God Has Come in the Flesh — Easter 4

29 04 2007

Text: John 10:22-30

I will never cease to be amazed at those who confess or identify as Christian but do not believe in a bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Granted, this is nothing that anyone can prove or disprove. Granted also, that the number of people identifying as Christian and not believing in a bodily resurrection are most likely rather small, but there are two people of the elite on the “religious left” that take an alternative view: Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong. Now, I will not doubt that they might have good things to say about how we live as Christians and they may even offer new insights worth considering outside of the so-called traditional Christian viewpoint of things, but I cannot help feeling bad for them. They run the risk of being trapped (if they are not already) with the limits of an Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment viewpoint. Again, there are many great things that came out of these strands of secular philosophy, such as the United States Constitution and our Bill of Rights. One of the weaknesses of this mindset, however, is the desire to seek to quantify and explain away every story of what could be called a supernatural incident with a rational explanation.

Whatever happened to our sense of mystery and wonder? Are we, like Bishop Spong and Marcus Borg, in danger of becoming “muggles,” who have no use for signs wonders and miracles? Surely if we as Christians could quantify our faith and explain away miracles as flukes of nature or hallucinations then we run the greater risk of being nothing more than secular humanists dressed in ecclesiastical trappings.

In the Gospel of John, we find that Jesus is asked a direct question by the Jewish religious establishment: “Are you the Messiah?” This is in direct opposition to the way Jesus has been teaching and revealing who he is during his ministry. He typically has shown himself to be the Messiah by defining who he is in a rather oblique way, or by using figures of speech. Like those who would be considered to be in the elite of the religious left, we ask for a direct answer. Like the apostle, Thomas, we want proof. We want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this guy, Jesus of Nazareth, is legitimate.

But what does Jesus say in his answer to a direct question? He simply says, “I have been telling you who I am all along. I certainly am not repeating myself for the likes of you because even if I did, you wouldn’t believe me anyway.” So, how did Jesus tell them before this point who he is and what he was about? Now, it must be said that he doesn’t really mention who he is in public or directly answer them up until now. But he did allude to it with signs, wonders, miracles, and stories known as parables. If anyone who was listening had either half a brain or some imagination they could see what he was getting at. For example, in many of his parables, he spoke about theKingdom of God. This Kingdom of God which he kept preaching about was so big that there was no way to begin to describe it directly. He could only speak about what it was like, as opposed to what it is. In what could be described as a condescending tone, Jesus basically says, “If you were part of my flock of sheep, you would know what I was getting at and you would believe the things that I say and do. But, you’re not part of that flock. So, there is no reason for me to explain myself further.” At the same time, however, I would venture to guess that the religious establishment hasn’t really done anything wrong at this point. Jesus may be a bit patronizing here, but at the worst, he is simply saying that they those who are questioning him are just not part of the Gospel train as of yet. Regardless of the reason, the authorities seek to demand proof of who Jesus is. Is he an itinerant prophet, or is he the Messiah? At the end of his dialogue with the establishment, he finally says that he is much more than that. He says, “I and the Father are one. I am God who has come in the flesh to live with you, to be with you, and to share with you.” By speaking plainly, Jesus has given those in power a reason to have him executed as a threat to the status quo. Our questions are invited, and even expected, of God, but the caveat he gives is that we must not be afraid of the answer. The authorities questioned, and like Thomas, they received an answer, but they could not bear what the answer was. They demanded proof and they got it, but that still did not satisfy them. It just goes to show that, when you have a predetermined point of view in your mind, final proof is never enough for those who demand proof. We are approximately half-way through the season of Easter and yet we as a Church do not find ourselves relieved from the drama of engaging disbelief and controversy. That should come as no real surprise, for Jesus was surrounded by controversy even before he was born. In his ministry, far from trying to mitigate the questionable circumstances of his birth and his lowly upbringing, he only exacerbates the situation at hand. The signs, the wonders, the miracles, even the speeches, take place during High Holy Days and the Sabbath. Instead of “making nice” with the establishment of his day, he calls them to account and challenges them.

I think that the term “the Jews,” used so frequently in the Gospel of John, could be a metaphor for the world. The world with all of its structures and means of self-preservation, does not believe that they are sheep needing a shepherd. They cannot comprehend that only by letting go of the power structures that they have in place will they truly know the grace, the mercy, the justice and the love of God. The establishment kept asking if Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus and didn’t answer directly because they could not bear the answer.

The term “Christ” or “Messiah” had been co-opted by the establishment of his day, just like the term “evangelical” or “Christian” has been co-opted by the establishment and the religious right of our day. In both instances, there are connotations of what each should be like. However, the Jesus I know is so much more than that. He says that he is none other than the very Son of God and is God himself who has taken human form. He is simply beyond all of our expectations.

In our rational minds, we cannot accept a Saviour who was tortured and executed as a criminal, buried in a tomb set aside for someone else, and then was raised from the dead. We concoct stories of our own in an attempt to explain away what we cannot understand. We have lost our sense of wonder.

Thanks be to God, our faith does not depend on us finding an explanation for everything. Our faith is dependent on the call of Jesus Christ to be part of his flock. It is not based on “how?” or “why?” The faith that we have is not a result of anything we do or say. Our faith is the result of an invitation and a set of promises from the one who created us and made us, one who lives with us and meets us at our worst and our best.

I do not worry so much about those who seek to discredit miracles and resurrections, for this is only scratching the surface of what Easter means. The message of Easter is that we are able to have an encounter with the reality of the risen Lord and our God. We do not have to provide an explanation. We only have to listen to him as he makes himself known to us. In the resurrection appearances of Jesus, one consistent thing that happens is that no one recognizes Jesus for who he is until he decides to make himself known. It is by only by that self-revelation that we are able to believe. The all-inclusive love of God is such that Jesus calls everyone to know him. If we would only stop being wrapped up in our own explanations and self-righteousness, perhaps we might get to know him better as well. Amen.

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3 responses

2 05 2007
Eileen the Episcopalifem

The message of Easter is that we are able to have an encounter with the reality of the risen Lord and our God.

Actually, this is exactly what Marcus Borg says about the ressurrection.

2 05 2007
Reverend boy

Hmmm….perhaps I should re-read Borg, then. Last time I read from him was quite some time ago … Do you have anything to recommend?

3 05 2007
eileen

I liked The Heart of Christianity and Meeting Jesus for the First Time.

This is what Borg says, but, the “encounter of the reality” can mean different things to different people. My sense (from memory) is that Borg feels encountering doesn’t necessarily equate to belief in a real, true physical resurrection. (As I don’t want to be misleading). But ultimately, he feels that the message of the Post Easter Jesus has great meaning no matter which way you view it.

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