Text: John 14:1-14 (“I am the way, the truth, and the life”)
“Behold, behold, I make all things new, my promise is true, for I am Christ the way.” Each Sunday this spring, we sing these words as the offering is brought forward. The last line, “I am Christ the Way” is inspired by today’s reading in which Jesus tells his friends that he is the way, the truth, and the life.
But what is the Way of Jesus? The four gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — paint different pictures. While many things about Jesus are the same in all four — his focus on love of God and neighbour, for instance — the differences might imply different paths.
Matthew emphasizes behaviour; Mark emphasizes death and resurrection; Luke emphasizes justice; and John emphasizes belief.
As people of the Way, we combine these emphases. We take up our cross while teaching ethics and doctrine and working for justice.
Right behaviour, right belief, and right action on the Way of the Cross — for many of us, this is the formula of the Way.
And there is a lot to recommend this approach. But today I pause to look at the differences in the gospels and what they might imply about the Way of Jesus.
First Matthew. Only in Matthew does Jesus say that unless we feed the hungry and clothe the naked, we will not enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 25).
In church, ethics are central. We operate The Bread Run; teach our children to act with kindness; and preach the Golden Rule. And so, the picture of Jesus painted in Matthew plays a big role in the imagination of those of us who gather in church to hear God’s Word and to live out Jesus’ teachings as people of the Way.
Second Mark. In Mark, Jesus teaches and heals. But the heart of Mark is Jesus’ call to his friends to take up their cross and follow him to death and new life (Mark 8). Mark is the oldest gospel. It shows Jesus and his friends living free from religious rules and walking towards the cross.
Third Luke. In Luke, Jesus offers the list of blessings we call the Beatitudes and which are also found in Matthew. But in Luke, Jesus does not bless “the poor in spirit” but simply “the poor.” In Luke, Jesus does not bless “those who hunger for righteousness” but simply “the hungry.” Only in Luke does Jesus say, “woe to the rich” (Luke 12). Jesus seems more focused on equality and justice in Luke than in the other three.
Luke’s picture of Jesus plays a big role in the imagination of those of us who gather in church to hear God’s Word and to live out Jesus’ teachings. As followers of the Way, we work for a society in which war is no more and everyone has the basics of life. On the path towards death and new life, we act not only with charity and kindness. We also struggle for peace with justice.
Finally, John. In John, Jesus talks about himself and not the Kingdom of God. He says we must believe in him to be saved.
Jesus uses several metaphors to describe himself in the Gospel of John. Besides the Way, the Truth and the Life, he also says in other passages that he is the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, Living Water, the Resurrection and the Life, and the True Vine.
John adds “The Word” as another metaphor for Jesus. He starts his gospel by writing, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him.”
I titled this sermon “The Word and the Way” based upon a book of the same title by the Rev. Donald Mathers. It was published by the United Church of Canada in 1962. “The Word and the Way” was the first book in the “New Curriculum” series that transformed adult education and Sunday school in the 1960s. Mathers took two of the metaphors for Jesus found in John — the Word and the Way — to name his book, which introduced the series.
The New Curriculum was based on biblical scholarship of the last 200 years. Sadly, many people in the church were upset by it because it treated the stories in the Bible as metaphor and not history. It is one thing to believe in historical facts. But what, many people wondered, does it mean to believe in a metaphor?
Personally, I appreciate a metaphorical approach. Christ the Way is not about the words in our heads. It is a movement of friends and pilgrims who care for each other and the world and who struggle to create a society in which love flourishes.
Christ the Way is about death and rebirth. On the Way, God’s Grace shines in both the pains and the joys of life even as it challenges our notions about right behaviour, right actions, and right beliefs.
What looked like the height of social justice 500 years ago can seem like rank prejudice today. What looked like true doctrine 1000 years ago can seem like blind nonsense today. What the accepted rules of behaviour were 2000 years ago can seem like tribal nonsense today.
Happily, walking with Jesus on the Way leads to death and rebirth in which all things are made new.
Jesus is a Word of Love that challenges and changes us. Every day we try to discern what is ethical; what justice demands of us; and what we should believe in the light of new knowledge. But like everything else, our ethical standards, social norms, and religious beliefs wither away and die. In their place, new standards, norms, and beliefs graciously arise that are closer to God’s Love.
I appreciate all four gospels and the help they give us in knowing right behaviour, right action, and right belief. But far above all texts, I rejoice in the Grace of Christ the Way.
As mortal humans, we will never get our actions and beliefs right. But on the Way, we have fellow pilgrims who follow the Holy One to the cross and beyond into the eternal light of Easter. There we discover a new life that rises above our flawed behaviours, actions, and beliefs.
And for this Easter truth, I say, “Thanks be to God in Christ, the Holy One who is both Word and Way.”