“I am the Way.” The writing from the late first century, early second century of the early Church, entitled, The Didache, or the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, begins with these words: “Two Ways there are, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the Two Ways. Now the Way of Life is this: first, love the God who made you; secondly, your neighbor as yourself: do not do to another what you do not wish to be done to yourself.” The Book of Acts several times uses the expression of “the Way” as a name for the early Christian Church beginning in Acts 9 when Saul (who later is Paul) asks for “letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” This name, The Way, was also used by the Qumran community that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scripture commentary tells us that this unusual title has ties with Isaiah, whose visions of the messianic age focus on “the way” of the Lord (Is. 40,3). The prophet is utilizing a key term from the Exodus story (Ex. 13,21) to prophesy how God will effect a new Exodus by leading his people along a new “way” from sin to salvation. The early Christians adopted this title to lay claim to the promises of Isaiah and to assert their identity as the newly redeemed people of God. This new “way” of life passes through Jesus (John 14,6) as asserted by Jesus in our Gospel reading from John. This Way is illustrated in the Teaching of Jesus and is put into practice by the Christian who seeks to walk along the Way of Life.
The Way of Life is certainly a moral teaching about a way of life that honors God and leads to a life in communion with God. It seems clear from our early sources that the teaching of the Way was an early method of evangelization and catechesis that the Apostles used to spread the Gospel message to the Gentiles. They learned this Way from the Teaching of Jesus and saw it as a fulfillment of the ancient prophecies in the Old Testament. Those who are baptized into Christ Jesus are called to live a new way of life. From our Gospel message today we see that this Way is more than a moral teaching that is adopted by the early Church and lived by the early Christians through ascetical practices. The Way is not just a moral teaching but is Jesus himself. Living the Way means that one must “put on Christ” and through the grace of the Holy Spirit working within, live in the Spirit of Jesus. If we have truly been united with Jesus in baptism then we will live this new Way of life as the fruits of the Spirit at work within us. In this way we are truly “taught by God” and guided by the Holy Spirit “poured into our hearts” through God’s love. In this way we also see that “Way”, “Truth”, and “Life” all become synonymous for the Spirit of Jesus living and working in the heart of the believer. St. Paul will tell the Philippians, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1,21) Life is Christ and death is gain for it means receiving the promised inheritance of the “place prepared for you” by Jesus in the Father’s house. We know the Way to the Father because we know Jesus the Christ and live our lives in imitation of him.
Clearly faith and life must go hand in hand for we cannot say that we believe in Jesus the Christ if we do not also live in the Way that he has taught and that is evidence of the presence of the Risen Christ within us. Pope Paul VI pointed out in Evangeli Nuntiandi the problem of those who do not live their baptismal faith: “Today there is a very large number of baptized people who for the most part have not formally renounced their Baptism but who are entirely indifferent to it and not living in accordance with it. The phenomenon of the non-practicing is a very ancient one in the history of Christianity; it is the result of a natural weakness, a profound inconsistency which we unfortunately bear deep within us. Today however it shows certain new characteristics. It is often the result of the uprooting typical of our time. It also springs from the fact that Christians live in close proximity with non-believers and constantly experience the effects of unbelief. Furthermore, the non-practicing Christians of today, more so than those of previous periods, seek to explain and justify their position in the name of an interior religion, of personal independence or authenticity.” New Evangelization is a call to help the baptized of our time to rediscover the link between faith and life. The Jesus whom we profess as Lord is also the Way, the Truth and the Life and if we believe in Jesus then we must also live in Jesus. We cannot follow our own “way” or some other syncretistic way of worldly wisdom but rather, we must follow Jesus the Christ and the Way that he has taught us. May we all rediscover this ancient Truth, taught by Jesus, by the Apostles and by the Church in our time and may that Way lead us to eternal Life in the Father’s house.