Chapters fourteen through seventeen of St. John’s Gospel form what is called the farewell discourse of Jesus. For the next twenty days, the Gospel reading for our daily and Sunday liturgies will be taken from this farewell discourse.
The Bible is full of such farewell discourses: Jacob (Genesis 49), Moses (Deuteronomy 31-33), and St. Paul (Acts 20) are just a few examples of this kind of literature as it appears in our Scriptures. Most major characters in the Bible make such speeches as they realize they are reaching the end of their lives. Jesus’ farewell is the longest. However, it contains all of the various elements that are present in this type of literature; namely, a little prophecy, words of caution about the future, exhortations to pass the tradition on to others, and even a few touching sentiments between friends. Jesus’ farewell discourse also contains a portion of his prayer or communication with his Father in heaven.
It is in this context that Jesus issues one of the most widely quoted I AM statements. “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” We can thank St. Thomas for evoking this statement. Unlike the other two times that he appears in this Gospel, St. Thomas is not making a statement of faith; rather he is simply asking a question. The importance of the question, however, lies in the fact that it acts as a catalyst for Jesus to make this very important statement or claim. “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
The Church values this proclamation and uses it in many ways. Perhaps my favorite use of this statement is in one of the options for the Penitential Rite of the Mass. “Lord Jesus, you have shown us the Way to the Father.” “Lord Jesus, you have given us the consolation of the Truth.” “Lord Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd leading us to eternal life.” These simple acclamations offer us a way to examine our consciences. Are we on the Way, or have we strayed onto a different path? Do we cling to the truth, or have we succumbed to the lies of the evil one? Are we following the shepherd, or have we accepted some other person’s direction?
All of us realize that because we are sinners, there are times when we have to admit that Jesus is not our way, our truth, or our life. However, staying close to Jesus in the Eucharist is one way in which we can insure that we won’t stray too far from the way or the truth or the life of grace we have in Jesus.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator