Imagine if you will a rounded emerald green hill. Perhaps one very like the one shown in the illustration from The Magician’s Nephew; perhaps a hill you know; perhaps one a child would draw, all breast shaped and perfect. At the top is a garden. It’s both a garden for pleasure and for sustenance. There is an orchard, there are brassicas, there are tangles of Raspberries. There is a lake and a swing, an arbour and a maze. There are bees and butterflies, fish and frogs, birds and hedgehogs. It is perfect.
There is no way into this garden. It is surrounded by a thick, high wall and there is no gate or entrance. The wall is as smooth as glass and there is no way to climb it. There are no points at which the wall crumbles to creep through a hole. It is completely impenetrable.
No-one can get into the garden, no matter how hard they try.
And then along comes a guy with some dynamite and blows up the entire thing… The Wall is completely gone. Everyone can now get into the perfect garden and enjoy its blessings.
To me, this is what Jesus means when He says I am the way. I am the way the wall gets removed. I am the dynamite, I am the destruction of walls and separation. I am the way you get to partner with God in The great Kingdom – the Kingdom of welcome, the Kingdom of Justice, the Kingdom that doesn’t have the walls and prisons of (for example) Patriarchy, Poverty, Slavery, White-Supremacy and Capitalism, the Kingdom that brings freedom and healing. And the Kingdom can be and is here and now – as downpayment for what one day will be.
Sadly, I’ve found that often, what folk mean when they say “Jesus said ‘I am the way… no-one comes to the Father but through me'” (and I’m sure it’s what the lady meant who wanted to exclude me, others like me and those who support me and others like me) is that the wall still exists. That the garden is the Paradise after death. (cos it’s only ever about the reward we get in ” heaven”). That Jesus only built a door in the wall. And not a small door that ensures all get in (like the hogget hole) but a door with a lock and a guard and a password (Shibboleth perhaps?) to make sure only the few who “deserve” it get through. The fact that some will never know the password, or never know that they need a password, or have been given the password in such a convoluted and abusive way they either don’t understand the password or are so despairing that they can never use the password seems to pass some people by. Oh, but isn’t that why we “evangelise” and go “do missionary work”? Yes, making sure people know the “password” is often the main reason why folk do these things. However, from my experience and what I see, more often than not, what gets passed on are the intricacies of the password, not the good news about the existence of the garden and that all are welcome there.
A good friend recently said, “I’m all on board with this welcoming God, but when the bible talks many times about us being chosen, doesn’t that mean that if I get chosen, someone else doesn’t?” And you know what, yes it does mean that in a culture such as ours. A culture of À La Carte menus where one dish is chosen and all others rejected. A culture of GCSE options chosen that narrow our educational focus. A culture where to decide the teams for rounders or hockey or British Bulldog (Best. Sport. Ever. – basically an organised scrap) two children stand in front of the class and pick who they want on the team (a horrible experience for those left to last, and I’m saying that as someone who always got picked as one of the first). For folk whose reference is that choosing almost always means rejecting, the language of God choosing us will always prove difficult to those of us who want to be more inclusive. And this is exactly why we should include those of different ideas & cultures – diversity of people means diversity of thought & idea, a diversity which can put a different lens to troublesome language and ideas.
You see there is a different way to see being chosen. There is the way that a little bit of everything is on the menu, like a Greek Meze, Spanish Tapas or Swedish Smorgasbord. You don’t have to reject anything on the table, because every dish is there for all to partake of and share.
I’m also reminded of when football wasn’t eleven elite men chosen out of the crowd, but was village against village. The whole village. Every one.
I’m reminded too of a god who does choose out elite men, whose favour falls on the most beautiful of women, who is capricious in his whims, bringing great blessing to those whom he deems to have worshipped him in the right way but rejecting any whom he deems have slighted him. Only this god so described is Zeus, not the YHWH of Jesus.
So, although (I believe) Jesus has eliminated the wall to allow everyone to get into the garden, there are those who are busy trying to rebuild the wall. There are those who instigate checkpoints and guarded gates and passwords. There are those trying their best not only to meet the standard of what they deem are the Divine’s exacting demands, but to shove others to the back of the class.
But any wall that anyone tries to build will have Jesus on the other side of it with the rejected ones, the failures, the stood upon.
Why talk about inclusion? Because no one could get into the garden and now anyone can. Because a God of Love isn’t an À la Carte diner who rejects the majority of dishes to choose one, but chooses the Meze where all the dishes are enjoyed.
I’ll leave the final word to the brilliant Rend Collective. No Outsiders.