There seems to be a problem with interpreting Jesus as a religious line in the sand, in which one side gets flights and accommodation to paradise, and the other side…well, you get the drift.
Re-reading John 14:6 in the context of the whole account of John, which in turn is situated within the context of the Bible, which in turn is situated within the context of the existential metanarrative of divine love; Jesus’ so-called assertion as ‘the way to the Father’ looks a lot different than the norm of dominant church culture.
Indeed, Jesus is in the middle of a long conversation with his followers, they’re concerned that Jesus (after 3 years of telling his disciples to follow him) is now telling them that he’s going somewhere and they can’t come. Here are 4 exegetical points that end up portraying John 14 as a call to love others not a call for religious exclusion.
‘Where I am going you cannot come’ – Here Jesus is talking about his suffering and death, in which he will destroy ‘the temple’ and raise it up again in 3 days (remembering that the temple has moved from being a structure to being people-in-loving-communion-with-God-and-others through the leading character of Christ). Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, EVERYONE can commune with God (not just a select few worshipping in an exclusive building);
‘My Father’s house has many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you’ – Jesus isn’t talking about gaping it to heaven and building mansions for the elect few (remembering back to John 2 when Jesus went berserk in the temple because the religious authorities had turned the building into a shrine of exclusion and exploitation of ‘the other’). Here Jesus is ‘preparing’ himself for his death and resurrection (namely the destroying of the old temple of exclusion and the re-building of the re-newed temple in which it shall be a house of prayer for all nations). Through the passion of Christ, Jesus prepared a community (not just for ‘Christians’) in which everyone is invited to join and build a society of loving ‘the other’.
‘I will come back and take you to be with me…’ – This isn’t a reference to Jesus’ second coming and that he’s going to ‘rapture’ the elect and take them to their heavenly mansions, meanwhile destroying everyone that ‘doesn’t know the way.’ Jesus is talking about his resurrection, in which after three days he will reunite with his disciples before his ascension.
‘You know the way…I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ – this has nothing to do with post-mortem travel arrangements or religious supremacy, rather it is a reflection back to Moses and the Levitical law (in which the Israelites used the Torah as the way to interpret life as a Jewish person living in the post-exodus era). Jesus’ giving of the great commandment to love others is a parallel to Moses giving the Israelites the 10 commandments. Basically Jesus is saying that without love and acceptance of ‘the other’, one ends up with the opposite of God (which could be termed ‘exclusive selfishness’ – I must stress that non-adherence to ‘the way of love’ doesn’t condemn people to hell, rather I believe that God is forever chasing people with his love, patiently waiting for them to embrace the embrace).
Jesus quite pointedly IS the way, the truth and the life because he is the perfect expression and character of the greatest commandment: love others. In the character of Jesus, we find the embodiment of what it means to love God and love people. Over his 3 year ministry, whether it was by his deeds, his words or through his character – over and over again, Jesus reminds us that God (‘the way’) is inclusive love and the will to embrace ‘the other’ in all their diversity. “When you are kind and respectful to followers of other religions, you are not being unfaithful to Jesus; you are being faithful to him” (McLaren, 2010, p. 285).
With this in mind, I dare propose that ‘the kingdom of God’ isn’t exclusive to the Christian saved, rather it is a global house with many rooms, inhabited by differing people, all unified through the mission of transforming the world into a society of ‘loving the other’.
“We must all learn to live together as brothers. Or we will all perish together as fools.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
McLaren, B. (2010). A new kind of Christianity. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.