One stumbles easily into the mistaken impression that following Jesus is a way of ‘becoming religious’. The understandable misapprehension that the job is to figure out what to say, what not to say, and when, can be forgiven if it does not persist and therefore become an obstacle to laying hold of the reality.
The gospels present us with the fortunate example of Thomas, who didn’t understand what Jesus was getting on about, and said so.
(Jesus said:) ‘You know the way to the place where I am going.’
Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me
The Fourth Gospel makes hay on initial misunderstanding and its elaborate correction by Jesus. Usually, as here, Jesus’ disciples play the foil.
Thomas wanted information and a plan.
His appetite for data that would allow him to manage Jesus’ intentions was, like ours, formidable.
Jesus’ response appropriates three of the Hebrew Bible’s most pregnant metaphors as well as the reality that undergirds them and makes them speak.
Way. Truth. Life.
With these in hand, what more could we want?
Jesus claims to be the thing we need more, though he does not dismiss our hunger for direction, for reality, and for vigor. He does not censure Thomas’ questing gaze but rather directs it to himself.
The Fourth Gospel’s Jesus is totalistic. He claims so much that it seems as though no desirable thing remains outside of him.
In context, we understand that he is the First Thing. Other things, no less real, flow from him and to him.
Jesus’ three-part identity, declared in response to Thomas’ genuine hunger, provides his followers with a destination and the means to achieve it, a guarantee that following him is no fantasy, and a source of enduring energy.
Way. Truth. Life.
One could live that way.