New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
Years ago, I was fortunate to be part of a grant program with Interfaith Philadelphia which brought together youth from various Christian traditions in Greater Philadelphia together to explore what it meant to for them to be a Christian in a pluralistic world. These students, passionate about interfaith work and concerned with the state of Christianity in the U.S., were incredibly open and vulnerable during the 3 days we spent together. Most of them expressed grief over the harmful rhetoric that their denominations used against people of other faith traditions. They expressed deep frustration due to the lack of religious competency of U.S. Christians.
And as we dug deeper into their questions and concerns, one thing became obvious.
The Christian Bible had become a weapon.
Not scripture aimed at love, grace, and justice.
A bully book.
A way to exclude, judge, and separate people.
And nearly all of them pointed to one particular passage used against their friends who identified as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Sikh, Atheist, Wiccan, and more.
I am the way, the truth, and the life…
And so in our discussions and examination of this text, we sought answers. Why was this now a bully text? Was it salvageable?
And look, I [or they] didn’t and don’t have all the answers.
But here is what we came up with.
John 14:6 [as well as John 3:16] as so-called “bumper sticker” passages and something you see at American football games, ARE bully texts. Meant to proselytize, and in some cases, to exude superiority and supremacy.
But the actual text [and its context] is much more.
“What troubles your heart today?” is really the question posed.
And a follow up: “What is leading you to trust today?”
Jesus of Nazareth had friends/followers who were full of anxiety and uncertainty because of all that was occurring.
So Jesus offered another WAY.
A way to a dwelling place. That’s what Jesus called it. Not a 5 star hotel room for anyone who is a Christian in heaven. Not even close. The habitation word, in its original Greek, is monai. This means a temporary resting place for a traveler. You’ve heard of caravans, right? Back in the day there were groups of people who would go ahead of the caravan to “prepare a place” so that, when the caravan did arrive, the camp had been prepared—they knew where they could get water, they had food ready. Thus, the caravan travelers knew to expect a welcome place to stay the night.
But you gotta get there first, right? You might need a map or a GPS, or something, right? Enter Thomas, one of my faves. Thomas heard all of Jesus’ words about not giving into anxiety and fear, about trusting, about finding the way. But how would they get there? Jesus’ answer: ego eimi, I AM way, truth, life. But don’t emphasize “the” in this sentence.
This is not about establishing some superior religion or offering an exclusive ticket to a heavenly mansion. Instead, Jesus’ words here are a response to Thomas’ question, remember.
And ask yourself: “What troubles your heart today?” And a follow up: “What is leading you through that and out of that?”
These questions do not exclude people; neither do they dominate or bully.
I am grateful for the voices of younger generations who are challenging the very institution of the church and American Christianity in general, for their silence about and their propagation of homo and trans phobia, religious discrimination, xenophobia, and racism. May we see the Way for what it was meant to be. The Way is love, acceptance, trust, and there is vacancy for everyone.