January 17, 2014

Epiphany 2: Gospel Thoughts on Jesus, John the Baptist, Joy and Surprise

January 19, 2014
Gospel Meditation on John 1:29-42 by Fr. Torey Lightcap

It happens all the time. we lose things, and then (not every time, but perhaps often enough) we are able to lay hands on them again. There is a simple joy in finding something you were either hopelessly lost without (your keys, your phone, your sunglasses that were on top of your head the whole time) or had long ago lost and thought you would never find again (twenty dollars in your pants, found in the fall, after they came out of the wash and went into storage for the summer). These examples are quite small, but they hint at the rush that we feel when we find something we thought we lost -- even when it’s something trivial. Surprise!

But what about the bigger finds? Have you ever found something you’d been looking for your whole life? How much more amazing of a surprise is that?

Can you imagine finding the person for which not only you but your ancestors had looked and longed -- and prayed! -- for generations? “We have found the Messiah.” It fairly boggles the mind! How could we begin to add up the joy and the surprise to get even a close approximation -- the joy, yes, but also the sheer bloody trepidation, the heart in the throat, the fast pulse? And what if that person that you had found was one of whom it was said that he would come some day and free his people? And what if you were living in a heavily oppressive environment where people had almost nothing of what they needed to live? What if your tribe and nation were under the thumb of an ironhanded and bloody foreign regime?

Well, I guess I know what I would want. I would want that Messiah person to be one who would come in might to set my enemies running and establish a true kingship with himself at its head. (I guess you might say a David-type king.) How ironic, then, that we get the Jesus we get. He lays claim to coming sword in hand (Matthew 10:34), but in the end it’s not a real sword -- it’s a metaphor about cutting through the baloney of others’ false piety and unjust dealings. (Later on, he pronounces that those who live by the sword die by it.) He says he’s come to bring fire on the earth (Luke 12:49), but it is a refining fire whose purpose is not to punish but rather to purge away untruth. He makes a verbal stand against corrupt political-religious leadership, calling them names like hypocrites and “blind guides” (Matthew 23); and he makes a scene in the Temple (John 2; Matthew 21), but in the moment, a lot of this is largely symbolic theater meant to provoke.

How is it that this one -- over whom there is so much excitement -- ends up falling so far short of the mark some would have placed upon him as Messiah? If we prayed for a military reformer to come in might and instead we got a teacher ... if we prayed for General Patton type and instead we got a squishy retreat-leader type ... well, isn’t that a bum deal?

We just need to acknowledge this and to be honest about it, maybe just to finally be able to move beyond it to a degree (more on that in a minute). If we acknowledge God as a kind of divine parent, and if we long for our parents to hover over and protect us, then perhaps part of that is that our enemies would be chased away and everything would be okay again. Certainly the psalms make this idea clear, don’t they? “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” Psalm 46 declares (King James Version). “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.” Or again, Psalm 83 (KJV): “Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God. For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.”

There’s nothing wrong with those images all on their own, but what we need to see -- I’m afraid what a lot of conventional Christianity is missing these days -- is that it is part of a larger whole. If God is just a source of shelter, then our only job is to keep out of the storm, and that’s a self-serving, shameful, and shallow faith that’s going to be wasted. What it means to follow Jesus as Messiah is not only that we place our complete trust in him, but that we also follow the pattern he has set before us with his life, and trust that God is strong enough to support us in that journey.

When Jesus’ cousin John sees Jesus (at least in the Gospel of John), he points him out in the crowd with a long finger and says, in so many words, There he is! That’s him! The one I’ve been talking about! He says, “I myself have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” (Presumably [to me anyway] as cousins they should have known each other pretty well.) And then the next day, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” We cannot know completely just exactly who and what John thought he had found, just as we cannot really know the mind of Andrew when he came to Simon and laid claim to having found the Messiah. We just know that they located something that shook them to the core and that they had to share it. Everything that would follow on from that point would vindicate the claims made about Jesus as Messiah.

It was undoubtedly the find of a lifetime -- indeed of anyone’s lifetime. A little fear and trembling and confusion would have been in order. But mostly surprise and joy: joy, at having found something beyond comprehension -- the most important person we can conceive of -- the “God-man” (as Anselm called Jesus). Surprise!

In this time of Epiphany may you receive a vision of the joy and the surprise that is coming into this world. Be strengthened by these words of Paul from our epistle reading for the day in 1 Corinthians:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind -- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you -- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

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