One Of A KindFr. Barnabas Powell
It’s never been “popular” to confront our very prideful and “autonomous” societies with the exclusive teaching that the only way to God the Father is through Jesus Christ. In fact, most societies and cultures have reacted rather badly to this Christian faith message. Our human history shows a swing in the pendulum of society between the extremes of individualism (like today’s society) and the communal erasure of the person, like societies where individuals are simply ignored (like in the ideology of communism or utopian ideologies of dictatorships). Rarely is the proper balance ever achieved due to our human brokenness. Let’s face it, broken societies are simply manifestations of damaged persons. This is why we are naturally suspicious of exclusive truth claims.
And yet the scriptures and the teaching of the Church are unavoidable; Jesus Christ is the only “door” to eternal life and a relationship with God. Even writing this, I can “feel” the push back even in my own soul to this message unexplained and faithfully lived out. So what does this message really mean? And what is the confrontation with this message supposed to identify and heal in my own life? We kick against this message instinctively because of the implications of such truth claims. Why?
Look at our lesson today in John 10:1-9:
The Lord said to the Jews who had come to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
Jesus confronts the reality that the people faced in His day of there being many “saviors” during this time. These “saviors” came in all flavors and sizes: political, philosophical, religious, and even entertainment, and usually a mixture of all of them or some of them together! Isn’t it funny how humans latch onto “saviors” of different stripes and perspectives?
And each of these “saviors” crashed and burned and failed either through being arrested and killed or being found to be charlatans or their faddish message simply ran out of gas!
Jesus also confronts the failure of even the First Covenant of the Jews which had become so misunderstood as to actually hurt these people’s ability to even recognize the Messiah standing right in front of them. The very human tendency of turning even good things into idols always impairs our ability to see things clearly.
Of course, most of human history is littered with the failed “saviors” of this or that political movement, philosophy, and religion. And each time one of these “saviors” fails, the fallout of despondency and disappointment leads us humans to either pretend it didn’t fail or to start looking for another “system” to “save” us. But the failures of these too-small saviors are actually a good thing. We have a hole in our souls that only Christ can fill!
The Faith tells us that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. He is the Son of God and co-eternal and co-powerful with the Father and the Spirit in the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. And the Faith insists we deal with the implications of this message of the Uncreated stepping into creation. And one of those inescapable consequences is the exclusivity of the ministry of Jesus as The Shepherd for all of humanity. Another consequence is the necessary failure of lesser shepherds to actually fulfill our desire for a “perfect world.” So, when our current political and societal madness fails, we have to be prepared to offer a witness of the True Shepherd to our disillusioned refugees hurting from the failure of their saviors of “equity” or “capitalism” or “democracy” or “benevolent dictatorship” or any other societal fad popular today.
You see, the exclusivity of the ministry of Jesus Christ to every human heals a deep wound all of us struggle with and possess. We are enslaved to self-centeredness that leads to a fear of death because we foolishly think all that matters is what we can see or what makes “me” comfortable” or “happy.” The choices that flow from a life gripped by this self-centeredness have so many caustic results in a life that it’s obvious we each need healing from this terrible spiritual disease! So Jesus says He is the True Shepherd exclusively for every human. Period.
Today, as we recall the Removal of the Relics of St. John Chrysostom from his place of exile to a return to Constantinople, we get to see the results of missing the truth and then the wisdom of repenting when we figure out we messed up! So, where are you still gripped by a temptation to ignore the exclusive message of Jesus Christ? Where is your own selfishness still tripping up your life? The continual confrontation of Jesus as the only Savior is meant to make you ask hard questions of your own soul so that you can be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. The holy and august Church is mystically gladdened today on the translation of your holy relics. And though she had kept them hidden in concealment like precious gold, by your intercessions she unceasingly grants, unto them that praise you, the divine grace of healing, O Father John Chrysostom.