“Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Do you remember Mark Twain’s famous experiment? He placed a cat and a dog in a cage and to his amazement they became friends. Encouraged, he added a rabbit, a fox, a goose, a squirrel, and even some doves and a monkey. They too became friends and lived in peace.
In another cage he put an Irish Catholic. When he seemed tame enough, Twain added a Scotch Presbyterian. Next he added a Turk and a Greek as well as an Armenian Christian, a Methodist, a Buddhist, a Brahman, and finally a Salvation Army Colonel.
“No one comes to the father except through me” (vs. 6). For many, Jesus’ statement raises one of those “theological details” that produces “a chaos of gory ends.” With all due respect to Mr. Twain, at Street Psalms we think real peace is possible, not in spite of the Christian faith, but because of it. We are exploring ways of lifting up Jesus without putting others down. We are practicing ways of following Jesus without excluding those who don’t. We are learning ways of being inclusive without diluting the Gospel into some milquetoast, undifferentiated, lukewarm soup. This is the genius of the Gospel Jesus preached even if it is not the Gospel we always practice.Twain left both cages for two days. When he came back, he found the animals still at peace. But in the cage of religious leaders he found, “A chaos of gory ends, of turbans and fezzes and plaids and bones and flesh, not a specimen alive.” Twain concluded that the religious leaders disagreed on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court.
Sadly, when the Gospel of Jesus is treated as if it were some kind of exclusive real estate owned and occupied only by Christians, we reduce the faith to a Christian ghetto. And when we reduce it to specific creeds and doctrines, the ghetto shrinks even further to the size and shape of our particular denominations – most of which are dying. And when we reduce Jesus to merely a “personal Lord and savior,” the ghetto shrinks again to the size and shape of our own lives. The smaller the ghetto, the more we feel the need to defend it and fight for it. Such an approach produces a self-perpetuating cycle of violence born of scarcity.
Thank God, Jesus is not interested in Christian ghettos or any other kind of ghetto. The Gospel of Jesus is not the property of anyone. It is like an ever-growing, radically open and utterly free operating system that is making it possible for us to be fully human. Yes, Jesus is calling forth a new humanity, not a new religion. St. Irenaeus said it beautifully: “The glory of God is humanity fully alive.” This new humanity is born of God’s abundance and is brought into fullness by the way, and the truth and the life of Jesus. But what does this mean?
When Jesus says he is the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me, he is not offering us an exclusive formula for salvation. He is stating a fact. Our way to the Father is the way, and the truth and the life of Jesus. And as it turns out, this way, truth, and life is God coming to us. Can we see? No one come to the Father. No one! Not Christians, not Jews, not Muslims, not Hindus, no one comes to the Father! The Father comes to us! God has come, is coming and will always come to us – This is the way, and the truth and the life of Jesus. There is no other way. The Gospel is the relentless download of love from the Father, who is always coming to us. We are all on the receiving end of a great gift.
God’s coming to us frees us from our gated ghettoes. It frees us from the rivalries that fuel violence. The way, truth and life of Jesus sets us free to become fully human and live in peace.