He was screaming at me. Clearly, he was furious with me. His face was beet red. He kept jabbing the air in front of my face with his finger. The veins in his neck were raised and throbbing. He kept going on and on and on about how wrong I was. I tried to calm him down, but he could no longer hear anything I was saying. He was so inflamed by my original statement that nothing I could say or do short of falling to my knees and begging his forgiveness for having been so wicked would suffice.
So, I just stood there, hoping that eventually he would wear himself out and quiet down long enough for us to agree to disagree. But his enthusiasm for his cause was stronger than I’d anticipated. He knew that Jesus is the way, the truth, and that NO ONE, NO ONE, NO matter who they are, or how good they may be, NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THORUGH JESUS CHIRST, WHO IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE! The sooner I confessed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour and quit trying to figure out ways to get people into heaven through the back door the better off I would be. Furthermore, unless I was willing to confess the error of my ways, then I had no business calling myself a Christian, because I was clearly damned to hell.
I can still see the anger and the hatred in my old friend’s face. Anger which seemed so out of place. We were on retreat in the mountains of British Columbia. We had just listened to a beautiful sermon about the Many Mansions which God has prepared for all of us. Not surprisingly my friend took exception to the preacher’s emphasis on God’s different ways of including the different people of the world into God’s LOVE. Over lunch we argued about just what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. NO one comes to the Father except through me.” My friend, it seems, had all the answers. Those who do not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior will never be acceptable in the sight of God. They will never be included in the Kingdom of God, for indeed they are all damned to hell! I could not accept that a loving and gracious God could be so cruel. So, I walked away from my friend and his theology.
I did my best to find another way to explain Jesus’ words. Maybe it was the hatred in my old friend’s eyes, but there was something about Jesus’ words which were getting in the way of the WORD. I ignored Jesus’ exclusive words and I focused on Jesus’ words about ABBA’s many mansions. This method worked for me for quite a while. Then one day, while I was studying for an under-graduate degree in Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia, I was confronted once again by Jesus’ words which continued to get in the way of the WORD. Words I believed to be incompatible with the Jesus’ WAY of being LOVE in the world. We were studying the history of inter-faith dialogue. Our class was made up of Hindu’s, Muslims, Jews, Taoists, Sikhs, and one lonely Buddhist. Together, we discussed the problems which have happened down through the centuries when people of different faiths encounter one another.
One day, we were given a very engaging assignment. We were teamed up with a member of another faith tradition and asked to bring to the table a piece of sacred scripture from our partner’s faith tradition that we found intriguing. Of course, this meant that we had to read the sacred scriptures of another tradition.
My partner was a young Hindu named of all things Nigel. Nigel had been born in India to parents who dreamed of having their son educated in England. So, they gave him an English name and they were so delighted when their son decided to seek an education in Canada. Nigel was a devout Hindu. He was familiar with the New Testament, and he was intrigued with, as Nigel would say, “this fellow Jesus.” During my studies, I had read the Bhagavad Gita, and was familiar with its representations of the spiritual struggle of the human soul. I hadn’t yet read the Upanishads, so under Nigel’s tutoring I worked my way through, what he lovingly called, the Himalayas of the Soul, while Nigel renewed his acquaintance with the Gospel of John.
After several weeks of study Nigel and I selected the texts that we would study together. I chose a text from the Bhagavad Gita which roughly translates as “All paths lead to the same goal.” (4:11) I chose this text because the notes in the commentary indicated that many Hindu’s believe that because God is all-pervading, where else can any path lead. With this text, Nigel and I explored the Hindu understanding that all gods are but pale representations of the One True God and that all pathways will eventually lead to this God.
I was quite pleased with myself for selecting a text which allowed our inter-faith dialogue to progress so nicely, and I was already anticipating the excellent grade I imagined we would get for our efforts. That is until it was Nigel’s turn to select a text from my sacred scriptures. I couldn’t believe it, Nigel had the gall to put our grade at risk by choosing to discuss John 14:6- Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except though me.” Before the words were even out of Nigel’s mouth, I was preparing to counter his selection with a selection of my own. “In my Fathers’ house there are many mansions.” But I didn’t get a chance. Nigel launched forth with an exegesis of the text. According to Nigel: “This verse is absolutely true—Jesus is the only way. And that way—of dying to an old way of being and being born into a new way of being—is known in all of the religions of the world. The way of Jesus,” Nigel explained, “is a universal way, known even to millions who have never heard of Jesus.” I must have looked confused, because Nigel went over it again: “If we look at the gospel of John as a whole, we see that from the beginning, Jesus’ way leads to his death. This death” Nigel explained, “is also, for John, Jesus’ glorification. The way is the path of death and resurrection. If we look at a single verse, we read, “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” “In short,” Nigel went on, “for John, the way or path of Jesus is the path of death and resurrection understood as a metaphor for the religious life. The way, the path of dying to an old way of being and being born into a new way of being—is the only way” Nigel insisted, “is the only way to God. Everyone must travel the path that Jesus trod. Jesus’ path is the only way to God.”
The paper that Nigel and I wrote together earned us a really good mark. But more than that it moved us both beyond the tolerance of one another’s faith toward a desire to embrace one another’s faith with more than just a live and let live attitude toward the other, toward a deep and abiding respect for other ways of being, other ways of finding meaning, other ways of relating to the DIVINE and of loving our neighbour. Nigel’s faith gave him the wisdom and the courage to wander down the path of a stranger in order to seek truth. His ability to embrace the way of another faith to see what truths might be revealed required a kind of openness which I believe was made possible by Nigel’s desire to be LOVE in the world. Nigel’s understanding of metaphor and his ability to wander the contours of a pathway foreign to him has encouraged me to travel down pathways which have revealed the unexpected contours of a reality beyond my wildest dreams.
If I had the opportunity to sit with my old, angry friend from my youth-group days, or the chance to meet and explore the journey which Nigel has been making these past 25 years, I hope I would be able to share with them the freedom which I have found in the knowledge that Jesus is not the only Way. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi, and as a Jewish rabbi, Jesus insisted that the entire Law of the Jewish people, developed over the centuries could be summed up in this way: “Love God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your soul and love your neighbour as you love yourself.” Love of neighbour as the pathway to peace is an eternal truth which exists in all the great religions. LOVE and not exclusion is the WAY.
It’s long past time for Christianity to let go of the words attributed to Jesus in order that Christians can more fully embody The WORD. It is time for us to put the little Greek word “hodos” in its proper context. A context which understands that the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call John was writing in Greek, some sixty years after Jesus spoke in Aramaic and not Greek this little word “hodos,” which means way or path. It is time for us to stop letting words attributed to Jesus to in the way of THE WORD, which is the LOVE we call God. For if Jesus is the Way, the truth and the life, then The WORD is LOVE and that LOVE is more than we can even begin to imagine or express. Many mansions, doesn’t even begin to cover it. It’s time for us to let go of the words and embrace The WORD and the WORD is LOVE.
As we learn more and more about the amazing Cosmos in which we live, the MYSTERY which lies at the heart of REALITY, the MYSTERY which IS the LOVE we call “God” is revealed as so much more than any one religion can begin to capture in words, rituals, doctrines, dogmas or theologies. The MYSTERY which lies at the heart of REALITY is BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that also. The anonymous gospel-storyteller which we call John issued an invitation to see Jesus as the Way to God. John’s invitation came to us in the same breath as, “In my ABBA’s house are many mansions.” We must distrust every claim of truth where we do not see truth united with LOVE. God is BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also. All paths do lead to the heart of God who IS LOVE. Jesus is a way; a way to truth, a way to life and a way to LOVE. The MYSTERY which lies at the heart of REALITY is LOVE; LOVE beyond our ability to imagine or to express.
Let us open ourselves to this LOVE in one another and in our neighbours. The Way, The Path of dying to an old way of being and being born into a new way of being—is the only way to the MYSTERY which is the LOVE, we call, “God.” Thanks be to ALL that IS HOLY.
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