Bottom line: Jesus invites us to let go and trust in him. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through him.
As a lead-in to today's Gospel, I would like to begin with a humorous story: It's about a man who falls off a cliff. On the way down he manages to grab a tree limb. With both hands grasping the limb, he looks down into a deep canyon. He cries out, "Help, please. Is anyone up there?"
After an unbearable silence, a voice answers, "Yes, I am here."
"Who are you?" the man shouts.
"It’s me, the Lord!"
Greatly relieved, the man says, "Oh, thank you! Have you come to rescue me?"
"Yes," says the Lord. "But you will have to trust me and do exactly what I say."
"Anything!" the man says.
The Voice says, "Let go. I will catch you.”
The man thinks for a second, looks down into the canyon, then asks, "Is there anyone else up there?"
Well...the story indicates the dilemma we face in today's Gospel. Jesus says clearly, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, is the only Way. Jesus himself is God. There is no one else up there. He alone can rescue us. But there is a hitch: We have to let go, trust totally in Him.
Sometimes people hold back from Christianity because they fear that it is "exclusive." In one sense that is understandable - Jesus does make some absolute claims. Jesus himself, however, is perfectly inclusive. He includes in Himself the entire Jewish faith. He also includes the monotheism and surrender of Islam, as well as the self-abnegation of the Buddha. He even embraces what is good and noble in paganism.*
As Christians we follow Jesus - the one way to salvation, who is himself the fullness of life and truth. This does not mean that we claim to be oracles of truth. Or that we know all the answers or are always right. No, our approach to the truth requires humility. Pope Benedict expressed it this way:
"It is obvious that the concept of truth has become suspect. Of course it is correct that it has been much abused. Intolerance and cruelty have occurred in the name of truth. To that extent people are afraid when someone says, 'This is the truth', or even 'I have the truth.' We never have it; at best it has us."**
This paragraph from the pope's interview with Peter Seewald deserves careful reflection. Pope Benedict says something we need to think about and fix in our minds: We never have the truth; at best it has us. That is so important for us today. We constantly hear people claim to have the truth - sometimes they make the claim loudly and angrily. They use the "truth" like a club to beat down other people. Pope Benedict models a different approach. If you read Light of the World you sense a man who stands before the Truth - humbly and serenely.***
That's the approach in today's Gospel. Philip says to Jesus, "Show us the Father and that will be enough..." He doesn't ask for an answer to every question, but simply to see the Father. We have to remember that Philip makes his request in the face of impending doom. Jesus had told them that he would be arrested and that they would all abandon him. It was a moment of terrible confusion. Philip does not ask for a clarification or for some easy way out. He asks to see the Father.
To that request Jesus replies with another question: "Have I been with you so long and you still do not know me, Philip?" Then he gives the great revelation: "The Father is in me and I am in the Father." Jesus is one in being with the Father. Or as we will say, beginning in Advent, Jesus is "consubstantial" with the Father - one substance with the Father.
That's why Jesus says he no one comes to the Father except through him. And that is why Jesus can give what seems like an impossible command, "Do not let your hearts be troubled." In the midst of all the anxiety, confusion and disappointment of life, how can we help feeling troubled? We are like the man clinging to that branch. Jesus invites us to let go and trust in him. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through him.
*For example the impulse to offer sacrifice, the admiration of great heroes and the monumental achievements of pagan philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. The modern attempt at a pagan revival seems pallid by comparison.
**He adds: "No one will dispute that one must be careful and cautious in claiming the truth. But simply to dismiss it as unattainable is really destructive. A large proportion of contemporary philosophies, in fact, consist of saying that man is not capable of truth. But viewed in that way, man would not be capable of ethical values, either. Then he would have no standards. Then he would only have to consider how he arranged things reasonably for himself, and then at any rate the opinion of the majority would be the only criterion that counted. History, however, has sufficiently demonstrated how destructive majorities can be, for instance, in systems such as Nazism and Marxism, all of which also stood against truth in particular."
***The pope's simplicity reminds me of a Dicken's character - Joe Gargery. After Pip admits to telling a whopper to make himself look good, Joe says to the boy, "There's one thing you may be sure of Pip," said Joe, after some rumination, "namely, that lies is lies. Howsever they come, they didn't ought to come, and they come from the father of lies, and work round to the same. Don't tell no more of 'em, Pip. That ain't the way to get out of being common, old chap..."
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