Exclusivity, Part 2

Exclusivity, Part 2

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us. John 17:22

One of the reasons I do not believe Jesus’ seemingly exclusive statements like “No one comes to the Father except through me” are as exclusive as many believe (other than them being inconsistent with the life he lived) is that he makes many of those statements in the context of the title I am. The I am statements occur most frequently in the gospel of John. When Jesus says “I am the way…” he is invoking the name God gave to Moses to share with the Israelites for when they asked from whom Moses had been sent.[1] We commonly translate I am as the name God. If we substitute God is for I am in these statements, they appear very different. For example, “God is the way…,”[2] or “God is the gate…,”[3] or “God is the bread of life…”[4] Jesus, being a devout Jew, would have known he was invoking God’s name with these statements, so our question becomes, was Jesus referring to himself exclusively, or was he making more general statements about God? If the latter is true then we cannot believe Jesus was establishing himself as the only way to God. In my opinion, this less-exclusive interpretation is far more consistent with the life Jesus lived. If Jesus was referring to God with his I am statements, and if God is the God of everything and everyone, including all world religions and belief systems, then these statements do not refer to Jesus as the exclusive way to God. Rather, finding our way back to God is the primary focus and following Jesus is one of the ways. One destination, many paths.

Although Jesus did claim oneness with God, for example saying, “As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you…,”[5] Jesus also referred to God as distinct from himself, describing to God as Father, speaking and referring to God as one would to another. Jesus spoke of his oneness with God in a way similar to how we might consider the oneness of a wave with the ocean – the wave is of the ocean, in the ocean, and at the same time distinct from the ocean. Jesus and the Father were perfectly aligned in a way that the Father’s work could be done through Jesus with little or no ego-massaging interference from the person of Jesus. Indeed, this is the challenge Jesus lays before us in his command to follow: Can we, too, set aside our egotistic, self-centered biases and expectations and simply let God do God’s work in and through us? Jesus claims our oneness in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they (meaning us) also be in us.”[6] This process of becoming One with God is not a physical or even a spiritual reuniting since there is no actual separation except for the thin veil of conscious awareness that is inherent to our three-dimensional existence.

We can also be confident that Jesus’ message was not one of exclusivity by the commandments he gave to love each other, particularly in his explanation of who we should love. In the story of the Good Samaritan,[7] Jesus tells a devout Jewish lawyer to love God and to love his neighbor as himself in response to a question about what one must do to inherit (or become a part of) eternal life. The lawyer then asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan, the point of which is that everyone is our neighbor. The parable could as easily have been titled the Good Foreigner or the Good person-who-is-different-than-me. If we love and include only those like us we gain nothing in terms of moving toward oneness with God or with others. We only solidify the oneness we already experience within our self-selected, exclusive group.

Jesus’ gave his disciples a new commandment. “…that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”[8] Similarly, Matthew records Jesus being asked which was the greatest commandment and after citing love for God he says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”[9] We will be known as followers of Jesus and claim our oneness with him by the love we show to all others, not by simply claiming ourselves as Christian and excluding those who do not.

This is the 59th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.

[1] See Exodus 3:13-14.

[2] John 14:6.

[3] John 10:9.

[4] John 6:35.

[5] John 17:21.

[6] John 17:22.

[7] Luke 10:25-37.

[8] John 13:54-55.

[9] Matthew 22:39-40.

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