Fifth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A
By Fr. Claude Perera
Reading: Acts of
the Apostles 6:1-7
The Choice of the Seven Deacons for the Distribution of Food among the Poor
Those Who Trust in God Are Shown Mercy by Him.
You are a Chosen Race, a Royal Priesthood, and a Holy Nation.
Jesus the Way and the Truth and the Life
In this season of Easter as we have been reading the Gospel of John. From today onwards we enter the Farewell Discourse during the Last Supper in the same Gospel which will be read during the coming three weeks in preparation for the feasts of the Ascension (May 24) and Pentecost (May 31).
Doubting and querying would have been a part of the temperament of Apostle Thomas. Apostle Philip also had questions. Until Jesus was risen and the Spirit had come upon them, there were many things that they did not understand. The Last Supper was the initiation into Jesus’ glorification. The very air in the setting of today’s gospel passage was his departure which the disciples did not understand, but instinctually, they would have felt something, and it caused confusion in them. Jesus was talking of his journey back to the Father. The disciples did not understand that language. The Johannine use of wordplay was part of the Johannine irony. The two interlocutors were talking of different kinds of ‘ways.’
Jesus declared himself to be not only the Way, but also the Truth and the Life. What are the implications of this statement? Note the definite article in all three nouns. What does that mean? It means that there is no other way, no other truth or no other life. He is the unique mediator of the Father? The Church is insistently affirmative about this. Then what about other religions and their saviours? Do we say that they will not be saved? We said so before the Second Vatican Council, but not after. The Council Fathers recognized the seeds of the Word in other religions. (Ad Gentes, n. 11; Lumen Gentium, n. 17)
Furthermore, the Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) says, “Religions, however, that are bound up wit an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language. Thus, in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing “ways,” comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself. The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.” [End of the quote] (n. 2)
After the Second Vatican Council, many theologians have studied the question of the uniqueness of Christ for salvation and have come up with various viewpoints. Among these what seems most reasonable is the theory of Cosmic Christ. Cosmic Christ, who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, pre-existed creation (Pr 8:22-36). That Eternal Word was instrumental in bringing about the entire creation (Gn 1:3). The Johannine prologue speaks of His pre-existence (Jn 1:1-3). Pauline hymns in Colossians and Ephesians affirm the same (Col 1:15-19; Eph 1:4-5). Acts of the Apostles says that God has raised up Jesus and anointed Him as the Christ. Jesus we now have is someone more than the Jesus of Nazareth, but the Risen Christ, the Eternal Cosmic Christ. He was anointed as the Messiah not only of us Christians, but also of the whole universe.
The Gospels are about the historical Jesus. Paul, however, whose writings make up a third of the New Testament, uses the word ‘Jesus’ singly only 14 times, whereas he couples the word ‘Jesus’ with that of ‘Christ’ 191 times, i.e. as Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus etc. For Paul, Jesus was the Anointed One (Kristos [‘Christ’] in Greek, and māšîaḥ [‘Messiah’] in Hebrew), and the Risen Lord who sits at the Father’s right hand who will come at the end of time (1 Cor 15:52; 1 Tim 4:1). In the Pauline understanding, Jesus of Nazareth is the microcosm, the ideal human image of the Divine; Risen Cosmic Christ is the macrocosm, the entire embodiment of the whole redeemed universe who pervades the same. There was a movement between the two.
For us Christians, Jesus Christ (of Nazareth) is the Absolute Revelation of the Father. He is unique to us who have been privileged to receive His direct revelation. We need not look for other saviours. For us He is the fulness of truth and life. But the faithful followers of other religions may not know Jesus Christ (of Nazareth). It is our duty to proclaim him to them (Mk 16:15-16; Mt 28:19-20). We obey the final commissioning of Jesus gladly so that those who freely wish to follow him, would join us. However, those who do not wish to follow him as Jesus Christ could still follow him as the Cosmic Christ. They do that by following their consciences and living the values of the Kingdom which their religions teach, most of which are enshrined in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7). With mutual respect for each other’s beliefs, Christians and non-Christians alike, make joint efforts as a humanity in building up the Earthly City of God so that at the end of time, there will be one Shepherd and one flock, when the whole creation unified by the Holy Spirit, under the sovereignty of Cosmic Christ, will be singing eternal praises of the Father.