This first section of Part I sets the stage for the rest of the conversation as Eugene Peterson examines the Way metaphor, the ways that Jesus is the Way in person, in conduct, and in relationship. The section also sets out some of the challenges of living in the Way of Jesus.
In my experience, teaching on John 14:6 has largely placed the emphasis of the passage on a different word in the statement than Peterson’s focus. When I’ve heard the passage preached upon, emphasis has been on “the” – the uniqueness of Christ.
6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
I don’t believe that emphasis is mis-placed, Christ is unique and brings salvation distinct from that claimed in other faiths. But the emphasis in this book is on way… it is a challenging and refreshing perspective. Most interesting was the discussion on Jesus’ temptations in the desert, and how those point the way…
The first temptation: Stones to bread
The devil tempts Jesus to do good. The temptation to manipulate creation and meet needs with it, to satisfy their emotional, physical, mental and emotional hunger is, Peterson posits, the very temptation we face. Specifically, to follow Jesus, but to use Jesus to fulfill needs – our own and others – and to define life in terms of those commodities we need and our plans to meet them for Jesus. Of course, when we set the agenda, we lose the people, the relationships, the way, in what are ultimately sin-defined needs – and we use Jesus to make it right.
Jesus was active in meeting needs all his life and he means for us to be similarly active, but the way he lived was not reduced to, although included, meeting needs.
The second temptation: Jump from the temple
This is the temptation to perform, to entertain, with memorable miracles. The devil invites us to use Jesus as a defense from boredom. This is the scenario where religion truly is the opiate of the people.
Jesus never used miracles as shortcuts or labor-saving devices. […] His very occasional miracles were a way to show us the “more” that is inherent in life, a revelation of the depth available to us in a life of love and obedience. The way of Jesus is not a sequence of exceptions to the ordinary, but a way of living deeply and fully with the people here and now, in the place we find ourselves.
The third temptation: Rule the world
The devil holds before Jesus reign over the world, with the worst of strings attached; “if you will fall down and worship me,” the devil quantifies. Of course, the devil’s way is impersonal, forced… and otherwise perfect in function. We are tempted to use Jesus to rule in this way – efficiently, properly, and without personal involvement. This struck me hard as we consider this season of presidential politics.
Jesus was tempted to rule from a throne-bureaucracy of abstract rules and disembodied principles imposed on men and women apart from relational trust and worshiping love. He refused. The rule of Jesus is never impersonal, never nameless.
Refusing to to good things the wrong way. What do you think about that?
The end of this section brings an important dimension, one that I’ll quote:
The way we come to God is the way that God comes to us. God comes to us in Jesus; we come to God in Jesus. It is the same way, the Jesus way. God comes to us in Jesus speaking the words of salvation, healing our infirmities, teaching us how to live in the kingdom of God. It is in and through this same Jesus that we pray to and believe, hear and obey, love and praise God. “The way up and the way down is the same way.”
No one way street, Jesus; there are two lanes, and Jesus is both the north and south, the up and down, in this journey. God’s way to us. Our way to God. In every word, action, teaching, healing, thought, choice. In His death and resurrection. Each and all, The Way.