I just finished walking through the Gospel of John with my 8th-grade class at school. In this journey, which has taken all year, I have been struck by a few stories that I cannot seem to shake. First, I want to point out that in John’s Gospel it does not seem that Jesus’ only task was “to die” as I heard growing up in the faith. Rather, it seems that Jesus came to show that life right now matters. Jesus is instructing his disciples (and his enemies) in the way of living the “abundant life” (chapter 10). Jesus does talk about his death in chapter 12, but it is not his focal point in John’s Gospel. From the opening poem of the book, the author wants us to know that “the Word” came to bring light and life to all people.
Therefore, Jesus came to bring life, not to be a human sacrifice to appease a bloodthirsty God. Rather, Jesus seems to offer himself for the bloodthirst of the oppressive leaders who think their creations are more important than human life. Jesus offers himself to show the length of God’s self-sacrificial love – not to appease the bloodthirsty Father in the Trinity. Consider this idea, the cross is not so God can stand to be near us, but the cross is God choosing to stand with us. It is God choosing suffering over retaliation, it is God setting for us the example of how to facilitate change. It is God saying that the “Powers That Be” do not have the final say on who is loved or who is important.
Thomas Merton wrote concerning the cross:
“To fully hear and receive the word of the cross means much more than a simple assent to the dogmatic proposition that Christ died for our sins. It means to be ‘nailed to the Cross with Christ,’ so that the ego-self is no longer the principle of our deepest actions, which now proceed from Christ living in us.” ~Thomas Merton
This seems to be Jesus’ go to action in John’s Gospel – to identify with the weak, broken and ostracized. It starts by driving out the money changers in the temple, then he encounters the Samaritan Woman, he heals the man by the pool at Bethsaida, he shows mercy to the woman caught in adultery, and the list continues. Jesus wanted to up-end the status quo for the sake of those who had no voice. Even his closest disciples were a bunch of losers and outcasts. Jesus is bringing light and life to all men by bringing his Kingdom into the world. A Kingdom in which love, mercy, and kindness are the status quo.
The first story that strikes me in John’s Gospel is from chapter 9. They encounter a man born blind. His disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The disciples are assuming a lot here. They are assuming that someone has sinned. Ultimately, they are assuming everything they had been taught in their youth was correct – that someone must have sinned for someone to have a birth defect. In other words, God must be angry with this man or his parents for this to have happened.
Jesus, as the image of the invisible God, has other ideas on this. He sees someone being mistreated and abandoned by a people called to love those who look exactly like this man. Jesus thus issued a statement about his new status quo and uses his own human spit to make mud and rub it on this man’s eyes. He sends the man to wash in the pool of Siloam and the man is healed. In the New Kingdom the blind, the poor, the broken, the sinner, the embarrassed, and the ashamed are cared for, respected, and honored. Life is being poured out (or spat out) through the person of Jesus.
I think this speaks volumes to our world. We tend to honor the unquenchable need for more. We will turn any good thing into a racket. We, not unlike the money changers, split our allegiance for anything or anyone who offers us safety or security. Jesus offers neither. Well, the type of safety or security he offers looks nothing like American Exceptionalism.
We do this thing, like every tribe of people ever, where we refuse to believe that the life of a Syrian refugee is as important as mine. We do not do this with our words, but it has been built up in our hearts and minds from the very first day of school. We pledge our allegiance to the flag, and we put our hand over our heart, and we fill the gospel in there where it fits. But we do not accept the critique of the prophet (from the text or our current prophets). We accept the gospel on American terms, not the other way around. This has led to our efforts, hearts, and lives to preach that if one is “Pro-Life” then that one is Christian. But that “Pro-Life” stance only seems to matter to us in the Roe v. Wade decision. Generally speaking, being Pro-Life does not spill into our treatment of refugees, young black men and women, or those on death row. Frankly, it does not spill to those that Jesus called “neighbor.”
What I mean is this, we live however we want and squeeze some Jesus-talk in after to make him obey our orders. Don’t get me wrong, I believe Jesus is for life, or even Pro-Life if you will, but I think it means a whole lot more than we allow it. We compartmentalize; Jesus continually integrated. When asked “Who is my neighbor?” He basically responded with, “The guy you hate the most or have the least in common with.” Today we are asking the same question, but I think we do not like his answer.
21st Century Christians have 21 Centuries worth of Christian writing, thought, and teaching to thumb through. Unfortunately, we tend to disregard that reading for something more timely. Like, “What did Trump say today?” We then get offended by what some random pundit (on either side) says about what he said. We love the cycle of drama. We cannot escape the cycle of chaos. We choose the cycle of absurdity.
Jesus was offering his followers a Way beyond the facade of drama, chaos, and absurdity. Jesus was offering a bigger Kingdom, and his Kingdom was not founded in 1776. America is not God’s plan for salvation to the world. American Democracy is not the only political system of honesty. In fact, it, like every other political system, falls miserably short. This is visible by how our poorest and weakest citizens are treated.
I do not expect our political system to “get it together” anytime soon. Maybe you have more hope than I. But, I can see a day when our churches and faith communities are mobilized beyond our current apathy. Where we choose to rise above the cycle of chaos and learn the bigger teaching of The Cross. Where the Sermon on the Mount is our status quo, not the Sermon on the Political Stump Speech.
I am sure I have stepped on a toe or two. I have stepped on some of my own toes and preconceived notions. But I cannot shake the reality that the Gospel inherently speaks a different reality – a bigger reality. The Gospel of Life is not a secondary or tertiary option in our lives. It calls us beyond our born nationality and gives us new eyes with which we see the world. The Gospel finds its roots in self-sacrifice, not self-aggrandizement.
That is why the prophet Micah reminded the people, “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
May the Lord bless and keep you.
Grace and Peace,