The Way, The Truth, The Life
“How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”—John 14: 5–6
There is a prayer the Book of Common Prayer: “Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life.”
The earliest followers of Christ were called the people of the Way. They were known by their lifestyle, by the way they lived their lives. In the gospel of John’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus sums up his way in a few short sentences: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” In their day-to-day lives, the disciples of Jesus, these people of the Way, loved one another with the same self-giving love with which Christ loved them, caring for those in need and sharing whatever they had.
It was in response to the disciple Thomas that Jesus makes his definitive statement of self-disclosure. On the night before he is handed over to suffering and death, Christ tells his disciples he is returning to his heavenly Father to prepare a place for them, and he assures them, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” But Thomas asks, “How can we know the way?” Jesus replies: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
When Jesus says “I am the way,” he means a way of a life, a lifestyle of self-giving love. But he also means he is our way to God—as in the way forward, like the pass through a mountain wilderness, like the bridge across a great chasm. By the decisive cross of Christ we cross over into the nearer presence of God. Through his life-giving love for humankind, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we enter the heavenly place Christ has prepared for us. As evangelical Anglican theologian John Stott puts it, Jesus is not just another signpost; he is the destination to which all signs point.
Jesus says also, “I am the truth.” We think of truth as a quality of verisimilitude, an exact correspondence between one thing and another. A true statement is one that reflects the facts; a true image is one that conveys the reality of what is being portrayed. Jesus tells us he is the true reflection, the true portrayal of the great mystery we call God. The disciple Philip asks Jesus directly to show him the heavenly Father. Christ replies with equal directness: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
What do we see when we see Jesus? We see one who lives his life for others, healing the sick, comforting the sorrowful, affirming those who feel alone or cast out. His actions and his teachings reveal to us the self-giving love of God. As he approaches his own ultimate act of love, death upon the cross, Christ becomes increasingly mute, remaining silent before his persecutors, knowing his actions now will reveal far better than any words the loving nature of God. “No one has greater love than this,” he says, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
And Jesus says, “I am the life.” Christ incarnates the self-giving love that is the essence of God, a love flowing eternally within the Trinity between Father and Son. As that divine love flows through Christ into us, we share the eternal life of God, the abundant life, the everlasting life. Jesus says he has come that we may have life and have it abundantly. At the raising of his friend Lazarus, he says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
How then should we live our lives? How can we know the way? Know it well, beloved: Jesus Christ is “the way, and the truth, and the life.”
Rawls, James J.. On the Way: 100 Reflections on the Journey of Faith. WestBow Press. Kindle Edition.