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.
Thank you for your posts.
Just adding onto with what I was feeling after reading you. FWIW, I’ve come to see practically all differences between religions, all differences between Savior and pseudo-saviors, as the different between pantheism (which is a veil for monism) and Orthodoxy. It reminds me of what is done today when the cultural systems either denigrate all religions or embrace them equally under the umbrella of, “Here’s how people evolved with their stories, they’re all wrong, but we will respect your fantasy a little as a cultural phenomenon,” and then assert themselves to be above religions, having to appeal to some science/knowledge (they have to appear to transcend the rest of the sheep) while reinstating the gods of old where they are automatically promoted to priests or gods. The death brought into the world via Satan and we not discerning his wiles, brought the cyclical nature into existence. Who better, or really, what more can I hope for to end the cycle in my desperation than a “savior”? And we give them an open gate to our hearts and imaginations with no way to test their authoritative solutions before we take their medicine. It’s amazing to think than in several scientific fields, there are only handfuls of people who can confirm the findings of their own groups. The Truly Good Shepherd alone transcends and is immanent with the sheep, all others will be impostors (fake “transcend-ers”) as they are creatures. I’m sorry to go on, but I wonder if this is the reason in the verses before, with the healing of the man born blind (the mud and its possible tie to Genesis, and the refrain that, “Since the beginning…”) and the following verses that explain that the sheep cannot have a true Shepherd that is also basically a sheep, that the divide is so easily cut between thieves/robbers/carelessness toward predators and the real Shepherd. The boiling point hits when Jesus will not assuage the implication/accusation that they are actually the demonic figures and calls for capital punishment for the Real Shepherd ring out (these episodes are pretty frequent and make up a large portion of the parables). The earth and the heavens are the Lord’s, and all who will not recognize their place within that domain, whether terrestrial or heavenly, fall. Many are invited to the wedding feast but mother earth (the prioritization of survival while ignoring or mythologizing the transcendent: pantheism that turns into monism, the foolishness of thinking you can control death by manipulating nature) is the concern that occupies them all and leads to depravity. They’re lying to themselves, and Satan helps the lie along and vice versa. They’re sheep but want to act as if they transcend the sheep, acting as if they were uncreated, but only One actually does, and only One actually defends against the wolves. When the pantheist lie is exposed, you realize the pantheism was a veil for absolute monergsim/monism. Pantheism is attractive because it ideally democratizes existence, but it’s a lie utilized by monists. Everyone is equal, but you’re also equal to the mosquito, and there is an elite class that transcends all, the monists. This is why the environmental movement (the bad side of it), the identity in your psychology movements, sell: they sound like diversity and equality for everything, and the sheep don’t discern between thieves/robbers/saviors and Savior. The wolves dress as a sheep to avoid detection, to avoid the scrutinization of their motivations which are, not to relinquish the fantasy that they are the shepherd of the people, but also the planet and even the cosmos. It’s rather egomaniacal. And it is the sin of Satan, and why taking up Satan’s aims gets you associated with his flock, or rather, hoard. I think the promise that the meek inherit the earth, is in part, a corrective to the fantasies of Satan, and ours with his. The entire physical world shows our contingency, which is supposed to lead us to the Good Shepherd, but if it does not, if we deny this, it will lead us to the devil who hates his contingency, hates the fact that he cannot forever impose his will, and our death is our highest appreciable form of contingency. Satan sells us pantheism as equality so that he can be our dictator. Kneeling before God as Shepherd on His world in His cosmos is repentance then we are given the world as pasture, but also rule in it with Christ who made it.
Thanks. I won’t make these long replies a normal activity.