Good Questions: Is Jesus the way?

Reflections from Dr. Howell

There are so many questions about Jesus, and so few emails I can persuade you to read! If you are interested, we produced a handful of videos a while back in which I wrestle with some other Good Questions related to Jesus, like How many Gospels are there?; why 4? and weren’t some left out? (6 minutes), Jesus: Fact or Fiction? Are these stories true or myth? (7 minutes), and The Miracles of Jesus; did this stuff really happen? and do miracles happen today? (9 minutes).

For today, I’ll remind you that in Thursday’s email, I asked us to ponder Jesus’ crucifixion – and as your pastor, I long for you what I long for me: that we will be so moved by this wondrous love that we will realize that “love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” – or (and this I feel sure would please God) we would be stirred to ask more questions about things…

We’ve also asked over the past few emails, Who’s saved? What about those who don’t believe or aren’t sure? What about adherents of other religions? My sermon on Oct. 9 had a go at this. I find myself wondering (and I wonder if you’ll wonder with me) if Jesus might somehow be the way even for those who don’t believe in him. We see it in those agonizing hours between Jesus’ arrest and his final breath, the scene that I’d say portrays what’s in the heart of God, and ultimately in our own hearts. Jesus peers down at his own executioners, the Roman soldiers who’d spat on him, mocked him, driven nails into his flesh, and now were sophomorically tossing dice over his shabby clothing. Does he hurl down a curse, or holler rage at them? No. He forgives them. He forgave his murderers, not those who averted their gazes or didn’t believe in him, but the very guys getting rid of him.

And he listens to a terrible person, a thief next to him, a guy who’s run out of time to do good or pray in the temple or repent or give alms – and promises he’ll see him in paradise. Can Jesus be the way for unbelievers, for evildoers, for members of other faiths? Don’t they stand as good a chance as Jesus’ killers and a dude convicted of armed robbery who’d not confessed their sins or prayed to accept him as savior?

Stick with me for a far more warm-fuzzy image: when my children were infants, they were the beneficiaries of my love, which they never asked for, or thanked me for. They were held in the dark, blessed by me whom they did not understand or know anything about. I would rock them all night long, not demanding gratitude or good behavior or right thinking in return. Can’t God be like the loving parent, blessing the vulnerable in dire need of tender love?

Or have you ever cared for an elderly loved one with serious dementia, unable to ask for help, or to thank you, or even to recognize who are you? When we love in this way, or when we are loved in this way, could it be we are reenacting God’s love for all people – some of whom recognize, ask and know, some of whom don’t, but you’re still loved, never forgotten or relegated to oblivion? Reminding ourselves how many people don’t know or believe in Jesus, and for understandable reasons, and even how many mean, hostile people believe in him, and how many mean, hostile people don’t, all of them living with the terribly burden of fears and wounds that manifest themselves as rage – isn’t what Jesus was about big enough even for them? And this won’t motivate us to be lackadaisical or unfaithful to Jesus, but cries out to us as the great, undefeatable motivation to love him?

And to follow him, and do as he did? Again, Father Greg Boyle, champion of gang members whose lives have realized this, said “Faith isn’t saluting a set of beliefs; it’s about walking with Jesus, being a companion, particularly standing in the lowly place with the easily despised and readily left out.”

Tomorrow is All Saints Day. How fitting will our next Good Question will be: What Happens When We Die?