Jesus told him, “I am the way and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
There are those who read into this passage that if you do not go to their church: Catholic, Fundamentalist, you are not going to heaven. It is that simple. There is a major problem with this way of thinking and our First Reading for this Fourth Sunday of Easter tells us what it is.
First, as to the truth of the quote, if we are both standing on the face of cliff and my reality says there is a cliff there, but your reality does not, so you step forward, we will soon find out whose reality is correct. That is, as soon as we get to that sudden stop at the bottom. There is no room for relativism in our religion. If that was the point, it is correct.
In the west, we tend to think of the truth as static. It is, or it is not. Jesus is the way, the process, and the truth/this static thing, and the light. In the Semitic cultures, Ameth/faith is the first, middle, and last letters of the Jewish Alphabet. The truth is also a process.
Moses told God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” God replied to Moses: I am who I am. Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.”
We as Catholics borrowing from Aristotle hold that there are four causes: formal, efficient, material, and final. Torah is the Formal Cause of the world. The Holy Spirit is the efficient cause, we are the material cause, and God is the final cause of the world. He is the one to whom all of our lives are to gravitate.
The problem with saying that we have Jesus, so we have the truth, and by extension, you/non-believer do not, is first one of attitude. The Jews and later the women of prominence in our first reading use the reasoning of, we have the truth, so if you are not a member of our group, you are wrong. They see other groups gaining converts and become jealous. Then they become violent. This is not Christ’s way. This is not Paul’s way, or Peter’s way. They come with a new way.
It is called meeting people where they are at. It is called saying, “There is only one final cause; let us go find it together. We meet Sunday’s at 9:30. You are free to come search with us.” Any school teacher will tell you, teaching is not about showing the students where they will be upon graduation. Teaching is about taking people where they are at and showing them how to get where they will be when they graduate. It is a long, 12 year to 24 year process. It is a life long process. It is not relativism to meet a prospective convert on his errant way, listen to what his current understanding, agree where he is right, and then guide him to the truth. It is good teaching.
Light attracts people as it attracts moths. A rabbi I once read said that if you gave him a newborn, he could raise that newborn in any faith. You pick the faith, and he will raise the child in that faith. When that child is grown, the fires of hell will not separate that child from his faith.
This is not an argument for relativism. It is the simple statement that we are social animals. Our Church teaches this. The only time we go looking for another religion, another culture to live in, is when we are unhappy. When we are happy, the fires of hell will not cause us to consider another person’s faith.
Christiane Amanpour once told of visiting Iran. She saw a little old lady, much like our little old ladies who pray the rosary, or pray to St. Anthony when they lose something. This little old lady prayed to the Muslim’s Invisible Prophet to find the money to pay the rent. She went to bed and in the morning found the money to pay the rent. Now, we come and tell her that we are correct. There is no invisible prophet. This is an attack, not just upon her religion, but upon who she is as a person. Our “Truth,” will be met with derision, not with conversion. We are in the conversion business, not the derision business.
Native Americans have a better understanding of the truth as it relates to the environment than Christians do. Jews and Muslims have a better understanding of the Semitic culture Jesus lived in than we do. They have a fuller understanding of pro-life than we do. The reason Muslims and Jews have dietary laws is to teach the importance of life. They only eat meet, at least for the orthodox in each faith, when they have seen the animal die. They must witness that the animal did not suffer when it died. Almost no American meet is Kosher in the Muslim and Jewish faiths. The more an animal looks human, the more not kosher it is in both Jewish and Muslim traditions.
Evangelism means listening to their reality too. There really is only one reality. There really is only one way. If I close my eyes to what other people on the way from conception to the grave see because they do not see as I do, I just might miss that cliff we started with but my non-believing neighbor does see. If we refuse to listen to those in different routes, one of those may be trying to tell us of that cliff, or a way around it. If we refuse to listen, we become blind guides. Jesus has something to say about us in Matthew 15: 14.
Our First Reading also tells us, “The NAME has commanded us, I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation/Joshua/Jesus to the ends of the earth.” That means we must be willing to see, and listen to everybody.
When we are unhappy, we are looking. We are social animals, and we tend to look, not for correct doctrines, but for places where we can belong. Seeing this, we need to be a light for others. We need to be a place where people can be happy. We need to be a place that promotes life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is not relativism. This is the absolute. God is love, and Jesus is the light and life of the world. Therefore, the absolute value is promoting life for all people. When we do this, other people will come to our faith like moths. Until we do this… people will gravitate somewhere else. The rabbis converted more people to Christ than we ever will. Do we want to convert people to Christ, or some other faith?