Familiarity may not always breed contempt, but I suspect that it is definitely responsible for a lot of deafness. Not literally, of course, but spiritually. The sound waves may reach our ears, but they generate either no thoughts in response, or else something along the lines of “yes, yes, I know – get on with it!”
How often did we recite the Pledge of Allegiance on a daily basis in school as children, but then or now, when did we ever stop to seriously reflect on whether or not everyone in our country has truly experienced “liberty and justice for all?”
Unfortunately, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ are subject to the same “deafness by familiarity” as our nobler political sentiments. How often have we heard what Jesus declares in today’s Gospel – that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and said, consciously or unconsciously “yes, yes, I know – read me a passage I haven’t heard before.” It is foolish to think that we have exhausted the meaning in these words, either as preachers or listeners.
Consider the idea of “the way” in any sense. To not know the way is to be lost, and human beings generally find this to be a disturbing experience. Children can be terrified if they should lose contact with their parents on a crowded beach or in a throng of shoppers at a mall, soldiers are dismayed when cut off from their unit and not cognizant of their whereabouts in a jungle or forest or desert, ordinary people are unhappy when something goes wrong with the GPS and they find themselves at a late hour on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere, low on fuel, with no gas station in sight. Getting lost is no fun at all.
So many people get lost in life. They move in a downward spiraling circle, making no progress, unsure of where to go and how to get there. They know that the road they are on goes nowhere, but they cannot find that elusive right road.
Jesus boldly and unequivocally declares that He is the Way. Children rejoice to be reunited with their parents, soldiers cheer when a helicopter extracts them from the jungle, ordinary motorists smile with relief when the lights of an open gas station beckon on that dark country road. When lost on the road of life, should we not receive with gladness the news that there is a Way?
Consider the notion of truth. The opposite is falsehood, what is not true. What is true corresponds to reality. What is false deceives us and is not in harmony with reality. Human beings also dislike being deceived, whether it is the spouse who is unfaithful, the financial advisor who steals, the salesman who promotes a product that doesn’t work, the person who says things about you that aren’t true. A love of truth explains what we like about a person who “tells it like it is.”
When we act on false information, we lose money, get broken hearts, invest or trust unwisely, and hurt others by believing lies. Jesus, in declaring that He IS Truth, not only tells us that we can invest in Him and never lose, never be deceived or hurt by Him, but He lets us know that in Him we have touched the Ultimate Reality, encountered what is really Real. Some people spend their whole lives searching for truth and integrity. How blessed are we to find it all in Christ!
Finally, consider life. All living things tend toward it. Only something that is sick wants to die. Just as the physical body would like to go on at the peak of its powers, so too our souls thirst to continue not only existing, but existing at the peak of their powers – that is, not crippled by sin and its disastrous effects. The soul wants to thrive and be happy. We want not only life, but the fullness of life, and in Christ we encounter precisely that. In fact, there is no life without Him. He tells us that He has come so that we may have life, and have it more abundantly. In the Resurrection, we see that Jesus possesses life in an manner that is unquenchable, and He gives us living water from this ever-flowing fountain.
No, we humans don’t like being lost, deceived, or threatened by extinction. Jesus supplies the answer to all of these human problems, not only by showing us the way, telling us the truth, and giving us life, but by being the Living Personification of all of these things. We might say that a Ferrari exemplifies speed, but a Ferrari is not speed in and of itself. Speed is an abstract concept that signifies moving fast. You can’t be speed. In His divinity, Jesus makes the abstract real. You and I can’t be truth or life, but He can, and through our union with him, we who were lost become found, we who were false become true, we who were dead come to life.