Fifth Sunday of Easter (10 May 2020)
JoAnn A. Post
Jesus said to the disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
I love that line. Crisp. Clear. Confident.
We’ve all been watching way too much TV these days, and in my queue is Season 9 of “Doc Martin,” a quirky BBC production filmed in Cornwall. If you are unfamiliar with Doc Martin, let me describe him this way—Dr. Martin Ellingham is a small town physician, acerbic, authoritative, impatient, judgmental. In other words, Doc Martin is “Me” on my worst day. The “Me” I try to hide from you.
“Come through,” is Doc Martin’s “invitation” to patients in his surgery. Not “how are you?” or “good to see you” or “let’s talk.”
And, to a person, his patients eagerly “come through” from the cramped waiting area into his equally cramped office. Why do Doc Martin’s patients tolerate his sharp judgments, his unsettling stare, his brittle silences? Because he is a brilliant diagnostician and physician. Because his only desire is to make them well. The residents of fictional Portwenn “come through” Doc Martin’s office door because they know, no matter who they are or what their illness, he “will see you now.”
In last Sunday’s gospel reading from John 10, Jesus described himself as “The Gate.” The gate that swings wide for all the sheep—those seeking shelter inside and those seeking fresh grass outside. To the relief of sinners and the consternation of skeptics, Jesus asks no questions of the sheep. Jesus’ sheep don’t have to perform or beg or promise to be better sheep. He loves them all, and, to a sheep, they gladly “come through” Jesus, the Good Gate.
“I am the Gate” is but one of seven “I am” statements in John’s Gospel.
Today, we hear three more in rapid succession:
“I am the way.”
“I am the truth.”
“I am the life.”
Each of these “I am” statements leave ample room for interpretation, for speculation about what Jesus really means. The skeptics among us interpret them as they interpret “I am the Gate.” They hear exclusion, judgment. They see a narrow doorway, a quickly-closing opportunity. They insert a silent “only.” As in, “I am the only way, the only truth, the only life.”
To be honest, I don’t hear that silent modifier: “only.” Certainly, Jesus is the only Son of God, the only Savior, our only True Peace. That he is unique in all the world, in all creation, is not in question.
But his uniqueness does not mean that his followers are equally “select.” Jesus being “only” doesn’t mean that only a few are welcome on his way, only a few hear his truth, only a few receive his life. Jesus is not a boutique, an acquired taste, a “members only” club.
Jesus’ uniqueness means that he is unlike all other ways, all other truths, all other claims to “life.” And all of us are invited to follow his way. All of us can trust his truth. All of us can lean into his life.
Like the Gate that opens to all the sheep, Jesus is the Way that invites us all to “come through.”
The stay-at-home orders under which we all live right now, have afforded time not only to watch quirky BBC dramas, but also to read and to think. I have plowed through all my back issues of “The New Yorker” and “The Christian Century,” devoured the stack of books on my bedside table, monitored the explosion of information made available to the public about virology and epidemiology, about public policy and political maneuvering, about privilege and about poverty.
And I have been convicted.
I think of myself as ordinary, typical, like everybody else. Foolishly, I have assumed that my experience is normative, that my daily life mirrors the daily lives of other Americans. Don’t all Americans enjoy what I do? Food, shelter, health care, employment. Intellectually, I know otherwise, but my heart has been slow to learn.
What I have seen and read and heard in these last weeks has taught my heart painful truths. Housing insecurity has skyrocketed. 15% of us are unemployed. 20% of our children are hungry. 50% of small businesses don’t have reserves enough to survive this crisis. And, here’s the number that made crushed me this week: while 40% of those who have died of the virus live in communities of color, 90% of those who protest stay-at-home orders are white.
Apparently, I am not alone in my inability to imagine the ways, the truths, the lives of others. We want OUR ways, our truths, our lives to matter most.
To be honest, I am struggling. The inequities of our lives, previously hidden or, at least, shaded, are now glaring.
I’m not hard-hearted or uninformed; it just takes me awhile sometimes. And I am ashamed at how blind, how thoughtless, how selfish I have been. My address. My education. My wealth. My whiteness. They blind me. Without knowing or admitting it, I have been walking a way, trusting a truth, living a life, shutting a gate that leaves too many of Jesus’ other sheep in grave danger.
“I am the Way,” Jesus says, not to exclude but to welcome.
He is the Way, as a waiter invites you to a table: “Right this way.”
He is the Way, as a tour guide invites you to adventure: “Follow me.”
He is the Way, as an exhausted EMT invites you to safety, “I’ll take care of you.”
He is the Way, as Doc Martin invites sick Portwennians: “Come through.”
We are all being changed by our current, shared crisis. And those of us who might have imagined that life is good and the future is bright, have now met those whose lives are hard, whose futures are uncertain. Some of us have become them.
And we have had to admit that it is a shameful luxury, a sign of our unacknowledged privilege to imagine Jesus is The Way only for those who believe or think or live as we.
In fact, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life not only for us but for all the all the sick, all the scared, all the sinful.
Jesus is the Gate for all the sheep.
Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life for all of them, too.