This is the season when we get in the car and journey to see family and friends. When the kids complain because it’s three hours in the car to Grandma’s, we remind them how Joseph and Mary saddled up the old Yugo and drove a hundred miles, the limit of that car’s extended warranty, in order to get tax forms from Quirinius’ office in Bethlehem, because Nazareth was too small a town to have wi-fi. The thing we mustn’t miss in our attempt to explain the oddness of Palestinian life, is that faith is a journey. Jesus invited people to follow him. The first Christians, having no name to call their new religion, simply said that they were people of the Way (see Acts 9:2, 19:9, 19:23). When we share communion, we should remind people that this is bread for the journey. Those who think that they have arrived, aren’t welcome.
It is a dangerous thing to go to church expecting to get a check list of do’s and don’ts that will somehow make life safe. Pilots do a preflight checklist and then choose their destination without consulting the airplane’s manufacturer. Church goers often expect an hour of religion to make their lives safe for living according to their own goals. The pre-natal Christ put his family in mortal danger so that his journey on earth could be symbolic of the transient nature of our existence. People of faith are more likely to become refugees and to be persecuted, simply because they follow paths that are not approved by those who seek to rule this world.
In 1972, when Tyndale House Publishing was developing a new Bible version targeted at post-moderns and in a stroke of marketing genius called it, The Way. While many churches adopted the Living Bible in an attempt to win young people back, there was something far more subversive going on. No one brings a car into their garage with the hope of it increasing the value of their home. No one tells people that Christianity is the Way, that actually leads somewhere and can transform the world, and then insists that they sit contentedly in their assigned pew and wait for heaven.
The Way is neither rule oriented, nor institution bound. One sees it exampled in the story of the Good Samaritan when a stranger leaves the highway of social expectation and shows compassion. One sees it in the story of Ruth, when the hated foreigner immigrates to Bethlehem and gleans her way into the linage of the Messiah. The first Christians knew that they had found the Way, when they were excluded from the traditional houses of worship. Christians today know they are on the Way when their actions are more, not less, compassionate than that of popular culture.