V Easter, Year A
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died.
1 Peter 2:1-10
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation– if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:
"See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
"The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner,"
"A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall."
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."
Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Preparations are underway. There is a making ready that is occurring. Jesus is getting ready for you. He is preparing a place just for you. You count. He has counted you and he is where you are going. And where are you going? To the next Life in this lifetime. You are heading to that which is always and ever True and does not deceive or lie. You are on the way of Jesus to Jesus.
But like Thomas, even with Jesus sitting before us, we do not know the way. We keep thinking that it should be this way or that way when all the while it (He) is right in front of our face.
Jesus has complicated his relationship with the Father in the Fourth Gospel. Or so it may seem. If indeed, you insist on reading the Fourth Gospel through the lens of metaphysics, then it is inevitable that the ontology expressed will be complicated. Anyone who has read in the early church fathers is well aware of this phenomenon. The problem is that metaphysics explores intangibles such as ‘nature’, ‘essence’, ‘persona’, while never really taking into account character or behavior, that is, action, activity, and narrative. This is precisely how the Fourth Gospel discusses the relationship between Jesus and the Father. At stake is not some metaphysical discussion of some magical mystical equality of Jesus with God in super hyper speculation, what is at stake is precisely the character of Jesus, how Jesus acts and how his actions, his relationships, his teachings are justified by God.
The Johannine self-perception of Jesus is that he knows that he is called and empowered and sent by God, but this awareness is also captured in the Synoptic Gospels, particularly in the juxtaposition of the Son of Man and Suffering Servant figures.
This apparent ‘exclusivity’ has bothered many. It would seem Jesus is staking out territory for himself, as though he alone among humans had done something special, unique. He alone does the Father’s will. How is Jesus distinct from other religious figures? Is not his distinction seen precisely in his loving-kindness, his ‘hesed’, his mercy to sinners and strangers, in his healing touch and word? Is it not found in his miracles, this self-giving, this fear assuaging character? And when unjustly accused and executed, does he not forgive? Can it be said that the One whom Jesus worships as Truth and Light is truly forgiving of all sin?
Does this mean God is liberal? Well, yes it does, for “you shall know the truth and the truth shall liberate you.” Liberal means not measuring out forgiveness. It is aware that ‘with the measure you measure you will be measured.’ It is liberating when others do not measure out forgiveness to us, we are truly freed, liberated. And when we act in like kind, we are liberals who in their generosity liberate others. Is this not how we say God is toward us? If, God’s mercy removes sin ‘as far as east is from west’ then shall we retain it any closer? Yes, God is liberal in mercy and grace and this is the heart of the Gospel seen in the character and behavior of Jesus in the Gospels.
For those who, like us, wish to retain some of what the older categories of ‘nature’, ‘essence’, and ‘persona’ suggest, it becomes important to co-ordinate this discussion with God’s actions. Barth achieved this by juxtaposing the discussion of the two natures of Jesus (early church: human/divine) with that of the two states (Reformation: humiliation/exaltation). When this particular juxtaposition occurs then it is possible to speak of the narrative of Jesus’ life, his story contexted in the stories of the people of God, Israel. Story creates ontology (or language is socially constructed). This is the Johannine perspective. The true and living Logos is enfleshed in a person, whose person reflects God’s person.
But there is more. Our relationship to this Jesus exhibits the same qualities as his does with his Abba. It is full of power and answered prayer. Jesus is ‘in the Abba’ and the Abba is in him, he is in us and we are in him. This was called ‘perichoresis’ in the early church and referred to the mutual indwelling of each of the members of the Trinity. The good news is that we humans are caught up in this perichoretic dance with God. We are included even though we have sinned. The trees didn’t sin, nor did the animals, nor rocks, nor wind. Humans did. That in the midst of this life, which is death, we should be given Life in Love and be invited to dance at Messiah’s wedding feast is the greatest miracle of all.
“Lord, (we haven’t figured you out), we don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way?”
“Yes you do.”
(Hint: it leads to [the Abba by way of] a cross)
Note: The critical discussion of narrative hermeneutics in the light of mimetic theory is Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation.
This is Johannine eschatology at its best. The ‘palin erkomai’ of vs 3 may reflect the notion of a ‘second advent’ but the emphasis is on Jesus’ return by Spirit. All that is spoken of in 12-14 is the eschatological reality/horizon/new creation of the Spirit. It is the stuff of ‘then’ now.
Rather than speaking about Jesus in terms of his uniqueness, which carries with it mimetic overtones (Jesus is better than this or that religious figure), we prefer to speak of Jesus’ distinctiveness. What is distinctive is the way his love of God played itself out in his love of people. What is distinctive is that a truly positive mimesis is revealed; the power of self-giving, the power of self-emptying, the power of love. When we miss this we miss Jesus and when we miss Jesus, we miss….God!