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Politics of Scripture

A Call to be ‘People of the Way’ in the Context of Jesus’ “I am the Way”

“Jesus’ “I am the way” is an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate the path of love to people…it doesn’t warrant any exclusion or hatred towards the other…”

Jesus the Way to the Father

14:1 ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

8 Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ 9Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

John 14:1-14

Once a friend of mine who subscribed to a different faith identity than mine enquired, “How can it be claimed that Jesus is the sole means to reach God or attain salvation?” This query arose from my colleague’s encounters with certain Christians who not only made exclusive claims that Jesus is the only way to redemption by quoting John 14:6, but also discredited her way of faith as incorrect for salvation.

To address this difficult theological question, I could have easily replied that Jesus is the only way, for it is written in the Bible without further explanation. However, my political theological calling cautions me not to simply quote the verses in the Bible rather it challenges me to engage deeper into the context of the text, into the text of our context and to understand the politics of the text, for that’s how I envisage the relevance of any given text. Therefore, this reflection explores the relevance of John 14:1-14 in the context of interreligious dialogue and interfaith co-existence. However, as a person of Indian origin, now living in the UK, with the demographic of ‘no religion’ to be the majority from the recent census, this text of John 14 becomes even more interesting to engage with. The question then in the Western context is, what is the meaning of John 14 in the context of growing secularism in the West?

John 14:1-14 is part of Jesus’ final conversations with his disciples, which starts with Jesus sharing a meal with his disciples in an upper room, followed by washing the disciples’ feet (13:1-20). He then anticipates one of them betraying him (13:21-30), tells them that he must go to his Father (14:1-11), and warns them that the world will hate them (15:18-25). Finally, Jesus attempts to bring things to a close (16:4b-33) and ends up praying for them (17:1-26). The context is not a joyful moment but a moment of fear, anxiety, and sorrow. It is not an easy situation to handle for the disciples who left everything to follow Jesus and now are troubled in their hearts to learn that their leader will be leaving them soon.

Therefore, it is important to recognize that Jesus is saying these words to offer strength to his own disciples who have followed him closely thus far. John 14 includes Jesus’ response to Thomas’ question, “Lord we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” Thomas was convinced that if Jesus went to Jerusalem, he would be killed and he said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (11:16). So, this particular statement is said to the people who followed him closely and as a response to a question asked by the followers.

Therefore, it is essential to comprehend the wider context in which the Gospel of John was written. During this time, there was a great deal of controversy and animosity between Jesus’ followers and the early church Christ’s leaders, specifically the Pharisees and scribes. The Pharisees and scribes regularly questioned Jesus’ identity and adhered to their ancestors’ traditions, resulting in growing tension between them and Jesus’ followers. This tension was further exacerbated by the destruction of the temple by the Romans and the establishment of the Synagogue, which was controlled by the Pharisees and scribes.

Christ’s disciples had to create a distinct identity that separated them from traditional Jewish believers in forming a new community. To do this, they had to determine whom they were following and how they differed from traditional Jewish beliefs. It was crucial for them to clarify Jesus’ identity and explain how it defined the new community of the time. Therefore, the Gospel of John emphasizes the importance of claiming Jesus as the Messiah to establish this new identity. John records Jesus’ “I am” sayings to assert the identity of Christ’s followers in relation to the rest of the community. Jesus’ identity defines the identity of his followers. The focus is on creating a new identity rather than criticizing the identity of others. Hence using these words to criticize other faiths in today’s context is not only uncharitable but also looks irrelevant.

Next, it is important to comprehend the biblical meaning behind the terms “I am” and “way.” “I am” is not a new identity that Jesus claimed, but rather a name that originated in the early days of Israelite history when God disclosed it to Moses in order to free the people from slavery. In biblical Hebrew, the verb “hayah” which means “I am who I am” signifies not only existence but also visible existence. It denotes the manifestation, presence, or status of something. The Hebrew word ‘to be’ does not just connote existence, but also means active participation and self-expression. The name was first mentioned when God summoned Moses to deliver the Hebrews from slavery and establish a new community. Therefore, the name “I am” is an active verb that not only conveys God’s active existence and involvement in the world, but also illuminates his relationship with humanity and creates a new identity. By using the name Yahweh, God revealed Godself as an existing entity – existing alongside and in support of his followers.

Likewise, ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus not only assert his identity as the son of God, the Messiah, but also point to God who is “I AM”. This is evident when he declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life… if you really know me, you will know my Father as well” (14: 6,7). Christ Jesus asserts that he is the way to God because he discloses the truth about God’s character. Undoubtedly, it was Jesus’ enduring love that convinced us that God is also characterized by love. Christ is the avenue that leads us to God’s truth. Jesus embodies the truth because he shares such a close bond with God that we come to know God through him.

Furthermore, Jesus Christ affirms that he is the medium to God as we can encounter life with God through him. Jesus demonstrated the harmony and closeness of an intimate association with God that leads to life. The biblical method of comprehending God is by dwelling in close communion with God. The approach to this understanding is based on close human relationships that deal with the challenges of life. In his reply to Thomas, Jesus does not provide us with a self-promoting expression that Christians can use to boost their self-worth by feeling superior to others. Instead, Jesus invites and motivates us to a life of exploration, experimentation, and the exploration of the way of the cross through these words. In this aspect, Jesus Christ is the path, the truth, and the life. In Christ is the way to God because he presents us with the opportunity to live with and in God.

These excerpts not only highlight the idea of living alongside and in the presence of God, but also emphasizes the concept of achieving an everlasting status with God, as opposed to a fleeting one. Although John 14:2-3 is often cited as evidence of Jesus’ second coming, following the conversation’s flow reveals that Jesus will take us to where He is going, while John 14:6 informs us of where he is going and how we, as his followers, can reach that destination. We gain entry to the Father’s abode by becoming followers of Jesus Christ or by comprehending and adhering to the way that Jesus has shown us. This path is one of love, where justice and righteousness abound. Knowing this way is the same as living the way Christ has taught us. In the context of John’s entire Gospel, it is not necessary to assume that the “Father’s house” refers to heaven. Jesus helpfully explains the “dwelling-places” (described as “rooms” in the NIV), which are places where God’s presence exists. John 14:23 clarifies this even further: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” The related verb appears throughout John 15:1-10, urging us to “abide” in Christ and to let Christ “abide” in us. It is all about understanding and following the way of Christ, which leads us to the realm where God will make a dwelling with and within us.

To sum up my reflection, by proclaiming “I am the way, the truth and the life” Jesus not only affirms His own identity but also reveals the identity of God, which in turn establishes the identity of His followers. Therefore, in the context of interfaith living, John 14:6 is a calling about the identity of the followers of Jesus Christ, for Jesus’ followers are called to witness the inclusive diverse character of the divine, which is all about love, and love for the other. Jesus’ “I am the way” is an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate the path of love to people in our contexts, where life is nurtured and love is flourished. Jesus’ “I am the way” doesn’t warrant any exclusion or hatred towards the other, nor justify our judgment of others, for Jesus’ way is a way full of love for the other, even to the point of death on the cross, Jesus’ way is to love the other.

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