In the gospel of John, Jesus describes himself as “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6) I have been thinking about that three-fold description, especially how Way, Truth and Life relate to one another. Are they disparate items as we would write on a shopping list: milk, butter and eggs? Or are they intended as synonyms for a single idea? In the story, Jesus’ description is spoken in response to Thomas’ question, “How can we know the way?” In this case Way = Truth = Life. Jesus is the Way that is Truth and is Life. Jesus is the Life that is the True Way. Jesus is the Truth that is the Way of Life.
To be a disciple means to learn and to follow your teacher as a student. To be a disciple is to seek to walk the path that Jesus walked. To be a disciple is to seek to follow a way of living and being in the world which is witnessed in the life of Jesus.
Most discussions of grace in Christ revolve around the cross and resurrection. Certainly we should look at those moments as the ultimate act and example of grace. Yet as we talk about living as disciples, we also can talk about Christ’s example as a gift of grace, Christ’s life (between his birth and his death) as what it means to be truly alive in this world.
Following Jesus as the Way is a gift. Although it can shift towards works-righteousness, one image I have found helpful is the gospel as the gift of a beautiful piano. You wake up one morning and there is a perfect instrument in your living room. It is a work of art, lovingly crafted and always in tune. Every time you past by you feel gratitude for the one who has given you this gift. And one day a visitor comes and also marvels at this piano and quietly asks you, “Do you play?” It is a natural question. Have you taken the time and established the disciplines (note the link to “disciple”) that will allow you to make beautiful music on this beautiful instrument. The practice is part of the gift, part of the way of honoring and responding to the gift. Do you play?
Following Jesus as the Way is salvation. This is not to say that discipleship is a way of earning that salvation. This is not an if-then situation as we proclaim Jesus has already done everything necessary for salvation. In one of our old offertory songs before Holy Communion we sang asking that God would give us “a foretaste of the feast to come.” The communion meal became a way of experiencing the promise of eternity, if only for a moment. Likewise, the life of discipleship offers such a foretaste. In my first post in this series, I suggested the disciple cultivates certain virtues in our lives: awe, peace, love, gratitude, compassion and faithfulness. As we embody these virtues we are already living with one foot in eternal life.
Following Jesus as the Way is shalom. The Hebrew word is offered as a greeting and often translated as “peace.” Yet it means much more, pointing toward wholeness and completeness. When all the disparate pieces of a jigsaw are gathered and organized in their places, the puzzle has shalom. When a football flies from the quarterback in a perfect spiral, arcing above the players and falling into the waiting arms of the receiver, the play has shalom. When the sun sets over Buzzards Bay and the sky is filled with yellows and oranges and those watching are moved to silent wonder, the moment has shalom. Again in John’s gospel, when Jesus says, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10) he is talking about shalom. Real life, abundant life is complete life. The path of discipleship leads us step by step, growing in shalom, but more importantly, the path itself is shalom.