Rich Unto All
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord is rich unto all that call upon Him (v. 12).
The writer of Romans, St. Paul, is a cosmopolitan. He has been all around the known world, he has seen diversity, he understands that there are forces for contention between cultures. Nevertheless, he is so convicted about the good news in Jesus that he universalizes it. In the gospel of Jesus, he sees something that unifies people.
Whether or not we believe that Jesus is the one way or the only way to the gospel, we have to admire Paul’s attempts to argue the oneness of God. He bases the argument in the richness of the Lord. He bases his argument in the power of one God, the one God who created both Jew and Greek, and is therefore Lord of all. A recent controversy in our local paper illustrates the problem.
A Christian pastor is quoted as saying, “Jesus is not the only way to God.” What she actually said is that “Jesus is one of many ways to God.” The one statement is negative and somewhat adolescent, almost begging for a fight with certain factions within Christianity who understand that “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life—and that no one comes unto the father save by him.” The other statement is much more Pauline: it is positive. It speaks of Jesus as a full, if not complete, way to God.
Paul is forced by the very nature of his cosmopolitan context to argue the universality of Jesus—and he does so by resorting to the richness of Christ and the power of God. For many people, saying that Jesus is the only way is heretical. For an equal number of people, saying that Jesus is not the only way is heretical. Christians ourselves differ almost as much as Jews and Greeks did in the early days.
How do we get ourselves through the heresies? How do we not offend the witness of Paul and the divine revelation of God?
We can practice a certain humility about the matter. I daresay Jesus’ very universality is closely related to his own humility.
“Who do you say that I am?” is often his answer to the question about his identity.
Clearly, for some, it matters that their religious faith be the most universal and the most true. For others, it matters less. Some of us are so convicted by the humble witness of Christ that we commit ourselves to humility on the big questions.
Jesus often suggests a different picture of the world where being right is so important that it often makes us wrong. He suggests this picture: the last shall be first. The first shall be last.
We have only to think of the fight about divine sovereignty in Jerusalem to understand the depth of the problem that Paul faces. Who does the world’s holiest city belong to? Is it worth World War III to know? What would Jesus say? My hunch is he would give it away to the least of contenders, not the one with the best army or strongest terrorists.
When we think about the sheer population of the world, we have to acknowledge one God somewhere behind it all. But probably this one God has as many faces as the globe itself.
In 1804, the world reached one billion, in 1927, 2 billion, in 1987, 5 billion, and now twelve years later, another billion. More than one billion of these people are between 15 and 24, hardly the best age during which to recommend abstinence on behalf of the other. Another 1.8 billion are under 15. More than 95% live in developing countries.
If there be only one way to God, that way is clearly manifold. If there be only one face to God, that face is clearly multi-faceted.
If there is an “alpha” way to God, we are going to have to humbly find it. Most of us know what “Alpha” means. Alpha is the dominant member of the species. Take a walk in any park and watch dogs interact. The alpha takes over the park and runs it. Any “Beta” or second place dogs know by a mere whiff who is the alpha. Every now and then a beta will try to overthrow an alpha—and every now and then an alpha dog will be replaced by a younger or stronger alpha dog. But, be ready for the twist, all the top dog gets is a lot of responsibility. He or she has to take care of the whole park.
When Jesus speaks in alpha talk to his disciples, he is telling them who is in charge, and it is not them. Jesus usually is speaking, to use a big word, eschatologically, about the end time, the real time, God’s time. In the end, when all is said and done, Jesus keeps assuring us, the first will be last and the last first.
Eschaton: the end. Jesus is not speaking morally to the disciples so much as metaphysically. The First Shall be Last, when it is all over. The Last shall be first. On that great gittin’ up morning, watch out alphas. Your only hope is to turn your alpha energy towards a community, towards membership in the human race, towards gifting the betas. In the end, alphas will be judged by how much we/they distribute our power. By how beautiful the park becomes under our leadership.
Getting into lots of playground type fights about whose God is best and brightest is hardly the way to a safe human park or a safe Jerusalem. Best we live in the richness and power of one Almighty God, in whom both Jew and Greek are very much the same.