The great American humorist, Will Rogers, had the reputation that he could make anyone laugh. President Calvin Coolidge, on the other hand, had the reputation that he never laughed. Well, one time they met. Rogers was invited to visit the White House and as was the custom, the president’s assistant brought Rogers into the Oval Office. And per custom as he entered, the assistant said, “President Coolidge, this is Will Rogers. Mr. Rogers, this is President Coolidge.” To which Rogers leaned forward and said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t catch the name.” With that, President Coolidge cracked up and started laughing.
Will Rogers was quick on his feet, quick with a comeback, quick with just the right thing to say. Well, of all the things that Jesus said, some of the most significant are the words in today’s Gospel reading.
The context of this conversation is the night of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. It is what we know now as Maundy Thursday. For the disciples this has been a very strange evening. Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet. He has broken the bread and called it his body and told them to eat it. He has given them the wine and called it his blood and told them to drink it. And then he told them that he had to leave and that they were unable to come with him. Peter starts to argue with him and He tells Peter that he would deny Jesus 3 times before the rooster crows. And now Jesus tells his disciples to not be troubled; things are going to be OK he tells them because they know the way to where he is going. There is probably an awkward silence and then Thomas speaking for all of them says, “Wait, we do not even know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” They didn’t realize that he was talking about dying. They didn’t get that until later. Jesus responds with the famous words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me.” I am sure there is another awkward silence because the disciples don’t understand this either. Philip then pipes up and says, “Show us the Father and that will be good enough. Just let us see God the Father and then we will know everything will be good.” And Jesus tells them, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”
Do you hear the significance of what Jesus just said to Philip? The questions humanity has been asking since the beginning of history, what is God really like? How does one really get to God? Look, all these answers are right here! Jesus is the God-Man. If we want to know what God is like then we can look at Jesus. When we want to know how God would react to people and different situations we study the life of Jesus and how he reacts to people and situations. When we see Jesus, we see God.
Karl Barth was a famous theologian and perhaps the most influential theologian in the 20th century. One time Barth was lecturing to a group of students at Princeton. A student asked the German theologian “Sir, don’t you think that God has revealed himself in other religions and not only in Christianity?” Barth answered, “No, God has not revealed himself in any religion, including Christianity. He has revealed himself in his Son.”
This is exclusive; this is very exclusive. This does mean that all the other religions like Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and any other ones do NOT lead to God. This is why other religions get upset with Jesus and those who believe him because it is exclusive. This is one of the main reasons the Christians got into trouble with Rome. If Christians had simply said that they had another way to God they would not have had as much trouble as they did. If we did not believe that Jesus is in fact God, what he had said would be either the height of arrogance or at the height of self-delusion. But Jesus did say them and then God raised him from the dead and validated what he said. Jesus told his disciples that night he was the image of God, when they looked at him they were seeing God. So we understand what he was saying here but he had also told them that he is the way, the truth and the life. These words are also profound and significant but what exactly did Jesus mean? How can a person be a way?
Probably the easiest way to explain is by comparison. Just pretend that you know someone who could afford to lose some weight especially now that we are self-isolating at home and have not much to do but to eat. The problem about losing weight is that according to healthcare professionals, dieting to reach a weight goal is not enough. Healthy weight loss needs to become a way of life. So programs like Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Atkins, or Body for Life, and probably most of the other reputable ones have the weight loss program that one uses in the beginning to reach the weight goal, and then there is the maintenance part of the diet that one is on for the rest of your life. The same sort of thinking goes into a body fitness program. When one begins a fitness program, one begins it with a goal of looking physically fit. But once one reaches this goal of being in shape one cannot simply stop exercising and expect that the body to simply stay in shape. No, then there is the maintenance program. One has to weave your physical activity and training into one’s weekly and perhaps daily schedule if the progress is going to be sustained. This self-discipline has to become part of your way of life, part of how you approach your day and your week and your month and your year for the rest of your life. So in these cases, dieting or exercising becomes a way of life, it becomes a way of ordering how you live your life.
When Jesus talks about being the way he is talking about being a way of life. Christianity is not simply getting baptized as a baby and then forgetting about it. The way of life, the way to God Jesus is talking about is similar in fact to the way of life that a dieter or of one becoming physically fit has to adopt. Jesus is talking about a pro-active consciousness of how one lives his or her life. Just like a dieter has to always be conscious of what he or she is eating, the Christian has to always be aware of how he or she is thinking and reacting. Just like the one wanting to be physically fit has to weave exercises into his daily activities, the Christian is always trying to weave remembering the teachings of Jesus and trying to put those into practice. The way to God that Jesus is talking about is for people to follow him and his teaching so closely that they are trying to learn to think like he thinks, act like he acts, value what he values, and to love like he loves.
Will Rogers was one of America’s great men. His famous quotes include “I have never met a man I didn’t like”; “Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.” There are many more great quotes and Will Rogers was a great man.
But Will Rogers was just a human like you and me; perhaps more clever than we are but still just a human. Jesus on the other hand was the God-man. The words Jesus said today in our Gospel reading are some of the most profound and helpful words ever spoken on this planet. He is the one who shows us who God is and what God is like and not only that, He shows us the way to God. May we be strengthened to truly find our way to God, find our way to truth, and find our way to life through Jesus. Amen