When I was in high school I was a bus boy at a steak house. My job was, I thought, simply to bus tables. I was a good bus boy and I worked hard. I was very comfortable in my job; I knew what I was supposed to do, how and when to do it.
But one night I was asked to take a to-go order from a person on the phone. I was immediately out my element and I was left to fend for myself with this customer as everyone else was very busy.
There were no instructions given to me. I was just handed the phone and told to take care of the customer.
The phone was at a central point in the restaurant, right next to the cashier. As I worked on taking the order everything else was just a blur to me; I was aware of nothing else. This became very clear to me about a half hour later when the cashier stopped me and said, “Did you see anything?” “Anything of what?” I answered.
“Of the robbery.” “What robbery,” I asked, startled. “Did you see the guy holding me up while you were on the phone?”
I was amazed. I had been not ten feet away from a robbery and had not noticed a thing. This same conversation repeated itself several years later when I was a teller at a bank.
“Did you see anything?” one of the tellers asked me. “See anything of what?” I replied. “Of the robbery that just happened.”
Again I had been not ten feet away from a robbery and had not noticed a thing. Actually this happened twice during my tenure as a teller. Three times I have been a potential witness to a felony and I have not noticed a thing.
Now either the criminals I have had fleeting contact with have been brilliant or else I walk through most of my days clueless. Of course, I am sure you can figure out which answer I prefer.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we may all of a sudden realize, “Wait a minute something is going on here,” or “Seems to me I may have missed something.”
In fact, Thomas and Philip may have felt that way as they during the discussion recorded in today’s Gospel reading. Let me paraphrase this morning’s reading a bit. At one point Jesus says, “Don’t worry,” he spoke softly, “where I am going there is plenty of room for all of us, and many others. In fact, I am going to prepare a place for you. I’ll be back to get you soon. Besides, you know the way to where I am going.”
Now Thomas replies with a fairly logical question. “But, we don’t even know where you’re going. How in the world are we supposed to know the way?”
Jesus tells him quite clearly, “I am the Way. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. If you want to approach the Father,” he says, “you must go through me. You see, knowing me is knowing the Father.” Then Philip speaks up, “Can you show us the Father? If you could show us the Father then we’d be set.”
Of course, to me one of the great things about this passage is that, for once, Thomas doesn’t get the bad press. It’s Philip who appears to be the densest here.
This is one of those Gospel passages when it seems as if Jesus is throwing his arms up in exasperation and saying, “Do I have to draw you a picture?”
Thomas asks a fairly logical question. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” That makes perfect sense on one level; one of the first things you need to know when reading a map is where you are hoping to go. How can you find your way if you don’t know the destination?
But Jesus points out that the destination is not as important as the process. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” Jesus says. All the way to heaven is heaven. The kingdom of heaven cannot be captured on a map. It is an experience, a relationship, a life united with God. The way to heaven is not a road that is traveled but a life that is shared with our Lord.
But then Philip speaks up: “Show us the father.” Now let’s look at this request a minute. Either this the most profound statement of faith ever made about Jesus or Philip had had a bit too much wine at dinner.
Now we have every reason to believe that Philip was a good and devout Jew. A Jew asking to see the Father is quite a request. He may have actually believed that Jesus could show him the Father but let us remember that Philip came from a faith that knew the words God had spoken, “No one sees my face and lives.” Even Moses had only seen God after God had passed by and that was barely survivable.
It is more telling that Philip says that if they could see God then they would satisfied. Philip was asking for the fullness of revelation right then and there. Then they could all rest fully and be full. But the way to heaven is not about being spiritual sated. Actually it is more about being aware of your spiritual hunger.
Jesus said that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are blessed for they will be filled. Notice the language is future tense: they will be filled not they are filled.
Jesus answers Philip by telling him he has seen the Father. “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” Now, I suppose, if we were a bit like Philip we may ask, “But what about us? We haven’t even seen Jesus, much less the father.”
New Testament Greek language has only a one or two words that mean “to hear;” but it has several words for seeing. There are different words for observing, seeing from a distance, a simple glancing at something. But the word translated “seen” in today’s passage means to stare at, to discern clearly, to experience.
We do not have to have seen Jesus to see him.
All the way to heaven is heaven.
All of life, if we are seeking to live with our Lord, is eternal life.
This is a bit different than what we often hear in Christian sermons. Eternal life is often preached as if it begin in the distant future. But Jesus never said that. Jesus told us that the kingdom of God is at hand. Eternal life is not just about the hereafter; it is about the here and now as well.
Today’s reading calls us to train not so much our eyes but also our awareness to the life, to the eternal life, around us.
You know, looking back on it, I am glad I did not know I was so near to those armed robberies. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. But the life of faith, the gift of life in Christ, is too rich an experience not to seek to open our lives ever wider to Jesus.
If eternal life is truly eternal, if God is truly omnipresent, he is here with us now and every moment of now. At each moment in our lives we face God.
Sometimes that is scary; sometimes it is comforting; sometimes it is overwhelming; sometimes, quite frankly, it is a burden because we know that we are not called to live for ourselves; it makes life costly. But, like any relationship of love, it is worth it.
The most profound and meaningful and most rewarding relationships we have are those that call us to die to ourselves in some way or another. The same is true with a relationship with God. It cost Jesus his life and it will cost us ours as well.
Jesus often told us, “Those who have ears to hear, listen.” Today’s reading tells us not just, “Those who have eyes to see, observe.” But it also challenges us to open our eyes and our hearts and the depths of our lives to the reality of Christ, the Way the Truth and the Life.
“Those who have lives to live, live them abundantly.”
©2020, Tom Thoeni