I have noticed that often when the subject of other faiths is brought up in conversation, if a conservative Christian is part of the conversation, sooner or later the verse “No-one comes to the Father except by me” is produced, almost like a rabbit out of the hat as a final way of dismissing any possibility of good and genuine meaning being found in any other religion.
This particular verse is often taken to mean that since Jesus appears to be saying that he is essential to salvation, it therefore follows that Christ – and hence Christianity – is the only religion that counts. Regrettably it is also only too obvious that if this is placed alongside a basic intolerance of anyone who has a different faith, that it acts as an excuse for riding roughshod over anyone following another faith.
Unfortunately which ever way we look at it, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that often the excused intolerance then becomes a short step from over-looking acts of unkindness. I remember reading that in one of history’s many periods of picking on the Jews to the point where they were persecuted, sometimes killed in racist pogroms and driven out of many countries , following reports that Jews on Crete were being mistreated, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church Patriarch Metrophanes III (1520-1580) wrote a letter to the Greek Orthodox in Crete (1568) .…. This document written by the Patriarch states, “Injustice … regardless to whomever acted upon or performed against, is still injustice.” In short he was saying you can’t actually be Christian without embracing tolerance as a concomitant of Christian love.
I want to suggest that coming to the Father by Jesus doesn’t in fact mean adopting a formula for salvation – so much as it means adopting a way of life of the sort Jesus not only advocated but lived. Jesus offered compassion to the heretics Samaritans – that is why he cured the Samaritan leper and broke the social taboos by spending time with the Samaritan woman by the well. We can hardly say we are coming to the Father by accepting the way of Jesus without accepting his good example and also making time for those who we think are heretics.
OK a test. We all get religious visitors from other faiths, how we treat them may show how we have accepted the way of Jesus. Would we pass on that one?
Another test. Jesus said forgive seventy times seven. Forgiveness is therefore high on his list of attitudes which are part of his ways. Are we forgiving as Jesus was forgiving? Remember he wouldn’t let Peter defend him when he was taken for crucifixion. He forgave people time after time. He was even reported as offering forgiveness to a robber on the Cross. Do our attitudes to crime take this into account – or do we advocate punishment? If coming to the Father by Christ means adopting Jesus way maybe we have to re-examine our attitudes to forgiveness – whether it be attitudes to those who live in our society, or those who live elsewhere.
Do we for example agree that those in our families, those who offend against society – or even those who offend our Nation by attacking our allies – are all to be forgiven?
What is often seen as placing Christianity ahead of other religions may need a rethink in the light of another of Jesus’ sayings in reply to the question…master when did we see you hungry…..? And his reply except you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it to me? I wonder if coming to the Father by way of Jesus is tied to such attitudes to others regardless of which faith leads us to that point?
Strangely enough many who remember that Jesus said – no one comes to the Father except by me – forget the next few words from that same section: Greater things than this you will do. This is not so much a challenge to outdo the master in the miracle department so much as it is a call to pick up the essential mission and take it further. We do ourselves an injustice if we think the essential mission is to come to Church to listen.
If our faith has nothing to do with the real world – why would we bother to have one?
Can I suggest that as well as the Bible we should look to the daily newspaper to keep us informed and invite us to consider where we might help in mission. For example I was delighted to hear that our Parish has given several thousand dollars (and knitted 91 beanies) for the affected families from the Christchurch Earthquake. Mind you that was an in-your-face event and we could hardly miss the need for action.
There is also what happens large scale. During the week there was a worrying piece of journalism which drew attention to the way New Zealand has reduced the amount of overseas aid it now offers. Remember two years ago it had reached 0.3% of gross national income – and is now less than 0.26% of GNI. Even worse is that one of the things that got axed was our well-regarded aid magazine called Currents which might be good from the corporate point of view since fewer can learn about how the funds are now being spent with less effect. At the same time more of the expenditure on aid is now going into corporate overheads which are now up by 40% and more to the point the recent OECD report says that we are now lacking strategic focus, and medium term planning focus. All that translates to fewer people helped in needy situations. Since Governments in democracies act on our behalf, should we not then ask that they too respond in the way of Christ.
Since Jesus was very clear that the essence of his way was showing love for our neighbour, and that when asked who is my neighbour he very deliberately chose the example of a Samaritan, I cant see that we should pretend that following the way of Jesus is compatible with doing less for our neighbours. Or that we might possibly use as our excuse that they have a different religion.
I guess when you put all this together, the question should not so much be who else is eligible to come to the Father in some other way. The more urgent question is whether or not we realise that coming to the Father by Jesus is more than an unrealised faith statement? Perhaps rather it might mean that using Jesus as our way into salvation should simply mean adopting his way as our way. An interesting thought.
(Feel free to use any of the above with acknowledgement – feed back is appreciated – and sharing your own thoughts on the passage might help others)