’s power, the Father who is in Jesus accomplishing these very works and thus bearing witness by His authority to the fact that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

Faith, then, embraces objective truths which surpass human reason, enabling us to assent to them 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 deconstruction of the Gospels –  removing whatever smacks of the supernatural, especially miracles –  leaves these skeptics with a massive historical problem of their own making. How do these religious sceptics explain the massive historically verifiable fact of the growth of the early Church, under the leadership of men who must have known that Jesus never rose from the dead –  His greatest miracle – and was thus a total fraud, the greatest fraud and blasphemer in human history, and yet all the Apostles and many others among the first Christians were martyred for this fraud. Think about it. In this scenario, these companions of Jesus themselves must have created this fraud out of whole cloth, and since they based the whole religion on the fraud of the resurrection, how does anyone begin explain their ready willingness to suffer death for the Gospel, when they above all would have known that there is no such thing as resurrection from the dead?

Now, why so many people through the ages should go to such lengths to confront the claims of Jesus, when they supposedly know that 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 the lives of skeptical unbelievers as well as some believers  to be false at times in many ways. If Jesus is the way to the Father, then the Cross becomes inescapable for those who seek God through Him. But the world hates any talk about the Cross as essential to human fulfillment, and we Christians ourselves are tempted at times to shrink from that awful truth.

Moreover, if Jesus truly is the Life, then the world will stand convicted of despising anything beyond man’s life here in this world, and here again we believers  will also 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.

But finally, and this is most consoling, Jesus tells his disciples who put their faith in Him not to let their hearts be troubled by all this unbelief, 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.  Indeed He already comes to us constantly, not just to show us the way, but to be the way for us to the Father. He comes in the sacraments and in the gift of the Spirit through Who He guides us and prompts us to follow Jesus Himself who abides in us. He is the way not like a roadmap, but the road itself that leads to Eternal Happiness.

For us Christians, that is what Life is really all about, and the joy this Life brings to the hearts of true believers the world can never understand and can never take it away from them.

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Categories: Homilies

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