Reflection Part 2 - Rev. Ian Faulkner
For the second week in a row I am uncomfortable with the focus on some words which have an exclusive and excluding view of the person of Jesus.
It seems that those who are comfortable using this exclusive and excluding view overlook the context of John 14: 1 – 14, where there was a clear debate over differences: a debate between those who were followers of the Galilean (who might be referred to as the ‘revisionists’) and those who were followers of Jewish orthodoxy. Yes, they did view matters differently. Some see the story’s modern usage taking this difference to an extreme.
Sometimes when the words ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ have been used, they make Jesus sound like ‘a heavenly bouncer’, keeping people away from God: especially those without faith, those with not enough faith, and those who express their faith differently. Religious authorities and groups of every age and creed have often exercised their religion in two ways: as a weapon against others, and by ‘protecting’ God from others.
History is full of such ‘weapon’ stories and events: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the ‘ethnic’ cleansing in parts of Sudan, the Middle East, and in Serbia as the former Yugoslavia disintegrated.
Gospel stories are also littered with ‘protecting’ stories. Remember the women of Salem who brought their children to Jesus and were turned away (as recorded in Mark 10: 13 – 14), and yet other women who were frowned upon when they touched Jesus (as recorded in Luke 7: 37 – 39).
So, today, what do we make of the words: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me’? Scholars tell us that it is highly unlikely that Jesus ever made this claim and the words were ‘put into his mouth’ by the storyteller/mystic John. Do we need to hear them differently? Can we hear them differently? If these words can be read in terms of a relationship with God, rather than describing a content of dogma to be believed, these words are an invitation to us to be on a journey which Jesus charted. Jesus encourages us to seek, explore and doubt, rather than condemning or belting us over the head.
Jesus challenged the dominant system of his day. These words address the powers and principalities of our day. In Jesus we see a concern for the marginalised and the vulnerable, and a rejection of the belief that high-ranking people of power are favoured ones of God.
There is good news in these words that I describe problematic. The Good News is that it’s not about Jesus, but about God and us in the spirit of Jesus. There is a place for all! Former NZ Methodist Minister and Emeritus Professor of Theology at Murdoch University, Australia, Bill Loader sums up this thinking in this way: ‘Trust that God is the way Jesus told us and demonstrated to us. That means two things: we can trust in the God of compassion in which there’s a place for us; and we can know the meaning of life is to share that compassion in the world. Rev Loader also suggests that: “we can join that compassion wherever we recognise its ‘Jesus shape’, acknowledging it as life and truth and the only way.” I warm to this. I commend this to you. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rex Hunt, www.rexaehuntprogressive.com
William Loader, wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au