"I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life"
Sunday Homily for April 20, 2008
Fifth Sunday of Easter (5A)
By Father Clyde A. Bonar, Ph.D.
A few years ago, I was with a group visiting Lourdes and Fatima. One day, after reaching Lisbon we watched the driver search for the hotel. He'd check the map, drive several blocks, turn left, turn right. Then, check the map again. Same results, drive a few blocks, up and down the streets.
Finally, the driver pulled up beside a taxi and asked the driver how to get to the hotel. The taxi driver said, "Follow me. I'll show you the way." The taxi driver was the way to our hotel.
Today we hear Jesus tell his disciples, "Where I am going you know the way." Thomas says to Jesus, "We do not know the way." Christ replies, "I am the way and the truth and the life."
Strange words from Christ. Calling himself "the way." Not, I can show you the way. Not, here is a guide book to follow. Rather, Jesus says, "I am the way."
Our human experience helps us understand Christ as "the way." Here's an example. A television documentary crew wanted to film a traditional African dance of the Chewa people. Problem was, the Chewa only did this traditional dance for funerals or teenage initiations. And, only for tribal members.
One possibility, a mission priest might be able to make special arrangements. The elders of the tribe agreed. The dance began. The film crew watched as masked creatures emerged from the forest as the drums sounded deep, commanding rhythms. For one day, the film crew entered into the traditions of the Chewa people.
The mission priest was the way. Without him, no stranger would see the traditional dance of the Chewa people.
More common to our experience, ask a convert how he or she became Catholic. More often than not, a person provided the way. Perhaps a husband or wife, coming to Mass together with their children. Until one day, the non-Catholic has an impulse to find out more about our Catholic Church. A person: the way for the convert.
In our families, we learn the way of living as a family. Tom has twelve brothers and sisters. Evening meals were always family meals. At the dinner table, conversation flowed. The happenings of the day, upcoming events, work and school. Family activities filled the evenings and the weekends.
The mother and father were the way, models of a family enjoying each other.
For Christ to tell us he is "the way," that's not so strange. Most of the time, other people show us how to behave, with family and with strangers. Christ says, "I am the way." Jesus showed us the way, how to enter the Father's house.
Christ tells us, "I am the truth." When Jesus speaks of God, Jesus speaks the truth. The truth that God loves us; the truth that God comes to us through the Sacraments; the truth that what we do to each other, we do to Christ.
A first truth, we are loved by God. We read today from the First letter of Peter, "You are a chosen race, a people of his own." Precious in the eyes of the Lord. God's people.
Within our families, we love our children because they are ours, the fruit of a husband's and a wife's love for each other. God loves us for the same reason. God made us in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27), God loves us because we are his.
A first truth, God deeply loves us; loves us so much "he gave his only son" (John 3:16).
Another truth, God is present to us in the Sacraments. In Communion, Jesus tells us this is my Body, this is my Blood. Our firm Catholic belief, God touches us, we touch God, when we received Holy Communion.
In all the Sacraments, God is present to us. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest speaks the words. The forgiveness of our sins comes from God himself. In marriage, husband and wife bring God's love to each other in a very personal way. God, the third person of the triad, husband, wife, and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says, "I am the truth." A second truth, the Sacraments, instituted by Christ, make God present to us.
A third truth. In today's Gospel, Jesus told us, "whoever believed in me will do the works that I do." We also remember Christ tells us, as often as you give food or drink to one of my least brothers, you give food and drink to Christ (Matthew 25:34-40). The truth, as Christians we do God's work. Just like Christ did, you and I bring the personal touch of God.
The Acts of the Apostles tells how widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Seven reputable men were appointed to the tasks of helping the widows.
A third truth, we do as Christ did. Christ cared for the helpless, Christ told us about God the Father. So do we. We do good works, we pray, we tell others about God.
Christ tells us, "I am the truth." When Jesus speaks of God, Jesus speaks the truth. The truth that God loves us; the truth that God touches us through the Sacraments; the truth that what we do to each other, we do to Christ.
Then Christ says, "I am the life." Christ rose from the dead for two reasons. One, to give us eternal life; second, to make us fully alive now. His Spirit animates every moment of our lives. To be fully alive is to be in God.
Start with life itself. Eternal life. In our funeral Mass we say, "life is changed, not ended." By his death and resurrection, Christ conquered death. Paul wrote to the Romans (6:23), "the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus." Those who believe in Christ, the righteous, inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:29; 25:46; John 3:15).
"I am the life," Jesus tells us. Eternal life. Saints have eternal life. We know the saints are in heaven by the miracles we receive. When we lose something, we turn to St. Anthony. Or, for the next to impossible, there's St. Jude to answer our distress calls. The saints, with life eternal, close to God, the saints put in a good word for us, ask God to grant us a favor.
Of course, Christ makes life good now, not just for eternity. Austin and Laura tuned out stress and discovered the meaning of Christ words, "I am the life." Taking an assignment at St. John's University, a college run by Benedictine monks, the couple and their two children toned down the volume on life.1 They would hear the abbey bells call monks and students to stop and pray, and Austin and Laura fell into that pattern, to stop and to pray.
With a simpler life, the family no longer collapsed into bed at night. A new happiness entered their marriage. Instead of complains about each other, Laura and Austin became again for each other the husband and wife each wanted to marry.
"I am the life," Christ tells us. Life with God is better. God's Holy Spirit puts joy and laughter and wonderful feelings into our day to day lives.
A missionary visited a family in the remote hills of South America. One evening, he was thinking, how far we are from everything, miles up a dirt road, no indoor plumbing, no electricity. Then the man of the house looked up at the night sky, and said, "I often think how very lucky we are." When we are in Christ, we are fully alive; when we're not in Christ, we make a list of all the things we do not have, we list things others have that make us jealous.
"I am the life," Christ says. God's Spirit animates every moment of our lives. God gives us life, life eternal; God makes each day fully alive.
Then Christ says, "whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these."
The risen Christ calls us, you and me, to be for others "the way and the truth and the life." As we imitate Christ, we are to be for others the way to the Father; so that others might know God, we are to live God's truth and speak God's truth; by our being fully alive in Christ we are to show Christ to others. We are to be for others "the way and the truth and the life."