I recently read J. Philip Newell’s book A New Harmony. I came across some interesting quotes. First from page 119: “An American rabbi was once asked what he thought of the words attributed to Jesus in St. John’s Gospel, ‘I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). The rabbi replied, ‘Oh, I agree with these words.’ To which the surprised questioner asked further, ‘But how can you as a rabbi believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life?’ ‘Because,’ answered the rabbi, ‘I believe that Jesus’ way is the way of love, that Jesus’ truth is the truth of love, and that Jesus’ life is the life of love. No one comes to the Father but through love.’”
The wisdom of these words would go a long way in helping us to negotiate the political and religious climate in our country these days. They would also go a long way to facilitate interfaith dialog.
Let’s start with the political and religious climate. There is no question that the US population is polarized to extremes—both in questions of politics and religion. If there is a middle ground, the voices are silenced by the shrillness of the voices on either extreme. “Either-or” thinking abounds. Either you believe the way I believe, or you are ____________ ! You fill in the blank with how you have labeled people who don’t agree with you. Is this Jesus’ way, truth and life? Or is this YOUR way YOUR truth, MY way and MY truth? Since none of us see God’s truth but “through a glass darkly,” how can we be so adamant that our way is the truth? Both – and thinking is needed. Both YOUR way and MY way are truth. This isn’t wishy-washy, relativistic thinking. This is recognizing that since everyone is made in God’s image, everyone has some of the truth, and that no one has all the truth.
This could also extend to interfaith understanding. Have any of us listened to the faith of a Muslim, a Jew, a Baha’i, or other faith perspective? Have we had the same understanding that the rabbi had toward Jesus? Is there a possibility that God has revealed some truth in each religion as a means to discover Jesus?
But there’s more. Newell writes on p. 119: “Instead of seeing Jesus as embodying the way of love that we are to follow, the truth of love that we are to believe, and the life of love that we are to live, we have turned his teachings into a set of propositional truths about Jesus. We have pretended that the most important thing is to give assent to particular beliefs rather than to follow the way of love, the truth of love, and the life of love. And part of what we have ended up doing is creating a Jesus who is so insecure that he needs to be thinking about him all the time.”
What difference would it make in our polarized political/religious climate if we would EMBODY Jesus’ ethic of love, his way of love, his truth of love, instead of just saying that we BELIEVE in it and in Jesus? What if we would LIVE Jesus’ command to love everyone, instead of reciting the creeds in order to be sure we have “correct” belief? For as Newell stated, “Jesus teaches us that we will truly find ourselves only by giving ourselves away in love,” p. 116. And on p. 118, “This was Jesus’ wisdom. He showed us that we truly find ourselves by losing our egocentricity.” Losing our egocentricity as well as our ethnocentricity.
Finally, many of us “have been appalled at the way in which Jesus has been hijacked by triumphalist [superior to all other] religion [and culture]. The truly humble one at the heart of our tradition [Jesus] has been used to prop up an often arrogant and irrelevant religious system. The son of compassion has been used to justify intolerance and even violence,” p. 118. Unfortunately, as this quote points out, there has been far more arrogant and violent Christianity—especially in the West, than the Christianity of Jesus portrayed in the Beatitudes.
Is Jesus “The Way, The Truth, and The Life?” If you believe that he is, and I do, then let’s embody that way—the way of love and the way of the cross.