Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Way to the Father

The placing together in the Revised Common Lectionary of the story of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:55-60)and Jesus' statement, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6) presents us with the temptation to see ourselves as superior to the Jews who crucified Jesus and stoned Stephen. These Jews, after all, rejected the one who is the way, and the truth, and the life, and we Chrsitians have embraced him.

Resisting that temptation - indeed, rejecting it forcefully - requires first that we remember that the conflicts that are reported in the Gospel accounts and in Acts are conflicts within the community of God's chosen people. As a Christian I am not part of that community. As a Christian I know only too well that my embracing of Jesus as the way, the truth and the life is not something that I have done of my own accord. It is pure grace, an undeserved gift of God that I have been able to say yes to God's invitation to follow Jesus.

But if we get beyond using these texts as an excuse for anti-Semitism - and we know that they have been used in that way - we are still faced with the temptation to use the words of Jesus' as an excuse for denying that there is any truth to be found in other religious traditions. I received a gift to help me in standing against that temptation in a quote that a colleague sent me:
"Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.' Your western ears hear Jesus saying that he is the only way to God, but that is not what he says. He is an eastern mind speaking to eastern minds. They hear the emphasis being on the Father (Abba). What Jesus is saying is that he is the only way to come to know God in personal relationship similar to that of a child to "daddy". This does not weaken a sharing of the gospel, as you might think. Instead it allows a Christian to say to someone of another faith, that Jesus offers something unique, a close relationship to God." (Dr. A. B. Masilamini, a Baptist theologian and evangelist in India)
Far from being a denial of any truth that there is in other religious traditions, these words of Jesus simply affirm something that is central to our faith as Christians. We are able to call God "our Father" with boldness and with thanksgiving. God has claimed us as God's very own children and we are, in the words of our Baptismal liturgy " marked as Christ's own for ever."

I pray for the day when Christians will stop using texts like these as weapons against other people of faith and will focus on following Jesus in the way.

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