Homily on the Fourth Sunday of Easter B
May 3, 2009
MORE than ever before, today we realize that the world is characterized by a diversity of religions and sects. In the Philippines , we find a number of them: Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity and, lately, New Age. And even in Christianity itself, we are aware of the various churches and communities that claim to be the true Church founded by Christ: in addition to the Roman Catholic Church, we have the various Protestant Churches, the Iglesia ni Cristo, Ang Dating Daan, Jesus the Healer and various fundamentalist and Pentecostal churches, movements and sects. In face of this diversity of religious beliefs, there seems to be an attitude of many, even Catholics, from one which is skeptical toward non-Christian religions and Christian sects to one which accepts any form of religion. For them, since all religions and sects are means to have contact with the divine world and to salvation, it does not matter whether one is a Muslim or Christian, or whether one is a born-again Christian or a Catholic. According to this view, all religions are of equal value; ours is not any better than any other religion. What is of utmost importance, it is proposed, is that one is sincere in one’s religious belief, and one can be saved in it.
Such an attitude, however, seems not grounded in Christian faith, nor in the Sacred Scriptures. In the 1st Reading , Peter’s apologia, trying to explain the source of the power that healed the crippled man, points to the name of Jesus apart from whom no one can be saved. “There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name in the whole world given to men by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12). (“Name” here probably reflects a healing formula used by exorcists in the early Church; it does not mean the word that identifies a person, but the person of Jesus Christ himself, the risen One.) Through his death and resurrection, God gave Jesus power to heal and to save. In the Gospel, John presents Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:11,15b,17a). In the Johannine literature, the “laying down of one’s life” is associated with the image of the Lamb of God who was slain to take away the sins of the world (Rev 5:6; John 1:29). Precisely because he was slain and was justified by God, the Lamb became a fountain of life (Rev 7:17; 22:1). In other words, since Jesus laid down his life for others, he was constituted the means through which salvation is given.
What are we to make of this biblical teaching? Does this mean that there is no other means of salvation apart from Jesus, since it was only he who underwent passion, death and resurrection in obedience to the Father? If the body of Jesus is the Church, does this imply that outside the Church there is no salvation, and therefore the individual attains salvation only through his explicit membership in the Church, which is the sole mediator of Christ’s salvation? Are we then to affirm that all other non-Christian religions are false, Christian sects are in error, mere human attempts at coming in contact with the divine world which is revealed in Jesus Christ? Are we then to propose that we must bring everybody to the Church if all are to be saved? Can we tell those outside the Church that they cannot partake of eternal life, since the grace of salvation comes only through the Church?
Probably not. It does mean, however, that since it is only in the name of Jesus that salvation is possible, persons can be saved only by the grace of Christ. Admittedly, this grace is offered to all, even to those who have not heard of him. When the Bible says that God has spoken in Jesus and that salvation is possible through him, it teaches that he is the constitutive mediator of salvation; without him, no salvation is possible. As the readings today emphasize, precisely because Jesus laid down his life for us, precisely because he suffered, died and rose from the dead, salvation flows from him. Since Jesus is constitutive of salvation, no one could be saved apart from his life, death and resurrection. It is in this sense that we have to understand Peter’s claim that there is no name in the world given to men by which we can be saved except through Jesus. For this reason, it cannot be said that all religions are of equal value. Because the Church is closely linked with Christ, the sign of his presence among men, salvation is mediated through her. Consequently, the grace of salvation is available to those outside the believing community through the Church. One cannot just say that as long as I do good works and not offend my neighbor, I am sure I will be saved. It matters whether one belongs to the Church or not.