Religious people live in a world of eternal possibilities. What drives this? For one, the all-encompassing claims people find in sacred texts gain a life of their own. The Bible is full of beliefs originating from the ancient world where they were first thought-of / inspired / spoken by a prophet, apostle or even Jesus. These various beliefs were listened to, interpreted, eventually written, passed down, reinterpreted, and cherished by subsequent generations of believers over the course of almost two-thousand years. And here we find them today, in our neatly-bound modern Bibles subject to our own interpretations, biases, and prejudices.
Consider today’s lectionary selection from John 14, a rich collection of verses that are as potent as they are controversial. John 14: 1-3 reveals one of the quintessential promises attributed to Jesus. Yes, here is the venerable section where Jesus describes God’s house containing many dwellings (or mansions as the old King James Bible puts it). This verse suggests that Jesus/God is in heaven preparing heavenly homes for the faithful. Stop and think how comforting a thought this was to the earliest Christians, many poor folks persecuted by the Jewish and Roman authorities. It’s no wonder that the thought of God preparing spacious, splendid eternal homes provided hopeful comfort. Even now, Christians who live in deprivation grasp God’s promises such that a miserable life today on earth will eventually become an abundant life in heaven.
Our next consideration involves a key verse about the source of salvation. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). What do you make of this verse? Many people interpret this it as establishing Jesus as the only way to heaven, such that you can’t have salvation from sins and protection from hell until and unless you understand and accept Jesus in precisely these terms. The power of these direct words can be hard to escape, and they tend to polarize opinion about who Jesus is, his role, and what we’re supposed to believe regarding God’s relationship with humanity.
The third section we’ll cover is that of the comparison between Jesus and God the Father. This is the grandest controversy of all. The narrative between Jesus and Thomas tends to remove distinctions between Jesus and the Father. Jesus seems to claim that seeing God the Father is the same as seeing Jesus. The powerful prose continues with statements about Jesus being in the Father and the Father in Jesus. Jesus doesn’t come out and directly say that he is the Father, but he does come about as close as you can get. The idea of the Trinity, comprised of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, originates from these and similar verses.
Lastly, there is the theme of Jesus promising his followers that they would do greater works than even he accomplished. This commitment is contrasted with Jesus’ promise that “I will do whatever you ask in my name . . .” (John 14:13) and “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (John 14:14). On the one hand, we as Jesus’ followers are told that we can do the same works (i.e., miracles) that Jesus did. On the other hand, Jesus offers to do anything for us if we ask in his name. I suppose one way of seeing this is that we’re covered no matter what. Yet, as we look deeper is there an issue? Some suggest that the qualification “in his name” must be problematic, because many people have spoken Jesus’ name without miraculous results. Other interpreters argue that these narratives are the Bible’s prolific use of hyperbole, an intentional exaggeration designed to grab peoples’ attention—which they have! Whatever is going on, generations of Christians have latched onto today’s lectionary verses and much of core Christian theology arises from interpreting them in a certain manner. What do you think? What do these verses do for you and how do they shape your belief?