a Homily for Easter 5A
Text: John 14:1-14
The Big Goodbye
Jesus is saying His goodbyes. This morning, we are brought back to the Last Supper, the final teachings, the big goodbye. Jesus is saying that it is almost time to go, but don’t worry: it isn’t their time yet. They will follow. Just not now.
Thomas, who wants to follow now, is having trouble with the logistics of this travel. Where are we going, exactly? I picture him with the map and turning to Jesus: So, is the place you’re talking about with all the rooms that La Quinta off of 94? And poor Philip is so utterly lost: he thinks they’ll meet up some guy named The Father when they get to the hotel.
Given the disciples’ trouble, it is no wonder we try to make this a story about certainty. We grab the map from Thomas’ hands and say: this isn’t a map of St. Clair County; this is the map to heaven. And look. It’s really just a picture of Jesus. That’s a strange map.
I began by locating us in a place and time. I think that really matters to this story. Jesus is going to the cross and they are to follow. Just not today. The Way Jesus is going is marked by His faith and trust in GOD and knowledge of the certainty of His death. So this conversation is pregnant with that same conflict: trust in GOD and know the certainty of death. Trust, by definition, requires uncertainty. In the same way, when one’s fate is certain, trust is not required. You know what will happen.
The Way or The High-Way
When the gospel we call John was written, long before those early followers of Jesus were called Christians, they were known as followers of The Way. That phrase, The Way, has been with us from the very beginning. No doubt the writer uses it on purpose. “I am the way” is just as easily I AM=The Way. GOD, the great I Am, is The Way.
For many Christians, however, there is a particular pronunciation for this text. That we might hear Jesus say “I am The Way.” The only, exclusive way. That Jesus, as a Jew, long before there’s such a thing as Christianity, is advocating for an exclusive faith. The Way.
We leave the text, and the verses that follow it, and make Christianity, and our particular brand of it, into The Way. The only way. Other ways are wrong. We apply this to our atheist friends and children, our Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu neighbors. But we can’t stop there because there are heretics among us. Our Catholic and Lutheran neighbors aren’t The Way. Even some good Anglicans have left The Way, so let’s throw them into the fire while we’re at it.
Some of you may protest. Jesus is speaking to His Way, so most Christians are in, you say. But who gets to say? Who among us knows the particulars of this Way of Jesus’s? If only we had an actual map rather than this stinking picture! How does staring at this guy’s mug (or the fictional representation of what we imagine Jesus would look like if he were a white, 20th Century American man with a slim waist and great hair) help us know TheWay? How can we make sure we’ve got it? Forget the rest. Well…we do what our ancestors did and draw the map so we’re in the middle.
Focus on The Way
Jesus does not seem to be telling His disciples “It’s My Way or the high-way.” (Pun intended.) It is we that put our own directive onto Jesus. And we have since the Roman Empire decided to suddenly be Holy, without doing anything differently. We have built a super high-way that is easy, manipulative, and straight out of business school.
Jesus speaks, not of exclusivity, but of opportunity. Jesus focuses less on The Way and more on The Way.
The Way involves sacrifice. Confronting the Temple and Roman authorities, giving up a comfortable life, and finally facing His own mortality.
The Wayalso involves relationship. We tend to drop the line right after Jesus declares that He is the way. It says:
If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.
Now you do know him. You are now in relationship with him. In being with me, Jesus is saying, you become someone who knows the Father. The Way isn’t about getting to the Father, but knowing Him. And in Jesus, we can know him now.
That’s why Philip’s question is so baffling to Jesus. He seems to say Have you never truly looked at me? Have you never seen what I and you have done already this year? If you actually looked, you’d see it. You’d see its GOD at work in us.
And more than that, the work they do will be greater than Jesus’s work. Because He has to leave and it isn’t their time to leave yet. They get to stay. And there is much more to do.
We’re expecting a roadmap. Personalized. Maybe monogrammed and printed just for us. Our house is right there in the middle. A a key down in the corner shows how far we have to go.
Or maybe its an app in which we type in our address and tell whether we’re traveling by car, bike, or foot. It will take you 72 years to reach your destination.
Jesus doesn’t offer the single map to find GOD, because there is no map. The Way to GOD isn’t a destination at all, but a journey. A journey of continuous building of relationship. Of learning who GOD is to us and we are to GOD. That’s why we read stories of GOD’s commitment to the people. And of Jesus’s revealing that commitment to our very nature.
That’s also why we can see GOD revealed in the world around us and in one another. And why we are called to serve one another as Jesus came to serve us. The Way reveals GOD.
Our purpose isn’t to go where GOD is, but to help reveal to our friends and neighbors that GOD is right here and all around us. We can testify to GOD’s love and mercy. We can help them see it. Not in some place, but in Christ. In us.