The Purpose of the Story
This direction is provided by the stories of Jesus, where we can watch him applying the Way in various contexts. There is no reason to suppose that the Feeding of the Five Thousand was the only time he used this approach. Indeed, Mark and Matthew record a Feeding of the Four Thousand, too, and the more we examine other incidents with these dynamics in mind, the more we find traces of the Way. Moreover, Jesus’ teaching acquires a fresh, vivid coherence and vitality if we suppose that this was the material he developed as he taught people how to apply the Way. In other words, the Way knits his words and his actions, his teaching and his miracles into a single dynamic whole. The Way was the Gospel that Jesus brought to the people of God. It was God’s gift to them, out of God’s infinite love for them. Jesus lived and died to embody it and expound it.
There is plenty of evidence in the Gospels for Jesus’ vision of what the Way could achieve - what the Way was designed by God to achieve - and it is all summed up in the words ascribed to Jesus by the Evangelist, John: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” This image shows us two processes at work in the world.
One, perpetuated by those Jesus regarded as thieves, is a process by which people are robbed of the life that is theirs by right. God wants everyone to enjoy abundant life, but so many are robbed of this bounty by those who steal, kill and destroy. The other process is the Way, which generates abundance and abundant life, and shares it with everyone, continuing to work like yeast in the dough until abundant life is freely available to all. This is the Way that Jesus follows, embodies, expresses and expounds. This is the Way that he uses to empower people, so that they are equipped, enabled and encouraged to follow the Way in their turn. He identifies with the process so utterly - or is identified with it by others so thoroughly - that John has him say of himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Alternatively, we can draw images from Matthew’s Gospel. The Way is the means whereby the poor in spirit gain the kingdom of heaven. Those who mourn apply it, and find comfort. By using it, the meek inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness use the Way, and are filled. The merciful receive mercy, while it opens the eyes of the pure in heart, so that they can see God. It is through their application of the Way that ordinary individuals are strengthened to become peacemakers, even when this leads to them being reviled, persecuted, slandered and abused. It is their use of the Way that enables them to endure, that makes them shine like lamps, sound like prophets and reveal themselves as children of God. The Way makes the impossible possible and the improbable real. It is the means whereby extremes meet, the last become first and enemies are embraced in the same love while they learn how to embrace one another.
This sequence of four actions can be applied by anyone to any circumstances and it will always have an effect. When its four actions are enacted - followed, practised, represented, played out, performed - then energy is generated in us and between us and amongst us. Something changes. Something becomes alive. But it is when the actions are practised in a manner that reminds us of the meaning Jesus gave them, that the process becomes the Way. When the Way is practised in accordance with the stories of Jesus, it tends towards abundance. The life that it generates is abundant life. Abundant in every sense. A life that is full and rich and free and for all and forever.
The actions of the Way are like pearls on their string. Each one is valuable in its own right. Taken together, they form a process which multiplies their value. Taken together in the direction they are given in the stories of Jesus, the energy they generate is not only multiplied, but magnified. Their value, effectiveness and power are shifted into another dimension altogether. This is a dimension of open-ended significance; of infinite potential.