New Yorkers know, probably more than most, that roads are the most unpredictable of things we use in our lives each and every day. Weather conditions, traffic congestion, unexpected turns and construction detours are just a few of the things that make roads, even hopeful-looking open roads like the one in this image, not just ways to get from point A to point B, but are pathways into an unknown future, one that often brings with it anxiety and worry about what lay ahead.
Usually, we’re on the road so we can get somewhere by a time at which we are expected to arrive. Because we can’t really have faith in road travel, the fear of being late, or being caught in traffic has given rise in a very short time to the absolute necessity of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and traffic aps on our smartphones as ways in which we can improve the odds of completing our journey safely and on time. We hope these devices show us the best way to travel, tell us the truth about what we can expect on the road, and preserve and enhance our lives in the process.
It’s important to note that our Gospel passage today begins with these words “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. Placed at the front of the reading, these words of assurance from Jesus provide a key to understanding the rest of the passage, including the bold claim Jesus makes to be “the way, the truth and the life. They serve as a different kind of GPS, if you will, a Grace Positioning System, guiding us through the rest of the reading, and through the rest of our lives together.
We need to remember that these words “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, foreshadow that the verses following must be understood from a perspective of providing comfort and assurance through faith in Jesus Christ, and not for the purpose of perpetuating the fear of being excluded from the mercies of almighty God. Jesus’ words are designed to welcome, invite and include, not to judge, sort and exclude.
The disciples are on the road with Jesus, but they are growing concerned about Jesus’ mysterious predictions of his own death and of leaving the disciples behind to fend for themselves. As the spokesperson for this anxiety and fear, Thomas admits what all the others are probably thinking – that they don’t know how to follow Jesus on this road to the unknown and he asks Jesus to show them the way. To give his followers faith in the face of fear, Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life”, staking the claim that Jesus himself is the Grace Positioning System that guides us throughout the uncertainties of life.
While the key phrase “Do not let your hearts be troubled” serves us as the gateway to understanding the intent of this story, too often the church has in its history seen this passage as justification for a view of God that is tied to sorting or separating God’s people onto one or the other side of a border. On one side of the border are those who adhere to strict systems of belief, or behaviors – those who are “in”, and the ones who don’t quite measure up to those standards – those who are “out”. Those who are in, receive the gift of life, while those who are out, do not.
When Jesus claims himself as the way, the truth, and the life, his purpose for doing so is not to draw a border between the peoples of the world God has loved from the beginning of time, but to enwrap all those who worry about their eternal futures in the assurance that Jesus will walk alongside them all the way to the final border crossing, facing every doubt, every obstacle, every detour and every turn with the promise that our hearts never need be troubled, that we travel the road in faith knowing that our Jesus, our Grace Positioning System has it all mapped out for us.
Where does your road lead? What borders are you afraid to cross?
Do not let year hearts be troubled! Jesus is and knows the way to life. Set Jesus as your GPS.
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.