Passion Week Scandal

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, …He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers. (Mark 11)

Jesus threw everything off kilter. He was bad for the business of sacrifice. Jesus’ actions were scandalous because he was upsetting a system that supposedly contained everything necessary for the religious health of the people.

The great scandal about Christianity is that it claims both uniqueness and universality. It claims to save all people and claims to do so through the unique person of Jesus Christ. The paradox cannot be and should not be reconciled. It can only be spiritually or poetically intuited.

As far as I know other faiths from Islam to Buddhism, claim one or the other but not both; or at least emphasize one and not the other. Judaism claims uniqueness. But it held within itself the seed of universality. Jesus’ entrance into the temple subverted the exclusivity of Judaism. His quote from Hosea pointed to the seed of universality. His own life, death and resurrection ripped open the temple curtain between God, (the Holy of holies), and the nations of the world. The movement was God’s; God coming out to embrace all people.

Uniqueness without universality equals exclusivity. Universality without uniqueness, that is, without historical grounding, is ethereal and finally baseless.

When Christianity, hijacked by rationalists, emphasizes its uniqueness without equal emphasis on its universality it too becomes a stumbling block to God’s kingdom. Our’s is an “irrational” faith not supported by forensic accounts of factual data, but by a story that requires us to listen for the ring of truth with the ear of our hearts. Paul refered to the paradox of universality and uniqueness as mystery.

Let me try a practical example. When we received the contract to run the Single Men’s Hostile, now the Herb Jamieson Centre, I had a number of calls from agencies and well meaning people asking if we were going to serve anyone other than Christians. Or, as the question was occasionally framed, “Do people have to become Christians in order to stay there? The question is not as ubiquitous as it once was but it still surfaces. When it does, we are surprised.

I know it used surprise me. And I used to dismiss it. But it needs examination. I don’t think a question like this arises without cause. Leaving aside “perennial malcontents”, we need to ask ourselves how Hope Mission gained the kind of reputation that would provoke this question? Is it because we too, like the ancient sellers in the temple, can fall prey to constructing a closed system and instead of pointing to the truth through our compassion and our words, claim to possess the truth? A very different position.

Thankfully, through our actions of open compassion, this impression is dying.


  1. As far as you know, other religions claim either uniqueness or universality but not both. So, I googled. First stop: “(The) Qur’an unequivocally declares the unity, uniqueness and universality of Allah …” Who’d a thunk it? So does Christianity do the unity thing as well? Perhaps not with that Trinity thing goin’ on. Must muse.

  2. You are right, Islam declares the universality and uniqueness of Allah, as does Christianity for God, as does Judaism. It’s a distinctive of all monotheistic religions. My point was whether this translated into universal acceptance, all inclusivism, ie.”that all may be saved”. As far as I know, Islam outside of perhaps the Sufi’s, does not open itself to this possibility, even though the Qu’ran has a relatively healthy view of other faiths. Of course Christian universality is a minority position, but their are theologians like Hans Ur von Balthasar (‘Dare We Hope’) who show the very real possibility.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *