Summary: When Jesus says he is the way, it means: 1) You are not the way. 2) Other religions are not the way. 3) Jesus Christ is the only way to God.
Godfrey Saxe’s poem The Blind Men and the Elephant is based on a fable from India. (See the complete poem at the end of the sermon. May also be used as a skit.) In it, six blind men go to observe an elephant to understand what one really is. One blindly walks into the elephant’s side and proclaims that an elephant is like a wall. The second felt his tusk and confidently said the elephant was like a spear. The third grabbed its trunk and said, “Why of course, the elephant is like a snake.” The fourth, feeling the elephant’s leg, said that it was obvious to any thinking person that the elephant was like a tree. The fifth blind man ran his hand across the elephant’s ear. He was sure that the elephant was like a fan. Finally, the sixth man took hold of the tail and announced the elephant to be like a rope. Saxe sums up the poem by saying, “Though each was partly in the right, / And all were in the wrong!” The final verse concludes with this moral: “So oft in theologic wars, / The disputants, it seems, / Rail on in utter ignorance / Of what each other means, / And prate about an Elephant / Not one of them has seen.”
The idea in this little parable is that everybody thinks they know what God is like, and even though some may have it partly right, they are also all wrong. For how can anyone know what God is like when none of us have ever seen him? We are like blind people groping about. One sees this part of God, and another person sees another. We are doing our best, and each of our experiences are legitimate, but they all fail to get at the reality of what God is like and who he really is.
There are, however, some problems with this delightful little poem. The most obvious is that as blind and as misled as all the men were, they really did have hold of an elephant. The elephant was very much alive and real. He did exist. Secondly, to follow the parable’s intent, what if the elephant could have spoken to the men — as God has to us? What if the elephant said, “You need to know this and that about me. Not only do you need to experience more of me, but I will tell you how to live. I will tell you things that you would never be able to discover on your own.” What if there were writings of the elephant’s sayings which told what he was like. Even more, what if the elephant, fantastic though it may seem, was capable of sending a human, though one of his own essence, who could relate in personal ways what an elephant was from the perspective of one who knew perfectly what an elephant was, and also knew what it was like to be human? The blind men were all wrong, but only because they were each relying on their own efforts and experience.
In the Christian faith we do not rely on individual experience, although it may at times be genuine and real. We rely on something the Bible calls revelation. Remember the story of Jesus asking the disciples who people were saying he was? The disciples said that some were saying he was a Elijah, some said Jeremiah, and some that he was one of the Old Testament prophets who had come back to life. It was similar to the blind men saying, “He is a wall; no, a spear; no, a tree.” But then he asked the disciples who they said he was. Peter gave this now famous reply: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Listen again to Jesus’ reply to him: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17 (quickview) ). This was not something that Peter could have figured out on his own; it was something that had to be revealed to him by God. Peter understood who Jesus was only because God revealed it to him. Without God’s revelation to us we would each have a piece of the truth without knowing how it relates to the whole.