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Talks Between Religions and Jesus Christ



You Jung-won/The researcher of Woori Thelogy Institute


Fortunately or unfortunately, various meetings and talks between religions are prevailing right here at this time. And some basic questions came across my mind: Is it a right attitude to wave aside other religious persons by claiming ‘Jesus Christ, the One and Only’? Are those confessions about Jesus Christ that the Christianity has given evidence for a long time contain the real teachings and missions of Jesus of Nazareth who lived more than two millenniums ago? In particular, isn’t it right for modern Christians who are living with a crisis that the earth might be completely broken down start to unite and cooperate with other religious persons rather than claiming only Jesus give us redemption? Therefore, it will be important to study and interpret Jesus Christ, testified in the Bible, completely different.

Accordingly, it would give profound meanings to Christians who are participating in the talks between religions to seek Jesus Christ in the Bible and advertise him by overcoming the existing exclusive Christianity. Since anyone who is a true Christian may know it’s important to understands what the Bible really means and do just what he or she understands. If a religion, in its original meaning, is a matter of living and practicing, we have to relate what we hear from the Bible to our daily lives and apply, practice them in our lives, as well, so as to change our history day by day.

Paul Knitter says there are a couple of information or source for us to live faithfully with beliefs. One is the experience included in the Bible and found in the Bible, and the other is our experience in the changing world. The faith and the life of a true Christian, therefore, appears as a result of reflecting and criticizing testimonies of the Bible and experiences in the real world from each other. From this standpoint, the Bible has an authority since it acts in the life of people and change their lives and communities continuously.

Jesus Christ in the Gospels

The life of prophet Jesus with fullness of the holy spirit and his relationships are concurred in the rule of God. He was not the heart of church. His first interest was to reform society by changing people’s mind. In reality, Jesus was not the self-centeredness. The ultimate goal of Jesus’ preaching was to reform people’s way of life through his movement, not scorching his or other’s dignity into people’s memory. It’s God who blesses Jesus with the holy spirit and burns it into the flames, and who wants to establish a new world by his nation, love and justice. It’s mostly proper to think Jesus was the center of God’s kingdom because he never said “God alone” exists without his kingdom. Jesus’ preaching and behavior were concentrated on expanding and growing the reign of God.

Jesus met God who paid a particular interest in those who were sacrificed, exploited and weak through his mystic and spiritual experiences. It’s not supposed to mean God doesn’t love others, including dictators, but he regards those who are suffered and tortured as his special children like parents who are taking care of their children.

Accordingly, we would lose an important religious experience unless we take sides with poor people and pay attention to the exhausted earth, as well as choosing to be poor by overcoming self-greediness, so as to know and accept God whom Jesus declared. Aloysius Pieris, an Asian theologian, reiterates a long Catholic maxim “There is no salvation beyond the contract between God and the poor.” and emphasizes “There is no salvation except the contract between God and the poor.”

According to the Gospels, in particular, evidences in the Gospel according to Luke, the God’s kingdom tolerates every people, particularly, those who are suffering under colonial rules. The exceptional dining table intimacy (open dining table community) between Jesus and beggars, prostitutes and tax collectors who were not invited to the well prepared dining table showed clearly what the God’s kingdom looks like. Those slanders like “dining with tax collectors and criminals” and “big eater, heavy drinker and a friend of tax collectors and criminals”(Matthew 11:19) might have a clear historical foundation.

Jesus who opened his dining table for alienated people went one step forward to overturn a table of money changer in a sanctuary. Jesus wanted to welcome poor, suppressed people and retrieve their dignity in the new God’s kingdom he demonstrated by himself. From this standpoint, Jesus might believed the prophet Jeremiah’s declaration acted interactively; i.e. “Knowing God is doing justice” and “Doing justice and working for God’s kingdom is knowing God”.

Now, modern Christians can know the fact that Jesus was most intimate with God and exceedingly excellent in dedicating himself for the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ is the only one who has a special relationship with father God from the fact that he lived and died for the reign of God. Jesus showed his big-self feature vividly by making poor others as his friends, treating God, an absolute other, as his intimate father, relying entirely, and tolerating non-Jews and even other creation, not humanity.

From this standpoint, it’s necessary to consider those contentions by a Catholic priest Cheong Yang-mo in his “Returning to the Open Christianity” and by Reverend Lee Hyeon-ju in his “To Humanity, Beyond Religion”

Christians and Religious Talks

Father Peter C. Phan also mentioned in his preliminary remark that “From the historical point of view, in my judgment, it is the claim of uniqueness and universality of the Christian church that is most problematic, and not the claim of uniqueness and universality for Jesus.” And then insists that “the claim of uniqueness and universality of Jesus and that of Christianity must be approached differently” as well as saying “A distinction must be made between the claim of uniqueness and universality of one’s religious founder and that of uniqueness and universality of one’s religion as a social organization”, leading to suggest “the empirical claim of uniqueness and universality of one’s institutional religion must be abandoned…….”

Basically, Peter C. Phan believes that the difficulties Christians have experienced in talking to other religious groups stems from the Christians’ claim of uniqueness and universality of the religion, not the claim of uniqueness and universality of the founder Jesus. Therefore, he concludes that the religious claim of uniqueness and universality of Jesus must be maintained. From this standpoint, Peter C. Phan can be classified as inclusivist like Karl Rahner and Hans Küng.

While acknowledging this context, Father Cheong Yang-mo and Rev. Lee Hyeon-ju go ahead to a new theological horizon. Cheong insists that the claim of “The One and Only” of Jesus is simply succeeded by selecting a claim of a specific community among various communities of the early Christian community era. And therefore, he insists, we don’t need to accept this unconditionally by his biblical theologian’ standpoint.

Though Lee is from Methodist Church, he has tried to read and practice various religious scriptures from diverse religions in the world like the Bible. He was able to let us know that God whom Jesus Christ believed, confessed and relied in one who is beyond the frame of Christianity and exists in various religions, by translating various religious scriptures and writings of great religious teachers in the world.

Now, we will be able to understand and accept the saying by the Buddhist monk Dobeob as “The so-called universal truth can’t do a private possession and egoistic possession.”

Jesus Christ to be Found in the Religious Talks

In fact, Fr. Peter C. Phan clearly divides the uniqueness and the universality of Jesus from the uniqueness and the universality of the Christianity, and says we shouldn’t accept the latter, while claiming the former. Frankly speaking, however, it’s not so simple. How can we find Jesus Christ’s footprints separately from the Christianity’s frame in history? Though the Christianity and Jesus Christ are different and divided, there have been many Christians who want to follow Jesus Christ faithfully.

From this standpoint, it’s pretty meaningful to think about those who practiced the Gospels and tried to realize the kingdom of God as true followers of Jesus Christ, while staying in the Christianity, not to restrict themselves within the Christian boundary. Also, we can think about other religions’ members, not Christians, who faithfully followed Jesus Christ. Names of those who can be classified as the former in the 20th century would be Thomas Merton(1915-1968) and Mother Theresa
(Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, 1910-1997), while M. K. Gandhi
(1869-1948) can be classified as the latter. They clearly did not insist the way of thinking that Christianity was the only true religion, while not excluding other religions as well.

Now in the 21st century, the ecology crisis has been emerged as the most urgent global agenda. Christians should also interpret and recognize Jesus Christ newly as who encourages us to cooperate with other religious people to preserve this world and ecology system that God created. And follow him in a new way, as many members from different religious communities are getting along with each other than any other era.

Jesus appeared in the Gospels obviously meets God and makes relationship with people in the nature, different from us who live in modern big cities. Almost always Jesus compared God’s kingdom to trees, birds and crops. Mostly family-oriented people in our time and believers in Korean Catholic church, most of the leaders are upper-middle class, don’t pay much attention to the destruction of nature and home-less people in their neighbor.

To become a true follower of Jesus and Christian in this circumstance, it’s not only ridiculous to stay in the exclusive Christianity bythinking “Jesus is the only son of God, and only Jesus can save the world”, but also different from the message of Jesus and would be an anachronism. Instead, we should follow the comprehensive and relation-oriented Jesus Christ who invited estranged and poor people to his dining table, and declared that these people can go to the kingdom of God in the first place. And then we are required to liberate poor people who are suffered from this destructed and deteriorated environment in this day, and to have access to Jesus Christ who makes us aware of the fact that all God created features are precious, as well as realizing Kingdom of God by working together with other religious communities.

In this ecology crisis and multi-religion era, Christians are required to make good relations with other religious communities, not clinging to the humanity salvation as staying in the Christianity, take care of all lives in the universe and try to save the earth, not to be destructed any more.

Journal <Theology & Solidarity> Vol.4  2010