Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday in Pentecost, Proper 16: What will you do when the end comes?

Opening Sentence
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in you sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14

When Morning Guilds the Skies

Collect of the Day
Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirt, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 119:1-24

Lessons: Job 6:1, 7:1-21Acts 10:1-16John 7:1-13

“He is a good man,” was the assessment about Jesus from some of the Judeans during the Feast of Booths, as recorded in John 7:12. Others saw things differently. “No, he is leading people astray,” they said, as though Jesus were some Judean version of the Pied Piper. Quite often in contemporary circles, these are the parameters of the debate when the subject is Jesus. Even the church has, from time to time, been drawn into the fray, although it decided long ago that Jesus far exceeded such humanistic categories.

C.S. Lewis scoffed at the idea, prevalent in his day, of reducing Jesus to the level of a good moral or ethical teacher. Lewis rightly pointed out that the claims Jesus made about himself demand that we either worship him as Lord or dismiss him as a crazed lunatic or, worse yet, a liar. If Jesus was (and is) everything he claimed to be, we have no choice but to fall at his feet and, with Thomas, confess, “My Lord and my God!” But if he is none of those things he claimed, then all of his words and all of his teachings must be dismissed as the rantings of a delusional megalomaniac of very questionable character.

Consider the immediate context of the verse cited above. Jesus is in Galilee, staying out of Judea because some people there “were seeking to kill him.” As the time for the Feast of Booths rolls around, his brothers urge him to go public. Sarcasm and unbelief are apparent when they say to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world” (John 7:3-4). Although at least two of Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, eventually became not only believers but pillars of the early church, at this time, they viewed Jesus as something of a fanatic and an embarrassment to the family. Within their contextual framework, Jesus’ response is all too typical of his penchant for weirdness: “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come” (John 7:6-8).

Take this response out of the context of the whole of Jesus’ redemptive work (as so many humanists wish to do with, for example, the Sermon on the Mount) and you have what sounds precisely like the ravings of a lunatic. What practical moral or ethical teaching can the unbeliever take from, “You go up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come?” Put back in its proper context, however, Jesus’ words make perfect sense. To an unbelieving audience, Jesus speaks a word of judgment. His message to his unbelieving siblings is, “You have the good life now, so go ahead and party on. But a time is coming when you will have to give an accounting. You have it easy. But my task is a bit more difficult. I’m the One to whom you will eventually have to give that accounting.”

Understood in this context, Jesus’ words echo Jeremiah. “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?” (Jeremiah 5:30-31).

Ever since the days he walked on this earth, Jesus has had his admirers who say, “He is a good man,” and his detractors who say, “No, he is leading people astray.” Neither of these options will do in light of the whole of Jesus’ Person and work. You cannot dismiss his claims to be fully God without also dismissing his character as a man. You cannot have “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” without “You go up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” The choice is not between Jesus the “good man” and Jesus the Pied Piper. The choice, as Lewis so aptly put it, is between Jesus, liar and lunatic; or Jesus, Lord of all.


Jesus Shall Reign