IV Easter, Year C
Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, "Please come to us without delay." So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, "Tabitha, get up." Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are
these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night withhin his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one."
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.
There are fewer greater problems attending Christianity than that of the relation of Jesus to God. The entire theological history of the early church is one great discourse on this subject. Not even counting the New Testament witness, from the early second century through the great councils of the sixth century, the question looms, how is Jesus related to God?
If we were to make the leap to the twenty first century and ask the average American Christian, “How is Jesus related to God?,” we would find that while most of them would wish to affirm that which is articulated in the Nicene Creed, on a functional level they would not, indeed, they could not actually affirm the ‘homoousias’ of that council. The reason this is so is because modern Christianity has leveled the revelation of God into a flat doctrine of biblical inspiration which asserts the identity of Jesus’ Father with the God of the Hebrew Scriptures without taking into consideration that the Hebrew Scriptures are, as Girard puts it, ‘texts in travail”, that is, they contain an internal inconsistency with regard to God-talk. The average modern American Christian uses the Hebrew Scriptures to gain a definition of God (the Father) and then comes to the New Testament and attempts to fit Jesus in with that portrait gleaned from the Hebrew Scriptures.
As we have sought to say time and again on preachingpeace.org, we cannot come to a knowledge of God apart from Jesus. This is exactly what the text for today is asserting. Furthermore, many contemporaries of Jesus’ had a similar ‘flat’ view of the Hebrew Scriptures and could not figure out how Jesus’ could be related to the God who had delivered Israel. It must be acknowledged straightaway that Jesus’ did not simply take over the Hebrew Scriptures wholesale; he applied a very specific hermeneutic when reading ‘his Bible.’ We have explored this in the Occasional Article on ‘The Authority and Inspiration of Scripture, which we encourage the reader to consult as an addendum, indeed a preface, for today’s preaching, particularly as it illumines the following text John 10:34-39.
In our text today, Jesus points out that it is the miracles that he has done in ‘his Father’s name’ which bear witness to his character and spirituality. He could not have done these miracles apart from the power of the Father and indeed, he has yet to raise Lazarus from the dead. The Fourth Gospel does not call the miracles ‘dynamis’ but ‘semeia’, signs that effectively point to something else in their power. In today’s text, it is the word ‘ergon’ that is used, which here is a synonym for signs produced. Jesus’ miracles or works are the ushering in of a different order, a new reality. Some scholars have observed that the seven ‘semeia’ of the Fourth Gospel have a potential literary allusion to the seven ‘semeia’ of the Wisdom of Solomon, where the mighty acts of God under Moses are focused in seven miracles. The last miracle in the Wisdom of Solomon is that of the death angel, the Passover, in the Fourth Gospel, it is the destruction of death itself in the ‘final semeia’ the cross of Jesus (“when I am lifted up…the prince of this world will be cast out.”). From the beginning sign of Cana (on which see our comments In Year C Lent) to the final sign of the cross, the same theme is being articulated, namely, ‘the old has passed away, behold the new has come.’
Jesus’ does not meet his contemporaries’ expectations of who ‘Messiah’ should or indeed could be, he does not come with armies or political might, he does not seek to violently overthrow the political/social establishment. Rather, he heals those who have been victims of the system.
At stake in our text is the behavior of Jesus. From the early church to Bultmann this text has been understood as a ‘Hellenistic’ affirmation of some sort of ontological identity of being. This is not exactly incorrect but if taken as a purely metaphysical equation, it misses the fundamental hermeneutical implication: namely that Jesus’ behaves as God behaves. It is Jesus’ behavior that causes him problems with his contemporaries for in his behavior he exhibits a different character than that typically associated with ‘God.’ He does not come with power, he comes serving, he does not come with judgement, he comes with healing, he does not come with vengeance, he comes with forgiveness. In short, he does not come and fit our expectations of God.
The Christology of the Fourth Gospel bears eloquent witness to this (John 5:36). We must, therefore, re-open the question that so engaged the early church: what is the relation of the Son to the Father? But we must now turn it on its head, because we think we know who God is and what God is like. And as we have pointed out over and over, the modern, popular Christian God is fundamentally no different than the gods of the victimage mechanism. Today we must ask: Is God like Jesus? This is what our text does and in so doing asks us to reconsider who we think God is and what God is like.
When we do so, we can authentically affirm the christological ‘homoousias’ of the Nicene creed that will have a new power and urgency and indeed will inform our mission as Jesus’ sheep, those who follow him. If we dare to recite this creed on Sunday mornings, it will either bear witness to us or it will bear witness against us. Are we those who acknowledge the identity of Jesus with the Creator abba? Or are we those who only see similarities (as perhaps the Arians did)?
Brown (commentary) points out that the text has traditional elements similar to those of the Synoptics about the confusion created by Jesus. “The two questions implied in vss 24 and 33 about Jesus being Messiah and God (or Son of God) are exactly the questions that the Synoptic Gospels set in the framework of the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin…We have suggested that in scattering these charges throughout a longer final ministry in Jerusalem, John may be giving a truer picture.”
Schnackenburg (Commentary Vol 2) observes ‘that Jesus did not in fact reveal himself as ‘openly’ as is suggested by the revelatory discourses in the Johannine Gospel.” This is correct. But neither Brown nor Schnackenburg note the crucial hermeneutic that the Fourth Gospel gives us, namely that this discourse occurs at the Feast of Dedication (Channakah), a time that celebrated the violent Maccabean revolt. There is an explicit contrast between the type of leader/Messiah that openly asserts and indeed demands violence as a social solution and that of Jesus’ ministry in our text. Jesus himself has an explicit anti-Maccabean posture as we have pointed out in his use of Psalm 110 (The Biblical Testaments as a Marriage of Convenience). A mimetic theoretical reading of this passage yields an interpretation that is at once both orthodox (inasmuch as it can affirm the positive mimesis of Jesus with the Father) as well as a radical thrust (inasmuch as it points to the negative mimetic reaction of his contemporaries who will stone, i.e., scapegoat him).
We can therefore follow J.N. Sanders (The Gospel According to St John) who says, “That the Father and Son are one is not offered as a proposition in metaphysics, but simply as the explanation why an attack on the Son is also an attack on the Father, and so bound to fail. But the complete unity of Son and Father, which has already been expressed in other terms in 1.1 and 5.17, forms the basis and justification for the later orthodox affirmation of the unity of the substance between the divine persons.”
We have suggested that we must re-examine our theological views of Jesus’ so-called divinity since we have so closely assimilated Jesus to the gods of victimage, the gods of violence. This is perhaps no more true today than in America which ostensibly claims to be a Christian nation. If we are so Christian we would do well to ask why it is that we do not seem to manifest in our lives, individually and corporately, the character of Jesus the Christ.
Further we might ask to which Father we are praying. This was brought out most powerfully to us in the recent (April 21st, 2004) interview conducted by PBS’ Gwen Ifill with Bob Woodward on his book Plan of Attack. Woodward had asked President Bush if he had spoken with his father, former President Bush about his decision to go to war with Iraq. Bush noted that he had not but had spoken ‘to a higher Father.’ Could this have been the Father that Jesus reveals or another father (John 8:44)? The Father of Jesus has never authorized or justified violence in any way shape or form. Violence as a social solution can only come from the One who, from the beginning, extrudes, excludes, violates and kills.
It would appear that President Bush has a Maccabean Messianic view of Jesus and does not follow the Jesus of the Gospels, the Jesus who is one with the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth. The President’s ‘evangelical’ theology as well as that of his soulmate (so Woodward) Condaleeza Rice underpins his political rhetoric and decision making. We must in a gentle fashion say that not only is this not so but it is in substance a denial of the Nicene Creed and is therefore not orthodox in any fashion.
The churches in America have come to a critical point: will they bear witness to Jesus as he is revealed in the Gospels or will they continue to propound their false violent Messiah, the Christian anti-Christ?