In the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus talks about being the gate for the sheep, the door through which his sheep can enter the kingdom, or as I prefer to say, the community of faith. Jesus has told a simple story, “but they had no idea what he was talking about . So he tried again. I’ll be explicit then, he said, my teachings are the way to live for all people. Those others who try to tell you what to do are up to no good. They are people stealers, thieves of your spirits, don’t listen to them. Anyone who listens to my teachings and follows them, they will find all they need and more. I came so that all people can have real life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”(my own interpretive paraphrasing)
While this passage is interpreted by some as saying that here Jesus expresses that he is the only way to eternal life, I believe that he is saying that the teachings he shares are the way for real abundant life. If then, it is the teachings that lead to wholeness, those teachings are the blessing and can come from a variety of sources. So there are a couple of things to think about.
A) What is abundant life?
B) What is meant by the Kingdom of Heaven?
C) What is meant by, “those others that try to tell you what to do?”
I will start with “C”. In verses 8 and 9 of the tenth chapter of John Jesus is saying that “those who’ve come before are wrong.” I believe that it is not referring to Moses or the great prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures; I believe he is talking about the current leadership of the temple in the same way that we would talk about the leadership of the church now. He actively criticized the temple priests and the Pharisees and this is another example. The temple leadership has caused the followers to scatter because they don’t “hear” or understand what they are saying. Jesus is attempting to build community among the followers.
Today as we look around we see the church is diminishing on nearly every front. Shrinking and in many cases closing because, I believe, the people are not “hearing” anything that makes sense. Someone in my office today said, “God gave me a brain and the power to reason and rationalize things for myself. I imagine God wants me to use it to the best of my ability.” I agree! What that means is that we have a gift of intelligence to use and so we must. If it doesn’t fit what we know to be true then we ought not to believe it. There are many churches today who want people to believe a certain way that is contrary to what science has given us and so the people are scattering.
But we can have a faith that ‘makes sense’.
B) Is simple for me, in the historical era in which the sacred texts were written kingdoms were the political and societal structures that everyone understood; one ruler, fixed place, which was the societal norm for the Hebrew people. To talk about the “kingdom of heaven” would have been synonymous with saying “the country of bliss”. It would have been the same as saying that place where everything is perfect and would have been understood as a metaphorical place.
We could say today that if ‘you’ (everyone) follow my teachings then you will go to the country of bliss, you will be building up the place where all is well, you will be citizens of the perfect land. It is true. But it is a place to strive for here, not in an afterlife.
Last but not least ‘abundant life’ is that opportunity for real fullness here when living according to the law of love and following the teachings of Jesus, or the Buddha, or the Dalai Lama or the indigenous sacred teachings of this country. Fullness comes when living for the sake of the other, no matter who teaches the message.
I am Christian. My faith is deeply rooted in the teachings and the life and death of Jesus, and the Bible. But with that I appreciate all the wisdom God has given and see the truths found by and revealed to people of other cultural backgrounds.