Q and A with Jesus
by Alyce M. McKenzie on Monday, May 4, 2020
“I am the Way” Reflections on John 14: 1-14
A few years ago I took an introductory Spanish course at a local community college. The teacher taught six one semester Spanish classes: level 1, 2,3,4,5, and 6. Sometime she would slip several stitches on her mental loom and jump from Spanish 1 to Spanish 6 in the middle of class. The second class she called on me and demanded that I answer a multiplication question that involved numbers higher than 100. There were two problems with that. The first one is that I’m not very good at multiplication even in English. The second was that we had only gotten to the chapter in our introductory textbook Que Tal? that covered the numbers 1-30. I broke into a sweat, turned red and looked down. I knew chastisement was imminent. She taught me some Spanish. She also reinforced a couple of principles I’ve since tried hard to follow in my own teaching. 1. Don’t assume knowledge that your students don’t have. 2. Do not chastise students in front of others.
Jesus Takes the Disciples to School
A quick read through John 14:1-14 might make me think Jesus was a lot like my Spanish teacher. He assumes knowledge his disciples don’t have, telling Thomas, “You know the way to the place I am going” (14:4). Then, when Thomas objects, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus takes him to school with his “I am the Way” monologue.
He chastises both Simon-Peter and Philip in front of the whole group.
Simon Peter must have broken into a sweat, turned red and looked down, stung by Jesus’ public prediction that he would betray him three times (13:38). All he had done was ask a couple of innocent questions: “Lord, where are you going?” and “Why can’t I follow you?”(13:36-38).
Philip makes a reasonable request on behalf of the group “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus chastises him in front of the whole group. “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” (14:9).
It turns out that Jesus is not an ineffective teacher. We are just slow to catch on. Yes, he’s a little blunt in his corrections in this passage, but chapters 14-17 of John’s Gospel are not called the farewell discourse for nothing. He’s leaving and they need to know the Way. The time has grown short. The hour is near. The clock has run out on subtlety. Jesus, in John 14:1-10, isn’t skipping up to a level six discipleship class with a class of newbies. Simon Peter, Thomas, and Philip have been with him for three years. Jesus is attempting to teach a level six discipleship course with students who were in their sixth semester.
Questions Disciples Still Ask
The disciples’ questions in 14:1-9 are meant, in John’s narrative flow, to represent our questions. You and I may have been students of Jesus for quite a while, but we still ask the basic questions when our faith is challenged by trying times.
“How can we know the way to God?” and “How are we to see God?”
Jesus’ response is “I am the Way.” This brief answer shows us that Jesus is, in fact, a highly effective teacher who knows how to use a vivid, memorable saying to express who he is and who we are to become in relation to him. It is one of 7 “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel, directed at a network of house churches struggling with opposition to their faith at the end of the first century.
“I am the Way”
John’s Gospel presents Jesus as a wisdom teacher and as “Wisdom in Person,” a savior who, like Woman Wisdom in Proverbs, was present with God at creation (Proverbs 8:22ff) and who offers a path of life and wisdom rather than a path of self-destruction and folly. Throughout the Book of Proverbs various images are used for wisdom: a path or way, light, precious treasure, a fountain of life, and food for the journey. Jesus’ “I am” sayings attribute these benefits of following wisdom’s path to following Jesus. I am the Bread of life 6:35; I am the Light of the world 8:12; I am the Gate for the Sheep 10:7; I am the Good Shepherd 10:11; I am the Resurrection and the Life” 11:25); I am the True Vine 15:1.
We continue, throughout our lives, to ask and re- ask the basic questions of “Am I on the right track in life?” and “How can I know God in my life?” The answer Jesus gives is both simple and profound. “I am the Way.” In a former post I quoted biblical scholar Robert Kysar’s insight that John’s Gospel is “a book in which a child can wade and an elephant can swim” (Kysar, 6). We grow in our faith as we live out the months and years of our lives, first wading in it and then swimming. Every time we return to these basic questions, it can be with deepened faith since the last time we asked them.
Jesus’ correction in this passage reminds his disciples of what they already know to be true, but habitually forget in times of sorrow and adversity. He’s saying to them and us, “Come on, now. We’ve been through this before, you and I. Don’t let guilt or regret keep you from me. I am the Way. Don’t think that you are alone, without purpose in your current situation. I am the Way. In me you meet and will meet God. My teachings will guide your feet. My presence will sustain your spirit. In life and in death, in all the twists and turns your future path may take, “I am the Way.”
Making Our Way
There is a legend that Judas, after he had betrayed Jesus, found himself at the bottom of a deep abyss. He lay there for a couple of centuries and then slowly began to stir and sit up. Looking up, he saw a faint light at the surface, miles above. He began to climb. Sometimes he would slip and fall back and spend a century or so regaining lost ground. Sometimes he rested. But he kept climbing. As he climbed the light seemed to grow stronger, to glow more brightly. It seemed to energize him and to call to him. He kept climbing, his limbs gaining strength the closer he came to the light. After a couple of millennia, he reached the top, his hands and body scraped and fatigued from the climb. He struggled to find a place to rest his hands to hold up the weight of his body as he hauled himself up through the opening at the top of the abyss. When he did, his muscles shaking with the effort, he found himself in an Upper Room where a young rabbi was having supper with his friends. The young rabbi turned and greeted Judas, his face glowing with pleasure, “Judas, welcome home! We have been waiting for you. We could not continue the supper without you!” (Jones, 92).
How can we know the way to God? Jesus is the Way.
How can we see God? Jesus is the Way.
Alan Jones, Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home, (Morehouse Publishing, 2000).
Robert Kysar, The Fourth Evangelist and His Gospel: An Examination of Contemporary Scholarship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1975).
Alyce M. McKenzie, Preaching Biblical Wisdom in a Self Help Society (Abingdon Press, 2002).
For background on Jesus’ “I am” sayings, see pages 204-207.