There’s a favorite verse of many preachers, and the verse is quoted perhaps more often than any other (a key verse in some of their personal canons). Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father except by me.”
I’d like to focus on a somewhat neglected part of that popular verse: “I am…the truth.”
I believe Jesus expanded the nature of truth when he declared, “I am the truth.” With those word, truth was taken beyond mere statement or fact.
Jesus could have said, “I know the truth,” or “I speak the truth,” or “I have the words of truth, but he didn’t. He said, “I am the truth.” Truth is not merely a verbal construct. Truth is now a person. A living, breathing human being is truth. A living person is truth. A person cannot be boiled down to a string of words with the appropriate subjects, verbs, nouns, and scripture citations. To know a person, this particular person, is to know the truth. Were this not true, the Incarnation would have been unnecessary, and God could have been content with simply inspiring the prophets to keep talking and writing.
We scribes and intellectuals love to play with words and ideas–I’m certainly an example of that. “God the Messiah,” our “Friend,” and our “Brother,” are more than ideas to play with. “Messiah,” “Friend,” and “Brother” are certainly all words and concepts, but Jesus the person can’t be reduced to a mere word or concept, or at least shouldn’t be.
(Uh-oh. I hear talk of the historical Jesus, the risen Christ, etc. fluttering about–and that difficult question, “What if Jesus is just a symbol we invest with various meanings?” My focus here is more… existential, more “What does this a-person-is-the- truth idea mean to me personally?”)
Jesus said, “Come, follow me.” He did not say, “Come, follow me, but first understand
that I am the Messiah who will provide a vicarious, substitutionary atonement for your sins,” etc. Not that those things are necessarily untrue. In any event, relationship and obedience come before propositional truths.
Very few people will will argue with that, I think. Many people will be welcomed into the kingdom who don’t even know why (Sheep and Goats). I’d like to take “a person is the truth” one step further.
Jesus was the light of the world. [John] himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. Jesus said, I have come into the world as light. So Jesus was the light of the world.
And according to Jesus, so are we.
You are the light of the world.
Jesus is the light, and we are the light. Jesus was an apostle, and there were many apostles in the past and are still today (missionaries).
Jesus said to the Father, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”
The Father sent Jesus into the world as the light, as an apostle, as the truth.
You and I have been sent as the truth, just as Jesus was sent as the truth. Human beings are the truth? Are capable of being the truth? Sounds absurd. Looks absurd. Evidence says, “No way.”
I haven’t gotten very far on this. Jesus’ devaluation of sheer verbiage reinforces my inclination to devalue (reject?) my own intellectualism, just the way Paul’s statement that the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power has done for so many years. We have emphasized message so very much, I have to paraphase Paul: “If the whole body were a mouth.” But God does call some individuals to be mouths, and apparently calls some groups to be all mouth.
Oh yeah, that means that some individuals have been sent as bloggers–need to be honest here. No narrowing what he said so as to exclude myself from its application.
I’m still working on what it means for me to be the truth, the way my exemplar Jesus was.
In Hebrew (which Jesus spoke when in Judea), as well as in Aramaic (the language of the Talmud of Palestine [Tiberius]) “to be” is supposed. The words I AM THE TRUTH could also be translated accurately as I AM IS THE TRUTH.
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Thank you for that insight, Rabbi.
Ron, hurray for worshiping a Person, not a book! As several of my friends love to quote Jesus, ‘You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.’ (John 5:39-40). I would say that our connection to Jesus–through the Holy Spirit in prayer, Scripture, obedience and the Church (including the sacraments)–leads us into all Truth (John 16:13). But Truth is not abstract principles or theological propositions: the Truth is Jesus himself. We enter ever more deeply into the mystery of this Person. And as we live with and in him, as Jesus, the Truth, is revealed to and through us–we become transparent to Jesus, the Truth, so others experience Truth in us. Each of us becomes ‘alter Christus’, another Christ (Luther’s phrase, I think), not because we have the Truth, but because the Truth has us.