Our categories give us our world, do they not? And is it not the case that if we can control the categories through which people see the world, we can also control them? How, then, do we know that Jesus’ teaching isn’t just another power-play? Is he not, by virtue of his teaching, attempting to control our categories? And if he succeeds in controlling our categories, is he not circumscribing our worldview? And what might his motive be if not to secure power and glory for himself? And even today, if we can control the way in which his teachings are understood and applied, are we not similarly attempting to take charge? Are we not attempting to secure power and glory for ourselves–at least among those who are willing to follow our lead (i.e. those who are willing to say “Lord, Lord” in more or less the same way that we say, “Lord, Lord” — cf. Matthew 7:21-23) ? How can we show that Jesus’ teaching is different? Indeed, how can we show that this representation of Jesus’ teaching different? Why is this not just another worldview? Why is this not just another power-play?
To be sure, many people– associated with many different groups and institutions –are happy to invoke the name of Jesus as they promote themselves and their particular worldviews. They honor him with their lips, but their heart is far from him (cf. Matthew 15:8). They are quick to say, “Lord, Lord,” but not only do they not enter the kingdom, they do their best to prevent others from entering, as well (cf. Matthew 7:21 and 23.13). Indeed, it has been incredibly easy (and very tempting) for later generations to project their misunderstanding of his teaching (not to mention their intentional distortion thereof) onto the person of Jesus. In contrast to the scribes and pharisees who, in their pursuit of power, opposed him (fearing that his popularity threatened their position), later generations– looking back at him in an idealized way, his name having triumphed –are eager to hitch their wagon to his star as they attempt to secure power and glory for themselves (showing themselves, in the end, however, to be like the scribes and pharisees after all).
Language is notoriously ambiguous, but there are two particular ambiguities that makes it especially easy for us to associate ourselves and our worldviews with Jesus of Nazareth. We quite naturally assume, as we read the gospels, that his references to himself– especially his use of the expression “I Am” in the gospel of John –are, as far as we are concerned, merely (or primarily) references to himself as a historical personage on a historical mission–a person who (in our frame of reference, at least) also happens to be the only begotten Son of God (aka the second person of the Trinity). Subordinate to this, but closely related, is our further assumption that any references to “my word” or “my words” refer merely (or primarily) to the words reportedly spoken by him (or to the words that allegedly apply to him) that we find recorded in the scriptures. And while all this is plausible enough from a particular point of view (i.e. a particular worldview that idealizes the Bible as “the inerrant word of God” and that projects the conclusions of later theological speculation back onto the life and teachings of Jesus), the end result is that these two icons– Jesus and the Bible –are simultaneously powerful enough and ambiguous enough to attract and accommodate a wide variety of (more or less) self-promoting prophets and conflicting worldviews. But rather than attempting to sort through all these as we search for one that is true, let us see if we cannot discover a deeper and more authentic significance in Jesus’ references to himself and his words that will lead us beyond particular worldviews– and beyond the power struggles implicit within them –to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that Jesus said, “I Am” (John 14:6). We shall attempt to do this by strategically paraphrasing a series of texts from the gospel of John in hopes that they will speak to us in a fresh and authentic way. To the extent that we are successful, we will be in a much better position to ascertain the relative value of the various worldviews we encounter. Like the prisoner who was released from Plato’s cave and who– having left the cave, and having seen the form of the Good –decides to go back into the cave out of concern for the other prisoners, we too may choose to re-engage the world and debate, on some level, the shadows on the cave wall (but we won’t mistake these shadows for reality); we, too, may once again consider the relative value of various worldviews (but we won’t mistake these worldviews for the Truth).
Before proceeding with this enterprise, however, the reader should be aware of two dangers:
1) like Jesus, himself, we may open ourselves up to the charge of blasphemy (the reasons for this becoming apparent, below); and 2) we may risk actually blaspheming– in a manner of speaking, at least –insofar as we are liable to mistake the relative for the absolute (e.g. the egoic mind for the mind of Christ–or a particular worldview for the Truth).
While, at this point in history, the first of these two dangers is not a huge concern– unless, of course, we are beholden to a particular church or related institution for our paycheck and/or our sense personal identity –the second of the two may be related to the Jungian concept of inflation and should not be taken lightly. Indeed, whether we ourselves suffer from this kind of “inflation” and are engaging in a kind of megalomaniacal “self-promotion” OR whether we are promoting a particular “world-view” as if that worldview were, itself, the Way, the Truth, and the Life that is sought– whether we do either of these things –a certain prospect of judgment looms over us as the thoughts and intents of our hearts are exposed to the light:
Hebrews 4:12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.
Nevertheless, while we would do well to pause for introspection, at this point, we should not imagine that any attempt to avoid the light of life would be a virtue:
John 3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
Ephesians 5:13 . . . but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”