Friday, April 5, 2013 — Friday in Easter Week, Year One[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 958)
Psalms 136 (morning) // 118 (evening)
Daniel 12:1-4, 13
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
This phrase which comes at the end of Peter’s defense before the authorities, is among the most exclusive statements about Jesus in the New Testament. The other that comes to mind is John 14:6b, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
There are those who point to these two verses in particular to defend a theology that gives exclusive power to Christianity — only Christianity is true, all other forms of religion are false and dangerous — Christianity is the only route to salvation; every other way is lost and misleading. That is their claim.
Even from childhood I’ve found such interpretations problematic. Not only from the perspective of what injustice they would condone in a pluralistic world, but also from my own experience of the person of Jesus. Such a hard and narrow interpretation betrays the Spirit of Jesus.
All of us know self-identified Christians whose lives or words express a meanness of spirit that seems to betray the very essence of who Jesus is. People like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson come to mind. I believe that the love, forgiveness and salvation of Christ extends completely and fully toward them. God loves them infinitely. But very often they don’t speak for Jesus.
I hope all of us also know people who say they are not religious or who practice a religion other than Christianity who are loving, compassionate, humble and honest. In the public sphere, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama come to mind. Although they follow another path, their lives reflect the values and spirit of Jesus.
A legalistic reading of Acts 4:12 would send Gandhi and the Dalai Lama to eternal hell and punishment, while rewarding the meanest Christian you know with the bliss of heaven. Such a god is unworthy of our worship. Even human beings can create better justice than that.
But if we think with wider minds and imaginations, and we understand the Christian orthodox tradition, there is a more expansive vision. “There is no other name …by which we must be saved.”
In ancient tradition, the name was a mysterious and powerful thing. The name of another conveyed some of their essence as well as their identity. One’s name carries character and purpose.
In that sense, the name of Jesus is much more than the history of a first century Galilean peasant. The name of Jesus is the character and power of his being. Whenever Christians see the spirit of compassion, healing, sacrificial love, and any other characteristic of Jesus active and powerful, we see the spirit of Jesus, the being of Jesus, the very name of Jesus once again incarnate in the world.
The doctrine of the Trinity carries that vision beautifully. From before time and forever, God the Holy Trinity is a creative community of love. The First Person of the Trinity continually creates and pours the divine life into being. The Second Person of the Trinity incarnates that creative life, receiving and actualizing the divine life and responding with equal love and self-giving back to the First Person of the Trinity. The Third Person of the Trinity is the very love that unites them in the dance of creation. That dance has been going on eternally and everywhere.
So whenever any of God’s activity and being is actualized by anyone, anywhere, at any time in all history, we who are Christians recognize that as the presence and activity of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, whose name we know as Jesus. And it is through the Second Person of the Trinity that all creation “comes to the Father.” That was true before the birth of the Galillean peasant. It is true everywhere, including where the name of Jesus is unknown. It is true among those who live within that same energy and spirit by another name.
Such a vision is consistent with what we see in the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. He was thrilled when he saw the divine spirit revealed in those who were outside the family of Israel — the Roman centurion in Capernaum who asked Jesus to heal his servant (“Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”); the Cannanite woman who asked for the crumbs of healing from the table of the children. Jesus was wonderfully loving and generous to those who were outside the usual “way” and strangers to the traditional “name.” And he was bitterly opposed to those who narrowed access to God’s ubiquitous love and forgiveness, especially the authorities of the Temple monopoly.
There is an irony when Christians exercise exclusivist and monopolistic claims to God’s grace in the name of Jesus. Part of what he gave his life to overcome was that same kind of abusive religious practice.