by Kent Ira Groff
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” Extremists abuse this exclusive-sounding text to kill or convert people against their will. Yet I want to show how this text about the “only way” and “many rooms” in John 14:1-6 is one of the most inclusive in the Bible. Jesus may not have said these exact words, but they echo the voice of Jesus through the community back then. What do they say to us now?
“I am the way…No one comes…but by me.” But what is the “way”? And who is the “me” that is the only way? Jesus was very clear about that in Matthew 25: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” During Jesus’ brief ministry he went around touching the lives of people on the edges of society: lepers and tax collectors, filthy rich folks and beaten-down widows, prostitutes and Roman military officials—this despite his clear pacifist teaching.
In high-tech culture we long to touch Jesus and be touched, like “doubting Thomas,” who said in John 20, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands… and put my finger in his side, I will not believe.” The beautiful thing is that by touching the broken lives of “the least of these”—people with AIDS, prisoners, dehydrated children and their starving parents—we do get to touch the living Christ in the wounds of others, as Mother Teresa witnessed. To ignore the least of these is to miss the only way.
It is the Way of dying and rising, the place where brokenness becomes a doorway to blessing. It is as if Jesus says, “Meet me at the edges, in the marginal people and marginal parts of yourself, for that is the only way to see me rise at the center.” It is the primal Way of life-giving sacrifice at the navel of the universe (Rig Veda). It is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’ (Revelation 13:8, KJV). It is the Tao Te Ching, the “Way that has Power”—by whatever name.
All this rings true to Jesus’ Easter appearances. Jesus seems unconcerned about name recognition: appearing in the guise of a gardener at the tomb, a stranger on the road to Emmaus, an advice-giving fisher on the shore. And when two disciples’ eyes are opened and they recognize the stranger on the road is Jesus in the breaking of the bread at Emmaus—”Poof”— he disappears! At the tomb when Mary recognizes the gardener is Jesus, she is told: “Do not hold on to me!” The final judgment of a true disciple is to be in touch with the least of these in genuine self-forgetting love: “Lord, when did we see you hungry…?” That is the Way that is Life and Truth.
Many Rooms? (and the Only Way): John 14:1-6
If ever there was a time when we need to think of various traditions of the Way as rooms in the world’s one big house, it is now. In The Next Christianity, Philip Jenkins warns of new crusades, in a mix of religious and political enemies. But in Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis gives us the wisest of words about these many rooms:
When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong, they need your prayers all the more, and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house. (p. ix).
Progressive faith wants to hold together the paradox of “only way” in John 14:6 with the “many rooms” in John 14:2: “In my father’s house there are many rooms.” This is the voice of same Jesus who says in John 10, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.”
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Kent Ira Groff, a spiritual companion for other journeyers (by Skype or in person), a retreat leader and author of ten books, calls himself “one beggar showing other beggars where to find bread.” Portions are adapted from Kent’s book What Would I Believe If I Didn’t Believe Anything?: A Handbook for Spiritual Orphans (Jossey-Bass) and Clergy Table Talk (Energion). Founding mentor of Oasis Ministries in Pennsylvania, he now lives in Denver, Colorado. See www.LinkYourSpirituality.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org