None of us would wish to be called a religious fundamentalist. Fundamentalists are inevitably violent – whether engaged in full-scale terrorism and extremist politics, or, on a more personal level, oppressing family, friends or co-religionists. Their refusal to integrate into society is a dangerous and expensive problem for everyone.
So what do we make of 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me'? Can we explain it away – Christ was speaking in the language of his time, he lived in a society different from ours? Or do we have to take the risk of being accused of fundamentalism because of our faithfulness to Christ, the Word of God? To be misunderstood as he was misunderstood?
It's often pointed out that fundamentalists are notoriously ignorant of their own scriptures. Agitating, oppressing, writing poisonous blogs and perhaps the occasional bit of bomb-making consume a lot of time and energy, so there is little possibility for serious study. But it is more – dare I say? – fundamental than that. Because each of us has an inner fundamentalist: fundamentalism, like all forms of violence, comes from fear. And when we are frightened, we don't listen. But we cherish listeners because they are open to the truth in us. So let us listen again to these words of Christ.
'I am the Way' – Christ is a road. A road is a journey. We are never the same at the end of a journey as we were at the beginning. It changes us – it is a pilgrimage.
'I am the Truth' – the Truth that meets us on the road. We Christians have not 'got' the Truth. The Truth has got us. Our encounter with Truth is first of all a journey of change in us. Going the way of the Lord tells us the Truth about who we really are, and the surprise of what we are becoming.
'I am the Life' – this journey of Truth gives us life. It is never oppressive or destructive. Where this way of life-giving truth causes conflict and rupture, as it can, it's because it exposes refusal, lies, and violence which have lain hidden. As with the life of Jesus. It is also a journey which lasts all our lives – with the ups and downs that is bound to involve.
It's not an accident that these words of Jesus, recounted so beautifully by St. John, are images, poetry indeed – just like the 'cornerstone' which is St. Peter's image for Christ. Nor is it an accident that over 2,000 years the Church has nurtured art and culture, including cathedrals with their cornerstones and more. Poetry and art can reveal hidden connections, open windows, let in light and the breath of the Spirit – inspiration.
Not that all art is life-giving: because art reveals first of all the truth about the artist, it can reveal the artist's wounds and destructive instincts. Such art, strangely, is not far from fundamentalism. The one difference is that fundamentalism is in denial about its own violence – so either it tries to control and use art, or suppresses it. But the artist who admits he or she is wounded is half way to being healed. And if we are people who dare to listen, and if we then experience with art which has dared to make a step of life – then, we are encountering the truth.
Encountering the Truth – being changed by it – is being made into works of art, icons of the light of Christ. Once changed into truth, we become artists of life along the way, giving life to others. Which also means, as I say, hidden refusal, lies and violence being exposed.
But more than that, it means a journey into freedom. Faced with the problem of caring for the poor when the demands of prayer and preaching were growing, the Church was creative enough to make the new ministry of deacons, while always remaining faithful to the truth of Christ, without deviating into flights from reality.
And so Christ is the Truth in whom we can be confident – because we have dared to let him change us.