Jason Byassee comments that he usually hears this gospel passage used in one of two ways, either at funerals to offer a word of hope about where a loved one will be, or in conversations between Christians and other religions to emphasis the exclusive nature of "the way of Christ." He continues, "What troubles me about both these common uses of these verses is that they direct our attention away from Jesus and toward something else." The answer, he writes, is always Jesus.
"How typical of us, of Thomas and Phillip, to want information from Jesus about God. When our loved one dies, we want information about where that person is, and whether his or her location is a dwelling place or a mansion. When the question is about other religions, we want information about who's right and who's wrong. But the answer is Jesus.
What we want is information to brandish against our enemies to win an argument, or to make ourselves feel better when we don't, and what we get is Jesus. Not a mascot we can put in our pocket, but someone who stands over against us in judgment and in grace, who won't be reduced to our petty agendas. To look at Jesus this way is to see ourselves unsettled and judged, in the position of Thomas and Phillip, who are confused but starting to catch on--the answer is always Jesus.
So instead of judging some other people's standing before God, we should attend to our own. When we think of God, we ought not to think of a big, impressive figure in the sky who might pay attention to us or might not--that would be Zeus. We ought not to think of a God who blesses our armies and grants us victory--that would be Mars. We ought first and always think of Jesus Christ...It's very easy for us to misdirect our worship elsewhere than toward Jesus. Mansions, dwelling places, the sort of comfort we offer those who mourn the dead is that of moving to the suburbs, a private place of one's own to live in comfort, like winning the lottery, when first we should think of Jesus. His resurrection and his promised return are the final words of Christian hope about death.
...remember, the answer to every question is Jesus. The thing we're to ask for in prayer is Jesus. The form of the great works we're going to do is Jesus. What we can always get more of is, you guessed it, Jesus."
Perhaps the question for every preacher when confronted by the gospel of John is whether or not we will take up the work of the "beloved disciple," whether, in what ever work we do, we will use our work to point to Jesus.
From Jason Byassee, "Serving the Word," Homily Service, 41.2 (2008): 151-152. Jason Byassee has been a research fellow in theology and leadership at Duke University Divinity School and will soon become pastor of the United Methodist Church in Boone, NC.