Blowing Up Bridges
John 1.23 I am the voice of someone shouting in the
desert, "Make a straight path for the Lord to travel!"
No map of the Roman Empire makes
much sense unless it shows its many thousands of miles of roads. The
Empire survived and prospered because of its system of highways.
Roman engineers built military roads straight and true
through the countryside. The general rule seems to have been that if an
obstacle could be cut through, moved away or bridged, that would be done.
One historian remarks that nothing in those times
promoted the Empire more than the good communication these roads gave.
The author of John's Gospel makes just this point when he has John the
Baptist echo the Hebrew Scriptures in relation to Jesus of Nazareth:
Prepare in the wilderness a road for the Lord! Clear the way in the
desert for our God! Fill every valley, level every mountain. (Isaiah
If the image doesn't have quite the same impact today, it's because
most nations no longer give such pride of place to their rulers. But the
basic principle nevertheless survives, just as the image remains
effective. The progress of a king is to be made as easy as possible.
It no longer makes much sense to talk of Jesus as king or emperor. That
image has long since lost is punch. But few Christians, at whatever level
and of whatever persuasion, are likely to entirely reject the principle
that they are called to bring Jesus to others.
Exactly how that is to be done is a matter of fierce debate at
present. It is becoming increasingly difficult, for example, to claim that
Christians are right and everyone else wrong. Many think that living a
Christian way of life is more important than preaching at other people.
Having said that, it doesn't follow that it should be made as hard as
possible to take the Christian road . No, the principle is clear: "Make it
easy for Jesus to come to others."
However, from the earliest times the Church has deliberately fenced
itself off from "the rest". Baptism began as a sign that a person had
accepted Jesus. Within a relatively short time it had become a barrier
between Christians and "the rest". A person was not acceptable without it.
Once the Church became powerful, many other barriers were erected to keep
out unrepentant sinners.
Today the power of the Church has diminished to almost nothing -
especially in the West. In Europe, nearly empty churches are the rule
rather than the exception. With a few exceptions this seems to be a
worldwide trend. One might assume that as a result the entire fabric of
the Church would now be geared towards making the road to new life as
straight and as level as possible.
More or less the opposite seems to be the case.
A book could be written about the many ways in which the Church today
blocks the path of Jesus. Foremost is an insistence that deep emotional
and intellectual belief in certain primordial teachings is necessary. It
is as though Jesus has been mummified. He has become like an insect
preserved in a beautiful block of amber - petrified and lifeless.
Following close behind is a view which cuts senselessly across
contemporary human understanding of how the universe works. This ranges
from preaching that we are all corrupt from birth, to gross tardiness in
demanding that ruthless exploitation of our fragile world stop now.
Cutting through the chain of human knowledge like acid is an absurd
claim. It is that the Church has a hotline to God, has received direct
from God some absolute truths which rise above debate and reason. From
this is in turn derived the notion of unswerving obedience to Church
It is as though Christians now spend much of their energy blowing up
bridges across the roads of life. Jesus is denied easy access to his
beloved brothers and sisters. The valleys are not filled in, and the hills
It is consoling to trust that Jesus will nevertheless come to all who
need him, however tortuous and difficult we Christians make his path.