It is a revealing conversation. Jesus has just told His disciples about the great mansion of God with many rooms, and that he is going there to prepare a place for them. Then He says to His disciples, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” It’s Thomas who replies, “Lord, we don’t even know where You’re going, so how could we possibly know the way?”
Oh, they knew where He was going. They knew, because Jesus had told them. They knew…but the impossibility of it all, the sheer, absurd impossibility of it all compelled their minds to deny it. Yes, Jesus had told them. He was going to the cross. He was going into death. On the third day He was going into the resurrection. He told them several times.
Ah…but Mapquest is not going to be much help on such a trip. The disciples couldn’t enter the destination into their GPS systems and head out. Oh sure, each time Jesus told them where He was going they probably all nodded their heads piously. But it made no sense at all to them—and remember the smack down that Simon Peter got from Jesus when he objected the first time that Jesus spoke of this little trip? And now, in the Upper Room, the sheer absurdity of it all is heightened because they sense the imminence of Jesus’ departure.
This being Syttende Mai veekend, da whole scene reminds me of dat time vhen Ole vasn’t doing so vell at all. So he and his vife Lena, vent to see da doctor. Vell…dat doctor examined him up and down and in and out. He gave him dis test and dat. And aftervard, looking terribly grim, he took Lena aside, and said to her, “Ya…your husband has a very veak heart. But I be tinking dat if yoo do everyting for him, basically vait on him hand and foot every day, 24 hours a day, seven days a veek, do everyting for him so he von’t have to do anyting himself! Treat him like a king. Vell, he could go on for a long time yet!” Lena nodded…tinking… On da vay home Ole was vorried and he asked his wife, “Lena…vhat did da doctor tell yoo?” Lena looked at her husband, took his hand in hers, “O Ole…he said…yoor not gonna make it!”
Ya, der is a lot of comfort in Jesus’ words here. But, uff da! He certainly doesn’t make it easy on those disciples!
And the disciples’ ignorance—or more accurately their inability to grasp what Jesus is telling them—becomes like a cornered beast and lashes out in retaliation. Thomas seems to shout at Jesus across the table, “Lord, we don’t have a clue as to where You’re going! Why do You torture us by asking if we know the way?”
So what could Jesus have told them other than what He did? How do you explain a mystery which defies explanation? What words do you use to speak of something that transcends language? How do you explain mathematically, philosophically, ethically, the death of the One for the many? How do you explain in empirical, scientific, medical terms what happened to Jesus on Easter? How do you explain where He went?
Thankfully, Jesus was not like Ole’s Lena. He did not look at that bunch of disciples, standing there like so many deer in the headlights. “You guys are just not going to make it!”
But…whatever else Jesus might have said other then what He did say to those disciples after Thomas’ outburst, it would have been words of Law. An explanation. A list of steps to take, of principles to observe, of disciplines to keep. A paradigm. Law. But Law always ends in death. And the disciples knew that destination too well already.
But Jesus doesn’t explain. He doesn’t set up an elaborate Powerpoint presentation. He doesn’t prescribe. He doesn’t speak words of Law and death. He speaks Gospel. He speaks life. He speaks Himself. He says to them, “I am the Way.”
And maybe the disciples are just too worn out at that point to object any further, “What kind of answer is that?!” And we too have little patience for it. “I am the Way”? What’s that supposed to mean? Why even bother saying it? It’s pious gobbledygook! Tell us what to do! Tell us what steps to take to get there. Tell us where “there” is! Tell us what “there” is like. Tell us why we should even care about “there”! But Jesus doesn’t do that. “I am the Way,” He says. “I am.”
And to the ego whose conceit is so great it has no need for these words, He brings down the mighty by saying “I am the Way.” To the soul so deep in fear and uncertainty that nothing can penetrate its darkness anymore, He lifts up the lowly by saying, “I am the Way.”
To the secularist whose brave little world has no need for the God-hypothesis, to the zealot whose confused world of Raptures and jihads has no room for Jesus…to them all Jesus replies with what no contrary argument could ever persuade, “I am the Way.”
To the whole spectrum of humanity, from the atheistic fundamentalist to the fundamentalist of a theistic variety, to all the shoppers who crowd the noisy marketplace of world religions, to the spiritual who have so little patience for faith, to the religious have so little patience with doubt, and in the face of every paradox and conundrum and enigma and inexplicable mystery and moral dilemma…all of which crowd this great mansion built by God…to each, to all…to you, Jesus says, “I am the Way.” “I am!” Which means, “With Me you are gonna make it!”
Profoundly simple. Simply profound. And for those with the ears to hear Him, there is really only one response: