Many people knew Donald Jarvis during the 67 years of his life. He was the first-born son to my grandparents Grace and Jerrie. Seventeen years later he became a fellow Marine among the few and the proud.
He was a skilled machinist most of his work life. He was a crafty euchre player and an artist who worked beauty on canvas and with precious stones. Three different women knew him as husband (the second being my mother). Six of us knew him as father.
The night before his crucifixion, John remembered Jesus saying something that has caused no little controversy since then: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
At different times, Jesus made it clear that the life God calls us to is neither simple nor easy. He spoke of a needle’s eye and a narrow way. He called his followers to denial of self and hatred of life in this world. On first glance, his words on this last night before his crucifixion seem to draw a severe line in the sand that excludes many who never hear of Him or who are not inclined to follow.
We need to note what occupied Jesus’ thoughts that night. “In my Father’s house …” “Show us the Father …” The word “Father” in reference to God appears 45 times in these three chapters (John 14-16), mostly from the lips of Jesus. Maybe Jesus’ urgency was not that we just find our way to heaven when we die or believe in “God” as we might imagine Him. But that we “come to the Father.”
In his last night with these men who will soon launch His Church, Christ wants them to always remember that the kingdom of God consists primarily not of a destination or a dogma or anything we can claim to own and keep in our pocket, but of an eternal relationship that produces everything of worth.
Whether then or now, people present themselves as on good terms with “God” through spiritual systems of their own making. Jesus knows this. He also knows where He has come from and where He is going (John 13:3). And so He says that if they want to know the Father, they must pay attention to Him.
You can view my father’s paintings that adorn the walls of my house. My wife often wears rings he made for her. But only his children can share with you what life was like with him as a father.
This is where my personal analogy falls short. My father died 20 years ago. He left no letters behind that explain his thinking. His surviving sister and brother’s memories are fading. My siblings and I have mined all we know of each other’s experience, and our recollections of him are as imperfect as he was. Full appreciation of his story awaits the day when we will know perfectly, even as we are perfectly known (I Corinthians 13:12).
In contrast, Jesus offers a way to the Father that is unerring. His truth about the Father is complete, and His life with the Father is unendingly full of joy. Jesus wants to share this intimacy with us. This is what Christians stake their hopes upon. This is what fuels their love and renews their faith.
Jesus offers a quality of relationship that until now only He has known. For three years the disciples observed this living relationship. Their interest may have started with amazement at his miracles or a hope that Jesus would lead Israel to a new era of greatness or even a selfish clamoring for places of privilege.
In a few hours they will witness his absolute trust in His Father’s will. Over the years they will grasp how necessary it was that he be crucified and raised again so that the Father and his estranged creation be reconciled.
John records Jesus’ words in the negative: “no one can … except …” They could just as well have been phrased “everyone can come to the Father through me.”
Are these words a line in the sand or an invitation? I believe that it’s not enough for our Maker that the whole world bow before him in submission. He’d rather have us climb into his lap like those little children of whom Jesus said the kingdom belongs.
Russel Jarvis has lived in Hancock County since 1989 and has served as the lead chaplain at Hancock Regional Hospital since August 2003. He enjoys golf, old movies, reading and celebrating life with his wife and children. This weekly column is written by local clergy members. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.