In college I had the opportunity to compete in an orienteering challenge. The race, through the wooded hilltop of a nearby forest, required us to use only a compass and a map as guidance tools to find markers on the course as fast as possible. Competitors are timed but start in one-minute intervals so no one can simply follow another competitor.
I took off up the hill and quickly found the first marker. I consulted my map and compass and headed off towards the second marker. Half way through the race I knew I had to be doing well because I had passed a number of other competitors. Then I lost my way. I had to stop running and figure out what had gone wrong. I wandered around the woods for a while trying to get reoriented in the right direction. I got turned around once or twice and thought about following someone else but realized they might be lost as well. Eventually, using my compass and map I got back on track. I reached the next marker and eventually made it across the finish line. Unlike a typical race you don’t know who won immediately because you have to wait until everyone finishes.
When the results were announced I was both disappointed and excited to have finished second. If only I hadn’t gotten lost! My competitive nature had allowed me to do very well in spite of my inexperience and lack of skill in “orienteering”. What I learned at the time was how important it was to stay focused on the true north of the compass. My guide. That is the message straight from the "Guide's" mouth in this week's Gospel:
Jesus said to his disciples: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way." Thomas said to him, "Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him." Philip said to him, "Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father." John 14:1-12
Thomas, as though he was figuratively lost, asked a legitimate question. "Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" This dialogue occurs in the midst of the Last Supper. Thomas and the other disciples are about to feel literally lost in the coming days. Jesus is preparing His disciples for the future, both immediate and eternal.
Where is this future and how do we get there? Thomas asks. Jesus strongly emphasizes that "the way" is in "knowing" Him and His Father. However, the knowing that Jesus shares with His Father is somewhat lost on Thomas and Philip. They struggle with the deeper meaning of this kind of deep and abiding, knowing relationship.
When we don't understand what it means to know Jesus it is like being lost in the woods. We find ourselves turning in circles chasing after the wrong people and things. It is only when we "know the Way" that He can guide us to the Father's dwelling place. Knowing Jesus provides us with an internal compass that guides us in the right direction. Do you know your guide?