Before the term ‘Christian’ was coined in Antioch (Acts 11:26) members of the early Church were simply known as followers of ‘the Way’ (see Acts 9:2).
Jesus is often seen to be ‘on his way’ somewhere’ – to Jericho, to Jerusalem, and He meets many people as He is on the Way. These encounters with groups and individuals are opportunities for Jesus to teach and to heal as well as being unique and potentially life-altering occasions for those He meets along the way, such as the blind man at Jericho who is told ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by’ (Luke 9:37). Today the Samaritans are unhappy that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem as they do not accept it as the Holy Mountain (see Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:20).
This idea of Jesus being ‘on the way’ perhaps gives us a clue as to how we too can be members of the Way. We can be one of three types of follower. We see also in Paul’s letter to the Galatians today that there are three types of members of the community:
We are ‘by the way’
This means that our faith in Christ is merely incidental. We are Christians or Catholics as an afterthought. It is not obvious to others by our speech or behaviour that we take our faith seriously. To be ‘by the way’ means to be passive, uninvolved, and negligent in relation to God and to others. We are bystander believers and in people’s lives – critical, fault-finding, and judgmental; we do not lift a finger to help others or to perform our duty. Like some Galatians we are ‘self-indulgent’, (5:13) contrary to the Spirit.
We are ‘in the way’
We are an obstacle to others; we interfere, we are thoughtless, insensitive, putting unnecessary burdens on others, we do not mind our own business. Like some more of the Galatians we are ‘tearing each other to pieces and snapping at each other’ (5:15) in our speech.
We are ‘on the way’
It is not easy but this is what we are called to do and to be. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem which means suffering, death and resurrection – we too are called to follow in His footsteps. Like some of the potential followers in today’s Gospel we are inclined to delay and make excuses. Jesus is teaching us through their hesitancy that we are to prefer Him above all else. We are called to take up our cross and follow Him; we are called to listen to His word. To be on the way means to detach ourselves from fashionable ways of thinking and behaving. Paul describes this as the ideal -being ‘led by the Spirit’ (Gal 5:18) and ‘loving our neighbour’. It is ultimately the way to salvation. Jeus did say: 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life'.
So instead of being by the way and passive, or of being in the way and disruptive, we are called to be on the way - attentive and active.
At the end of the day we can make a very simple examination of conscience and ask ourselves – this day (in my thoughts, words and actions) have I been by the way, in the way or on the way?