Dear Rev. Know it all;
I am writing to ask about the Jews. (I am not, NOT, an anti-Semite) Jesus said, “he who hears you (Peter) hears Me, and he who hears Me hears the One who sent Me; and “nobody gets to the Father except through Me;” and plenty of other scripture quotes from Our Lord. Is it true then, as we have always believed, that the Jews therefore do not worship the same God as we do? How can they? I thought to say that they worship the same God as we do was considered heresy. Has this changed? Can something be heretical for so many years and then now is not heretical? And what about Muslims? Do we worship the same God as they do? I heard some preacher say we all worship the same God.
Otto B. Wanuvus
I am a little confused by the question. I don’t think it was ever considered heresy to believe that the Jews and Christians worship the same God. The God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob is, we believe the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, the Messiah. In fact there is a heresy called Marcionism that taught the God of the old Testament was a different God than that of the New Testament. To believe that we worship a different God than that of the Jews is thus a heresy.
Muslims are another matter, I had never read a Koran until Andy Rooney of Sixty Minutes told me to. He said, “Everyone should read this book. One third is beautiful, one third is inscrutable and one third is terrifying.” There are beautiful things about love and mercy in the Koran. Then there are sayings such as “ Do not be bedizened with the bedizenments of the bedizened.” Okay. I’ll try not to be bedizened at all! Then you have verses like Surah 4 verse 34 which says "Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah has guarded. As for those from whom you fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High Exalted, Great."
And how about "Slay them wherever you find them. Drive them out of the places from which they drove you. Idolatry is worse than carnage... if they attack you put them to the sword. Thus shall the unbelievers be rewarded: but if they desist, God is forgiving and merciful. Fight against them until idolatry is no more and God's religion reigns supreme. But if they desist, fight none except the evil-doers" (Surah 2:190–93).
Well, you may say that our Bible is full of smiting. There is a difference. The Bible is a record of God’s relationship to man. It acknowledges that God is trying to bring humanity along. Jesus was once asked why the Torah allowed divorce but He did not. He said that it was because of the hardness of our hearts that Moses allowed divorce, but it was not that way in the garden. (Mat. 19:3-9) In other words Jesus is here to restore the first condition of humanity. There are temporary arrangements on God’s part because of our weakness. There is nothing temporary in the Koran. It is the unalterable word of God (though Islamic feminists are working very hard to retranslate that particular verse. Good Luck!)
We believe that Jesus is the Word of God, God’s ultimate statement about His own nature. The Bible records human foibles as well as God’s response. It is as much about human sinfulness as it is about God’s holiness. The Koran however, is God’s unchanging and perfect word. It is not Mohammad who recommends the occasional wife beating or infidel slaying, it is God who commands it. There will never come a time when the rebellious wife should not be beaten. There will never come a time when the infidel should not be killed. God has spoken. Thus the question can be asked. Do we worship the same God that they do? I would say that to the extent that the Torah informs the Koran, we worship the same God. Muhammad seems to have included a lot of Jewish and Christian ideas in the Koran, though Muslims would hotly deny this. They believe that the Koran includes no ideas from other books. However, the God who demands slaughter, beating and vengeance as unchanging religious practice not the God that Jesus preached and whose Son He was, and so is not God.
I have known Muslims and like most of the ones I have known. They love their wives and children, obey the laws and cut their lawns. However, if you have a Muslim friend, he isn’t a very good Muslim. Again, allow me to quote the Koran: “You see many among them making friends with unbelievers. Evil is that to which their souls prompt them. They have incurred the wrath of God and shall endure eternal torment... You will find that the most implacable of men in their enmity to the faithful are the Jews and the pagans, and that the nearest in affection to them are those who say: ‘We are Christians'" (Surah 5:80–82).
So what about all those people who aren’t us? Are they all doomed to hell? Let’s look at the Bible texts you mentioned. In your first reference I think you are referring to (Mat 10:40) “He that receives you receives Me, and he that receives Me receives Him that sent Me.” You seem to be implying that you receive God only if you receive Peter, and hence receive the Church found on the Rock which is Peter. The “you” in the first text isn’t Peter. It is a plural pronoun (humas, in Greek) and thus seems to refer to all the disciples. The second text is John 14:6 “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'”, I believe that this text is one of the most misunderstood and misused texts in the Bible. Most people hear it as “Unless you accept Christ and join my Church you can’t go to heaven.” Look closely. The text doesn’t mention the Church or heaven. “No one comes to the FATHER except through Me (Jesus).” Most of us think that Jesus is prescribing the means of salvation in this text. He isn’t. He is prescribing the means of redemption. Well aren’t they the same thing? No, they aren’t!
If I am driving 80 miles an hour, one dark and stormy night, (which I would never do) and I am unaware that the bridge is out, I am doomed, no matter how blissfully ignorant I may be. If, however, before I plunge into the abyss, some kind soul flags me down and tells me the bridge is out, that person has become my savior. I go on to tell him that I am rushing to get back home to my family. How can I get across the torrent? That same kind soul gets in my car and shows me the way to get home. By doing this, he becomes my redeemer. “Redeem” means “to buy back.” In the ancient Greco-Roman world, if a person was caught by pirates, or captured in battle, he would be sold as a slave. If that person’s family knew his whereabouts and had the means, they would buy back their kinsman. This is what it means to redeem. It is to restore someone or something to its proper position.
So first, if we are living doomed lives, (and frankly who isn’t?) we need a savior. To this most would say, “My life isn’t doomed. I’m quite content, thank you very much!” I am reminded of a story. A fellow is driving down the I-90 and his wife calls him to tell him to watch out. There is a lunatic driving down the wrong side of the expressway. The husband responds, “One lunatic!?! I’ve seen about 50 of them driving right at me in just the past five minutes!” (For the humor impaired: the husband was the schlemiel, driving down the wrong side of the road. He thought the schlemazls coming at him were wrong. (Translation note: schlemiel = a hapless idiot. Schlemazl = his hapless victim.) No matter how content I am going south on the highway, if I think I am going north, I am still lost. Remember the verse from the song “ was lost but now am found”? We have got it all wrong. We are most certainly headed south, way south, if we live as our passions dictate. The Messiah interrupts our happy progress to hell by first telling us that we are in trouble. When we hear him and give him the steering wheel of our lives, (Is the analogy worn out yet?) He becomes our savior. But saved is not enough!
We need redemption. We need to be restored to our position in the family, the position of children of God that was offered to Adam in the garden, when he said “No thanks, I’d rather eat fruit.” God wants to make you a part of that relationship that was revealed by Jesus the Messiah. He taught us that God is love, and that we are called to be part of that relationship which is God. Jesus, the very heart of God, the visible image of the invisible God, is the only one worthy to be part of that family, that relationship. So how do I get there? By allowing God to conform me to Christ’s image. Unfortunately, this process of being made to look like Jesus involves nails and a cross. Adam’s sin has taught to me that love is a kind of narcissistic longing to have comfortable relationships. Jesus teaches from his cross that love is self sacrifice, a pouring out of life for the well being of others without thought of our own needs. Boy, am I far from that! I need a lot of redeeming. In order to enter into the fullness of life which is heaven, we have to come to the point where we are willing to lay down our lives as He was. ‘Til we get there, God will work on us if we let Him, but it is all about the relationship. Membership in an organization is not the requirement. Membership in the crucified Body of Christ is. I have met a lot of Catholics who are happy to belong to an organization, but not to the Church, as least the Church as God sees her.
So what does all this mean in reference to Jews and Muslims and pagans baptized and unbaptized? Jesus is the Torah fulfilled, the Torah come to life. He is the natural law of which St. Paul speaks in his introduction to the letter to the Romans. If God’s grace allows people to glimpse the vision of the Messiah in nature or the Law and to accept His Lordship in a way that is beyond their understanding, or ours, who am I to tell the Almighty that He can’t do that? It is safe to say that in His justice and His mercy He offers heaven to all men. How he does this is His business. He has offered it to me by means of the Church and the sacraments, especially the Body and Blood of His Son Jesus, present in the Eucharist. These, we believe, are His normal way of doing things. Heaven help me if I having been offered so great a gift, I do not accept it.