Which Way is Jesus’ Way?
A friend asked me if this week if I believe that “Jesus is the way…” from John 14. I replied as I usually do, “Sure.” It’s an easy question. As a pastor, a professional Christian, I placed my bet a long time ago.
Even for amateur Christians, it’s still an easy question. All it asks of us is, “What do you think about Jesus?” or perhaps this year, “Who are you voting for Messiah?” In this simple do or don’t decision, the implication is that you pick Jesus in opposition to anyone else who might be, “The Way.” Jesus vs. Muhammad would be the latest prize fight with Jesus followers doing all the fighting. Imagine Jesus vs. Ali? He wouldn’t stand a chance, turning the other cheek… He’d get hammered. Good thing the faithful step in defending Jesus in a life or death fashion. That seems to be our way.
“Is Jesus The Way or is it Buddha? Muhammad? Confucius?” Through the years, as a pastor, I’ve seen some terrible behaviors from the true believers who could have voted any of the above. “Is Jesus the way?” no longer seems to challenge or transform us. It only seems to divide us, requiring us to vote for Jesus but then, apparently, giving us the liberty to do as we please, especially if we do so in Jesus’ name.
What does challenge me is when I turn the question around and then read the gospels. Then I don’t just ask about Jesus being “The Way,” but wonder, “What was Jesus way?” And if I dare apply it, I ask, “What would my life look like if I lived Jesus’ way?” That’s a much more problematic question. It requires me to do more than think, I have to consider, and ultimately, I have to choose. It takes me from, “What would Jesus do?” to “What would Jesus have me do?” or “What would I do if I was a follower of Jesus’ way into the world?” After all, if Jesus is the way, shouldn’t his way be my way?
Jesus’ way is different than the other ways, and I don’t mean in the traditional religious sense. We just don’t seem to notice. When a pharmaceutical company raises the prices on Epipens to an astronomical level, there should be no surprise. That’s what corporations do. It is their way. That’s how a corporation maximizes profit. Supply and demand determine the price. When politicians support their candidate justifying his or her actions, it is what politicians do. It is their way. Win at all costs. No matter what it takes. Integrity is sacrificed in the name of the greater good. The ends (all the good we will do) will justify the means (whatever it took to win). The writer of the book of Judges in the Bible twice critiques the people of that era, “everyone did that which was right in his or her own eyes.” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). Apparently they were even worse than Machiavelli who supposedly is the first to say, “The ends justify the means.” For them, they didn’t even care about the end result, each just did as he or she pleased.
For Jesus, the ends never justified the means, no matter how good the goal. For Jesus, the means were the end. That was and is his way. You love because you love, it’s your way, even if it gets you crucified. You don’t judge, condemn, or treat others with contempt, apparently even in the midst of a crucifixion, because that’s not your way. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out that for followers of Jesus, his way is our way, and that means, the ends never justify the means but the means are our ends, our goal, our way in the world. He preached,
One of the great philosophical debates of history has been over the whole question of means and ends. And there have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means really aren’t important. The important thing is to get to the end, you see.
So, if you’re seeking to develop a just society, they say, the important thing is to get there, and the means are really unimportant; any means will do so long as they get you there? they may be violent, they may be untruthful means; they may even be unjust means to a just end. There have been those who have argued this throughout history. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.
It’s one of the strangest things that all the great military geniuses of the world have talked about peace. The conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, were akin in seeking a peaceful world order. If you will read Mein Kampf closely enough, you will discover that Hitler contended that everything he did in Germany was for peace. And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.
Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God. And so when we say “Thou shalt not kill,” we’re really saying that human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world. Man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering. Man is a child of God, made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such.
Dr. King knew of what he spoke. Jesus’ way should be our way, and as Dr. King pointed out, the path to love begins with respect.
Will government or corporations or television guide you in any way other than what’s right in their own eyes? No. But we shouldn’t expect them to. When we do, we just look silly as Kurt Vonnegut observed,
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, the demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. “Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”
Jesus never seemed to expect Caesars or Institutions to be role models or follow his way at all. That was the job of each individual disciple, or as those who lived in the communities of the early church were known, “The Followers of The Way.”