Supper is over. Judas has departed on his errand, but the rest of the disciples remain, and they are troubled over all that they’ve heard since the meal began : “Not all of you are clean” (13 : 11). “One of you will betray me” (21). “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now” (36). Such mysterious words could make anyone anxious, let alone a group of powerless men living in an occupied country who count on their beloved leader to give them direction and security. Perhaps most troubling of all, they’ve heard Jesus tell Peter directly : “Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times” (38). What terrible words for Peter and the others to hear ! How can they not “let [their] hearts be troubled” ? (14 : 1)
Jesus tells them to believe – offering faith as way to confront their fear and inquietude. In addition, he makes a promise to go and prepare a place for them. But when he speaks like this, he is met with the usual apostolic incomprehension. A few moments earlier, Peter had asked Jesus where he was going and why he, Peter, couldn’t follow him ; now it’s Thomas’ turn : “Master, we do not know where you are going ; how can we know the way ?” (5)
As always, Jesus offers the way by being the Way. This has been true since they’ve known him, but now he says it openly, telling Thomas : “I am the way and the truth and the life” (6). In other words, Jesus is not just a guide to salvation, a kind of Galilean guru with a trusty roadmap to heaven ; rather, he is the source of life and truth itself. This hearkens back to something he had said in John 5 : “For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to his Son the possession of life in himself” (26). We can just imagine Thomas looking doubtfully at Jesus – what does he mean ? How can a man be a way ? And what does he mean by the dwelling places he’s going to prepare in the Father’s house ?
Whether we know it or not, these are our questions, too. Those “dwelling places,” for instance, “in [his] Father’s house” (or those “many rooms in my Father’s mansion,” as an older translation has it) – what does he mean ? We often hear jokes about certain famous or powerful people discovering that they have coldwater flats in heaven while their housemaids or pool boys have penthouses – but it’s not likely that Jesus is thinking in those terms. He’s not describing a heavenly geography or a demographic map of Paradise. Rather, he’s referring to the possibility of deep communion with the Father, of resting completely in him through Jesus the Way. Troubled hearts can let go of their worries and turn to the Way, a Way that they can grow to know more and more deeply as they walk the walk with Jesus.
The Way is not a thing, but a Person. Ditto with the Truth and the Life. Knowable and lovable. Follow-able, if that’s a word ! But not “something to be grasped at,” to borrow Paul’s expression (Phil 2 : 6), not something to be owned and kept as a holy trophy. Jesus the Way invites to relationship because Jesus is a living Way.
, an Anglican priest and English poet of the seventeenth century, had a beautiful sense of what Jesus the Way meant for him. In “The Call” (1633), he invites the Way to “come.” He names the Way not only “Way” but many other things, all of them giving life, strength, warmth, joy, love. His poem can offer us a means not only to contemplate Jesus the Way but also to invite him into our lives :
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life :
Such a Way, as gives us breath :
Such a Truth, as ends all strife :
Such a Life, as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength :
Such a Light, as shows a feast :
Such a Feast, as mends in length :
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart :
Such a Joy, as none can move :
Such a Love, as none can part :
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.
Why not let this lovely old poem shape your prayer this week ?
Sr. Nuala Cotter, ra