Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Because yesterday was not the last… or until the next mathematical genius gets too much press and spins up a news cycle with equations of doom. It is, in fact, inevitable that over the course of the remaining years of our lives, we will again be threatened with the coming of the Kingdom of God. Best get ready, then, eh? In the immortal words of the bumper sticker sage: “God is coming, look busy.”
Well, the lectionary offers us a timely passage for our consideration, though almost any passage can be timely, that is the nature of Scripture.
In this passage, Jesus is giving us several important clues into the nature of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom with whose coming we have been threatened as if it were a punishment over the past few weeks. He gives us clues to where it is and he gives us directions to it. Let us look at few of them:
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”
You know, one of the things I dislike about seminary is the underlying implication that only those who have been in seminary – taken OT and New T and two sections of Church History and Greek- can truly understand what is going on in the Scripture. That’s crap and don’t ever hire a minister who tells you that. That said, as the result of a seminary education, I know something you may not about this verse and it may help to understand it.
In the first century, when John the beloved disciple wrote these words, to be “in a person’s house” did not mean literally to be “in their house.” Rather, it meant to be “in their community” or “part of their world.” A modern corollary, admittedly a flawed one, might be the Mafia concept of “cosa nostra.” Not in the house, but of the people, not occupying the rooms, but an element of the whole. So what Jesus may be telling us here is that there are many ways to be one with God, under his protection, an element of the whole of His Creation.
I think this is related to the next little clue: “you know the way to the place where I am going.” Remember, where Jesus is going after this text, is to jail, to court, to the Cross and to God. Jesus is fulfilling his calling, that’s where he is going. Here he seems to be saying, “You know how to be what God wants you to be.”
So, so far, we know: 1) that there are many ways to be part of God’s Creation; and 2) we know in our hearts what is expected of us. So far, that’s pretty clear. With the confidence that we can be joined in spiritual unity with God, and through thoughtful prayer, we can discern our way.
But, wait. The next shoe to drop will complicate things: “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.”
SO much harm has been done in the name of this verse. If I could change the language in any part of the New Testament, this would be on my top ten list of candidates. It has been used to coerce people out of their genuine nature and into a white Anglo Saxon Protestant or Catholic norm in the fear that their own appearance, nature or liturgy is damnation. It has been used to oppress people of faith who worship God in another name or another fashion. It is used today to tell people who look for all the world like they are acting in “good faith” that it isn’t faith if it isn’t our faith. Let us tread carefully here, then, knowing that Jesus Christ would never tell us to condemn any of God’s creatures, never tell us to think we were better, never to think that service and subjection were the same.
Absent all that baggage, then, the verse seems very simple. “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.” Jesus tells us that he is “the way.” In Greek the word for “the way” is Hodos, meaning the road or the course of conduct, in modern parlance, “in the direction of travel” (as in “at Clark and Division, doors open on the left in the direction of travel”). The Chinese word is Tao, and it translates better, “the path.” In Arabic the word is Islam and it translates as “the way to peace.” Do you begin to see how the many rooms in my father’s house verse works now? There are many ways to view it, many words for it, but it is the way, the path, the direction of travel.
And where are we traveling to? What is our destination? Truth and through the truth, Life, everlasting, redeemed and redeeming, transformed and transforming. Life in the house of, in the family of, as an essential element in, God.
There, I said it, when we are in the house of God, when we are truly with Him, we are one with God. Does that scandalize you?
Well, never fear. I don’t know anyone who is entirely one with God. I’ve read about someone, Jesus, but I don’t know anyone. And it sounds heretical to say that one could aspire to be Jesus, to be as close to God as the one who came who WAS God. And yet, it seems to me Jesus is saying just about that. There is a place for you, he says, you know the way, he says. I have shown you the way, he says. This is what it looks like to be on the path, to know the truth and to live it out. “I am there” he says. And I am making a place for you there.
These verses seem to me to say, there is a bridge, an open window through which we can see heaven from the mortal world. It is Michelangelo’s finger of God, reaching out and with the lightest, tiniest contact, actually touching man.
We have arrived at a very difficult concept, one which lends itself, again, I am sorry to say, to smarty-pants theological education posturing. How does it work, exactly, that Jesus is God, but God is still in Heaven? And Jesus is entirely God and entirely man? How does that work? And how can any lesson in which Jesus says, “Do as I do” be of any use to people who are not entirely God but simply entirely human?
There are many answers to this question. The early church offered us a few, “of the same essence”, “light from light”, and kenosis, self-emptying. These are some of the ways of conceiving of Christ as man and God, and, just to complicate things, Holy Spirit as well. These are some ways of conceiving of it, but not all the ways, and maybe not your way. As you study Scripture, as you pray and wait and pray… you will have your way, your way of understanding Christ and his life and his words and his miracles and his death and his resurrection as a means of becoming closer to God, as a means of being in relationship with God. Yes, over time and in faith, you will develop, or perhaps have developed your own understanding of how you fulfill God’s purpose, how you are an essential part of His Creation. You, in fact, and in faith, will know your room in our Father’s house, and how to get there, and how Jesus Christ is, for you, the way, the truth and the life.
All that is left for you to do is pick your seat and sit down.