In today’s Gospel, we read Jesus’ very direct words “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If this was said by anyone other than the Son of God who is very God Himself, we might easily dismiss what He says.
The world sometimes loves a lot of what Jesus said and did, but has a great struggle when He says He is the only way to the Father. The whole dying on the cross for the sins of the world thing and being raised again is also a sure stumbling block. Lots of head-scratching at this. Surely, there are many ways to heaven. Nobody has a corner on religious truth. Basically, if you haven’t murdered someone (and maybe even if you did) you’re going to heaven. We’re all going to heaven. Especially the dogs. What these sentiments represent, I believe, is a manifestation of what sociologist Christian Smith and his colleagues termed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. While this seems like a loaded term, it does quite well in describing the cobbled-together tapestry of contemporary beliefs to which many people practically adhere. Think of the ‘religion’ you’d find in a Hallmark movie and you’ll be pretty close.
Today is the feast day of St. Phillip and St. James. Imagine going back in time and giving them a quick rundown of what some people today think Christianity is. As they toiled and endured persecution, it was not for the faith to be perturbed into a self-help program.
We can be assured that the Christian message has been polluted, or altogether eschewed, when it evinces nothing about sin, the primacy and necessity of grace in man’s salvation from hell (the consequence of sin and rejection of grace), and the means by which God provides this grace in His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, who is truly God and truly man. When Jesus says that He is the way to the Father, we can take Him at His word. Or not. But we cannot put words in His mouth. Now, a person could be skeptical that Jesus actually said these words. That’s a different argument. And it’s not that compelling of an argument, because the Christian Church has been saying the same thing since the very beginning. Different sources, different places, very early and close to the death of Jesus, and all very consistent.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. This does not mean that a person who never heard the name “Jesus of Nazareth” is condemned to hell. It simply means that if and when a person is saved, however the grace of God comes to them, it is by the sacrificial death of Jesus. It means that if and when a person is raised to glory on the last day, regardless of when they died or how they died, they are doing so because Jesus defeated death by His resurrection.
The definite article (‘the’) in John 14:6 does not cause us to act in a presumptuous triumphalism. Any triumph we participate in is the triumph of Jesus. It is not our own. We live in humble reception of divine grace each day. We deny ourselves and take up our crosses. We are mere beggars, trying to show other beggars where the food is. Salvation, blessing, and happiness start and end with God.