preaching study: john 14:5-7 (jesus the way, pt 1)

In “preaching study” posts, I’m really interested in fostering a “community” approach to study and prep for the message, so please interact as much as you like. All Scripture quotes are from the TNIV unless otherwise noted. Thanks!
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This week I’m preaching in our contemporary worship service from John 14:1-7. This is the first of three in a series on Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). This week, January 18, is on Jesus as the Way, January 25 is on Jesus as the Truth, and February 1 is on Jesus as the Life. My initial thoughts on the series as a whole are here. I welcome engagement with that as well as with my posts related to each message. 

I’ll start here in the text itself, but I’m also wanting to engage the whole bible and some theological reflection on what it means to say, “Jesus is the Way.” 

Literary Context 

  • 14:1-7 is really part of a larger conversation between Jesus and the disciples that is situated within what seems to be John’s version of the “Last Supper,” even though Jesus and the disciples sharing the Passover meal is not narrated in John. (Instead?) We see an evening meal at which Jesus begins by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13). This is the context for the conversation in which we find John 14:6. 
  • Closer in, 14:1-7 follows right on the heels of Peter’s audacious pronouncement of faith and faithfulness and Jesus’ blunt rebuff. 
  • There is repetition of interest in where Jesus is going: “Lord, where are you going?” in 13:36 (Peter), and “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” in 14:5 (Thomas). Jesus’ response to each is different. To Peter, Jesus replies, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” To Thomas, Jesus replies, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.” 
  • Focusing closer on the exchange with Thomas, Jesus has just said in v4, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” To which Thomas responds, “Hey! We don’t even know where you’re going, much less the way to get there!” I enjoy that Jesus isn’t as interested in Thomas’ interest in where (though that is Thomas’ obsession) as he is in talking about the way. 
  • Thomas seems to make the assumption, usually a correct one, that knowing the destination, the aim, the end result, the where, is the first thing to cover. If we know the where, we can figure out a way to get there. All that stands between our cleverness and resourcefulness in nailing down the way is clear, direct communication from Jesus about the where, the destination. 

Cultural Cues 

  • The thing I see in terms of cultural cues or historical background is in 14:2 about the Father’s house. As I understand it, it is less like “mansions” in the way I’m used to thinking about mansions–large homes on large plots of land that allow one to be isolated from others. Quite the contrary, it is more like “dwellings” or add-ons to the house of God. Plenty of rooms and more under construction so that everyone may be brought into God’s household. 
  • I would tend to think of Luke making more of a reference to household ethics, which would involve familial ethics or what is called “fictive kinship,” which basically meant that persons adopted or taken on as family were treated as kin even if not a blood-relative as we might say. I’m not sure that this sort of reference is what John has in mind with this talk of God’s house, but it’s worth mentioning and asking the question. 
  • One thing I do wonder about with this talk of “God’s house” is what image is really being put forward here? Is it a reference to heaven and the afterlife, as we somewhat assume with our liturgical use of this text in our funerals and memorial services? Is it more of a reference to our place in the Church, making the “room” more relational in character than spacial? Hmm…curiosities. 

Canonical Connections

  • As I think about the exchange between Thomas and Jesus within which Jesus’ pronouncement about being “the way and the truth and the life” surfaces, I think about this business of Thomas’ interest in where outweighing his interest in way. This calls to mind the wandering of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years in the books of Exodus and Numbers. I imagine them being, like Thomas, more interested in the where than the way. They wanted to hurry up with the where–the promised land–and be done more quickly with the way–the journey of being led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night
  • In thinking about Jesus being “the way” and therefore thinking about the way of Jesus, I think about the stories in the Gospels that actually witness to the way of Jesus. As Bishop Willimon has said in his recent book, Who Will Be Saved? and in recent podcasts on that subject, following Jesus means going where Jesus went and among who Jesus went among, persons, as it happens, who I’m not all that interested or comfortable with following Jesus to. 

Further thoughts for now… 

  • On the subject of observing the way of Jesus as witnessed to in the Gospels, I continually find that I have a remarkable ability either to augment or interpret the Gospel narratives in ways that make Jesus (and his way) much more palatable for me! 
  • At the same time, I find that I am drawn like a magnet even more to the raw, less palatable Jesus than the one of my own redacting. I find I’m only partly converted, but I also find that something like a claim on me (for its not something I can conjure up) draws me in even as I am hesitant to be fully converted. Something about the way of Jesus is truer about me than the way of Guy that I actually live according to. 
  • Finally (for now), regarding those whose lives seem to witness most powerfully to the Way of Jesus, I find that my tremendous admiration of them is matched by my hesitance to imitate their witness! And yet Jesus still has me spellbound, still in his gravitational pull, still being converted. 

Thoughts?

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