“And you know the way 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, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.”
John 14: 4-6
How is it possible that after all of what Jesus has shown and told the disciples prior to this passage, Thomas can still say, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” It is probably the very same reason that, without actually saying it, we continue to act in our lives as if we do not know our way and what is asked of us.
As a member of a religious community, I, with my confreres, have been involved in the last decades with countless meetings where we discuss who we are and what is asked of us. Often these meetings are difficult and even contentious. We often lament about how unclear our way is and wonder what we should do and what our future direction should look like. Of course, it is always true that every person has his or her own perspective. If we are to do something in common, it is imperative to hammer out a shared vision.
Yet, as I grow older I become aware that the problem, at least personally and perhaps also to a degree communally, is not that I or we do not know the way. It is rather that the way, which is the way of self-giving, dispossession, and even death of self is too difficult to live out. There is a certain advantage to “playing dumb,” not only before others but with ourselves.
The “way” is not the way of self-satisfaction, cultural and societal recognition, or success as our ego measures it. It is rather a moment to moment commitment to give ourselves in our own small and humble way for the good of the other, for the betterment of our world. It is to deliberately choose to deny and lose ourselves for the sake of love and of God’s will. As John of the Cross teaches: it is to incline ourselves to the most difficult and the most distasteful, to hard work, to the unconsoling, to the least, the lowest and the most despised, and to wanting nothing. It is, for the sake of Christ, “to desire to enter into complete nakedness, emptiness, and poverty in everything in the world.” (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, I, xiii, 6)
This is what Jesus has lived and what he describes to the disciples in the preceding chapters of John’s gospel. This is “the way” that Thomas and we are avoiding. We can never know the world as it is, and so be able to serve it, until we stop seeing that world through the lens of our own need for gratification and our desire to create our own identity. It is ourself that is in the way of our recognizing the truth and the life that is always before us. It is our self-creation that must die, and the way that happens is to follow the way that John of the Cross describes. We don’t need to strain to find our way, for life is drawing us into our way at every moment. When we give up our own life and our own designs for the life of Jesus in us, then his life will walk his way through our life. The way, the truth, and the life are always before us in the present moment. What is asked of us is to cease avoiding and ignoring the way and rather give ourselves wholeheartedly to it.
I know the path: it is strait and narrow.
It is like the edge of a sword.
I rejoice to walk on it.
I weep when I slip.
God’s word is:
“The one who strives never perishes.”
I have implicit faith in that promise.
Though, therefore, from my weakness
I fail a thousand times,
I shall not lose faith.
Mahatma Gandhi, The Path