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 to turn 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. 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.
St. Spyridon the Wonderworker is a great example of a man who dealt simply with the cosmic truth claims of Jesus Christ. His life shows us you don’t have to be some elitist academic or great rational thinker to embody the unique transformational message of Jesus Christ. He was a shepherd on the island of Cyprus, and he and his wife lived simple, pious lives. When his wife fell asleep in the Lord, St. Syridon was appointed the bishop of Trymythus and became the shepherd of the “rational sheep” of the Faith. He attended the First Ecu]menical Council in Nicea and his simple words confounded the sophistry of the Arians. His piety saw the Lord use him to do wondrous things that earned him the name “Wonderworker.” Christ knew this man was humble and would be able to do these wonderful miracles without thinking he was something special. His devotion to the unique message of Jesus Christ and the Gospel wisdom that is meant to heal the deepest brokenness of us all displayed the consequences of taking the Faith so seriously that it transforms a person into a Christ-like example for centuries. Instead of the exclusive and unique claims of the Faith making him “proud” and “better than others,” this unique message made him humble and loving to all in hopes of saving as many as were willing to join him in this embrace of Jesus Christ exclusively!
Today, 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 and unique 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 truly live a Normal Orthodox Life, and share that Life with as many people as you can!
P.S. Wounded by your love for Christ, O holy One, your mind given wings by the radiance of the Spirit, you put the practice of theory into deeds, becoming a sacred altar, O Chosen by God, and praying for the divine illumination of all.
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