At the Last Supper, Jesus told his Apostles: “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), prompted by a comment from Thomas. Jesus had told the Apostles that he was going away in order to prepare a place for them, so that they could be with him. And then said, “Where [I] am going you know the way” (Jn 14:4). Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5). Jesus reassured Thomas that, in fact, they did know the way: it is Jesus himself. That is still true for us today. Jesus wasn’t just the way, the truth, and the life for the Apostles — he is the way, the truth, and the life for us, too.
The Gospels, written with faith and with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are meant to bring us to faith in Jesus, to this experience of Jesus as our way, our truth and our life. Just as the first Apostles and disciples had to make a journey of faith by coming to know Jesus personally, so do people in every age. The Gospels help us do that by presenting Jesus through the lens of those who are already on this journey. The Apostles and evangelists had come to a place of personal knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. They believed that the reality of his divinity. They gave up their livelihoods, and ultimately their lives, to preach and teach about Jesus. They did not come to that faith overnight. As we know from the Gospels, the Apostles did not fully believe in Jesus immediately or understand his teachings perfectly. Over and over again we hear about the Apostles’ lack of faith, their foibles and their mistakes. However, they did not remain stuck in their unbelief and spiritual dullness. Jesus did not leave them in their limitations. He enabled them, just as he does for us, to come to believe in God’s saving will and his personal love and providence.
The Gospels, then, tell us about the life and teaching of Jesus from the perspective of those whose lives were transformed by Jesus. The Gospel writers recorded Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection so that we would know what really happened to Jesus of Nazareth. The same story of Jesus has been shared with us, from the Apostles and disciples, for 2,000 years. Why does it still matter? Jesus became a man like us so that we might walk this path of faith, like the Apostles before us, and finally reach our supreme happiness with him forever in heaven. St. Paul put it this way: “[Jesus] indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Cor 5:15). Living for Jesus means living a divine life, one that has been changed by grace, and continues to transform as we grow in union with God. We have access to God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — in the sacraments, especially in the most holy Eucharist, in the virtues of faith, hope and charity, and in the word of God in the Bible.
Indeed, Sacred Scripture allows us to have an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. As we read Scripture, there are steps we can take to dispose ourselves to the reality of Jesus’ love for us and God’s saving presence in our lives. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI puts it this way in a 2006 Q/A with young people: “It must first of all be said that one must not read Sacred Scripture as one reads any kind of historical book, such as, for example, Homer, Ovid, or Horace; it is necessary to truly read it as the Word of God, that is, by entering into a conversation with God…with prayer, saying to the Lord, ‘Help me to understand your Word, what it is you want to tell me in this passage.’” That little prayer is a deliberate act to open one’s heart to the presence of God in his Word. If we are open and listening, we will notice how God speaks to us through his sacred Word, but also through the events and circumstances and interactions of the day.
St. Augustine would encourage a very similar openness to God’s word: “I knocked at the door of the Word to find out at last what the Lord wants to say to me.” This disposition of ready listening is crucial to developing a lived relationship with God. The reason is that, by reading Scripture, we have an opportunity to listen to the living God. We also receive an invitation to respond, addressed specifically to the heart of each person. God desires our friendship, not for his own sake, but because he knows that is what will ultimately bring meaning, purpose and happiness to our lives.
Sister Anna Marie McGuan, RSM, is director of Christian formation in the Diocese of Knoxville.