31 March 2017

You do not Know God; Of Course you do not Know Me! (Reprise)

Today's Gospel gives me a lot to think about. In particular it makes me recall one of the most surprising (stunning!) moments of my theological education. It came during one of the first classes I ever had with Prof John Dwyer when he asked us generally, "Who is Jesus?" We gave a number of answers but the best one we thought was, "Jesus is the Son of God!" John followed up with another question, an extremely logical question: "And who, then, is God?" We were stunned to silence. John went on to explain, "You see, you thought that calling Jesus the Son of God was the best thing you could say about him, the most meaningful, the greatest content, etc; but really it says nothing at all about Jesus because apart from Jesus, we do not know God; Jesus is the One who reveals the real God to us. It is important to say that Jesus is God's Son, but first of all, we must recognize that he is the One who reveals God to us; he is the One who makes God real in space and time." Everything in the rest of the course had to do with Jesus and the One he makes known and real to us in space and time (the two main meanings of the term "reveal").

Everything about that moment when I realized that doing theology with Jesus at the center of things would turn everything I thought and believed and understood on their head came back to me as I was praying with today's Gospel. I could well imagine how the folks in Jerusalem would have felt about Jesus' confrontation with them when he says essentially, "It is not that you know God and simply can't make up your mind about me and whether I am from him or not; it is really that you do NOT know God!!" If I were looking for reasons Jesus was crucified, that would certainly be a very large nail in his Cross! I would like to look at today's Gospel reading and see how it moves us closer to Holy Week and the way the Cross saves as well.

Brothers, Leadership, Romans, Disciples --- No one really gets Jesus

It is Autumn and time for the Feast of Booths or Taber-nacles, one of three Feasts of Pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  The booths are the place where Jews meet God and offer sacrifice. Jesus' brothers are encouraging him to come with them so that he can work more miracles and become famous and influential. "No one becomes famous if they do their work in secret!", they remind him. Of course, we all know that the REAL work will be done in secret --- in the secret darkness of the sin and death and hell Jesus takes on. But Jesus' brothers do not get what he is about yet. They may entertain the idea of his messiahship, but it is one marked by wonder working and, as appropriate to the Feast of Booths, to freeing Israel from the oppression of Rome. It is not marked by failure, ignominy, shame or a power made perfect in weakness. No, this Feast is not the One Jesus will "celebrate"; his comes later, in the Spring. He will go openly to Jerusalem for the Passover where the real sacrifice will be celebrated and the real victory over oppression will be won.

And of course Jesus' brothers aren't alone in their doubt about Jesus. The Jerusalem leaders are out to kill Jesus --- though they are very clear about the threat he poses to the Temple system with his preferential option for the poor and marginalized, his freely given forgiveness and notions of repentance which bypass the Temple sacrificial system. They don't know who he is but they do understand him better than Jesus' disciples! The disciples who are in Jerusalem waiting for more powerful works also don't ever quite get it nor do the the pilgrims to Jerusalem --- some of whom think he is a good man, some of whom think he is deluding the people, and some of whom  just don't know. All of these folks are in the City to celebrate the God they know as Creator and Law Giver and the One who brought them out of Egypt. Imagine how they must have felt when Jesus says, [[You know who I am and where I am from; but the One who sent me is true and you do NOT know him!]] In other words, [[It is not that you know God and merely cannot decide if I am from him; rather, you do NOT know God and so, naturally you do not associate me with him.]] Like some of us in that theology class, I would guess they were stunned, and angered too. I am sure they knew why the Jewish leadership (and especially the priestly aristocracy) wanted to put Jesus to death!

A Key to How the Cross Saves:

The most difficult piece of Christian Theology is the question of how the cross works. I wrote a few days ago about Christ entering into the godless depths of human existence and, through his openness and responsiveness, his dependence upon God to bring life out of death and meaning out of senselessness, he was able to implicate God into not only the unanticipated places, but the unacceptable ones as well. A related piece needed to clarify how the Cross saves is pointed to by Jesus' assertion that no one questioning or persecuting him knows God.

Jesus reveals God to us. Not only does he show us who God is but he makes God present in space and time, and we learn that he is the One Paul extols in Romans 8. The One Jesus allows to be exhaustively present is the God who allows neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depths, nor anything else in all creation to separate us from (His) love. [[No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.]] Through obedience unto death, and more, to (shameful, godless) death on a cross, Jesus opens every moment and mood of creation to the one he calls Abba, and nothing will ever be the same again.

But Jesus' death and resurrection reveals (makes known and real in history) one more thing that has been missing from the fallen creation: viz, authentic humanity. The portraits of inauthentic humanity abound during Holy Week and especially on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The arrogant, frightened, self-assertive, cowardly, betrayers and abandoners, liars, torturers, thieves, self-absorbed and merely duty-bound are ever-present. But Jesus is truly human and shows us the depths of what this means. He loves God with his whole heart and mind and soul and depends on him even when he feels abandoned. He loves himself, and acts with integrity, even when he is terrified, shamed beyond belief, tortured beyond all physical limits and is incapable of any action whatever as death leads to his descent into hell. In spite of everything he remains open and responsive to God in trust that even though he does not see how, God will bring his Reign out of even the depths of sinful death and hell. He gives his entire life for others and shows them his own love for them in the process.

We call Jesus Emmanuel, God with us, for apart from him we truly do not know God. Oh, we can reason to a Creator God, and we can do the same with a Lawgiver God. We can reason to One who is the ground of being and meaning and truth and beauty and mystery and one who hates sin and will judge us for that; but we cannot reason to a God who loves us as unreservedly as is revealed on the cross. We cannot reason to a God who allows absolutely nothing to stand between us and his love. Neither can we reason to an authentic humanity. That is something that can only be revealed and which we need to be initiated into as we are in Baptism. Thus, the cross saves by 1) making God present in even the godless places of our lives and destroying those by transforming them with his presence; 2) by making truly human existence possible for the first time in Christ and initiating us into it through our baptism into his death; 3) by reconciling the entire creation to himself in a preparation for the day when God will be all in all. In each of these ways God changes not only reality per se, but our hearts and the way we see reality as well. In each of these ways God establishes his sovereignty, his Reign over creation.