I am the way and the truth and the life.
The prevailing dogma in our culture is not so much that religion is a bad thing but rather that all religions are equal, the same, and the only problem with religion is when you claim that your religion is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Personally I would much rather have people say that religion and particularly the Christian religion is bad, an evil, a crime which ought to be against the law. Because in that case religion makes a difference, even if it is a negative difference. Flannery O’Connor put it this way: “I have been told that my stories contribute to juvenile delinquency. Of course I was tremendously flattered.” But the best religion of all according to the current way of thinking is a little bit of this and little bit of that. So the only thing that needs to be done to bring Jesus up-to-date is to drop the definite article and substitute the indefinite article: “I am a way and a truth and a life.”
When Jesus spoke those words he was talking not to his enemies but to his friends. Admittedly it is sometimes hard to tell exactly who are Jesus' friends and who are his enemies. The real difficulty is that the religion of many Christians is a little bit of this and a little of that. It is in fact not so much that Christianity is the one and only truth, although that is the inevitable conclusion of the words of Jesus. It is that Jesus is the one and only true religion. You are perfectly free to not like that, to say it is ridiculous, not friendly and nice but what you cannot say he did not say so. He says it over and over again: No one comes to the Father except by me. And he says it this Sunday, when he says: I am the way and the truth and the life.
“I am” he says. “I am” that name which God revealed to Moses from the burning bush. It is God speaking. Hence the conversation follows between Jesus and Philip: "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?”
When Jesus speaks, he is not speaking as a wise teacher, a holy man or guru. When Jesus speaks, God speaks, when the Son speaks the Father speaks. He speaks not as a representative of God, not as one to whom authority has been delegated. Jesus speaks as God and what he says is completely authoritative, definitive, the first word and the last word. Alpha and Omega.
The proof of this is that he does not speak to some part of humanity, this aspect or that aspect of human nature but to the whole of our humanity: The fullness of divinity speaks to the fullness of humanity. That is the difference between the Christian faith and all other religions.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker helpfully explains how the way, the truth and the light correspond to the Body, the Spirit and the Soul of human beings:
When Jesus says “I am the Way” he is not only talking about himself but about us. The way corresponds to our bodies, the physical aspect of our being. It's the life we lead. It's the body we have. It's the actions we do. It's the deeds we decide on.
Jesus insists on his authority over the way we live: all the things which we imagine are none of his business as well as the things which are obviously his business: sex, money, power, politics. The Apostle says: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
The Truth is the mental or intellectual aspect of our being. It's the doctrine we believe. It's the philosophy we follow. It's the analysis we understand. It's the thought, the concept, the decision and the dogma. It's the head.
Nobody is going to tell me what to think, we might say. But Jesus claims that as well. Because like our bodies our brains belong to him because he is one who cam up with the bright idea of the mind to begin with. “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus” St. Paul says.
The Life is the spiritual, intuitive, relational, emotional aspect of our being. It's the relationships we have. It's the emotions we feel. It's the intuitions we have. It's the life that we live. It's the compassion we feel and the love that we love. It's the heart.
I really mean nobody is going to tell who or what to love, we are sure to say. Well, somebody better tell us because we are masters at loving the wrong thing. Who is able to tell us what we should love other than the Being which is Love itself: God himself ‘who alone can order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men’ as we pray this Sunday.
I can offend against prevailing sensibilities even further: the only reason to be a Christian is because Jesus is a Catholic: that is to say, what he does, what he says, what he is, is the whole God saving and redeeming the whole of man. There is no other religion like that, not even close.
I am the way and the truth and the life.