Making Sense of Jesus in Light of the Reality of Krishna

Mother Yasoda Seeing the Universal Form in Baby Krishna's Mouth

by Jen Owens

And God so loved…the world…that He gave…His one…and only son,
That whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

As Jaci Velasquez belted it out from our music minister’s boom box, I felt affirmed, congratulated even.  I was one of the blessed ones, the lucky ones, the privileged.  I believed in him so I would necessarily be offered the kind of life that ends all death.  It was my sophomore year of college, and I was reconnecting with my faith in ways that I had not anticipated I needed.  I was busy doing the things that many young people do during their time at Jesuit universities–volunteering my time to cantor at home parish Masses, retreating to wilderness places in the hills of Southern California, working alongside the people whose children would attend the school whose foundation we were laying in Northern Mexico, reading as much Latin American liberation theology as I could get my hands on.

But it wasn’t until the end of my time at Loyola Marymount that I ever seriously thought about the passage that we have for the Gospel reading this Sunday.  Maybe it was because I had attended Catholic schools with mostly Catholic students all my life that I had never really been forced to reckon with the reality of other religions.  Whatever the reason that I had managed to avoid it for so long, when I began to really consider it, alone and in community, I ended up feeling confused.  By the time I graduated, I came to the conclusion that all people come to God in our own ways, through our own cultures and traditions, and that the kind of God in whom I placed my faith would never turn God’s back on someone who did good work in the world but did not share my particular worldview.

And that was enough for a while.  Until I had to tackle my “Other Religions” requirement at Harvard Divinity School.  Platitudes about God being bigger than our imaginations can allow for no longer sufficed.  In my last semester here, I am taking a class on “God: Hindu and Christian” with Francis Clooney, SJ.  As I fumble my way through the course, doing the best I can to make sense of complicated Hindu texts with only a nascent knowledge of the expansiveness of Hinduism, I wonder what to do with passages like the one we have in the lectionary for this week.  Today I sit before this readings humbled by what I do not fully understand, my impulses toward pluralism challenged by my tradition’s flailings between inclusivism and exclusivism.  How do you make sense of competing truth claims like these?

Jen Owens is in awe of Scripture scholars and and those who study Eastern traditions.  And she loves the way this particular image of Krishna reminds her of when her youngest brother used to do the same thing.   

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