Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for March 23, 2013

Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.” (John 12:44-50)

Recently my 6-year-old grandson Jack complained to me that he couldn’t find his toy Star Wars light saber. I suggested that perhaps Darth Vader had slipped into his room and ran off with it. Jack replied dismissively, “He’s not real, dude.”

Aside from needing to recover from being called “dude” by my grandson (as though I were Grandpa Lebowski), it was an appropriate reality check: Avoid believing in things that aren’t real.

Jesus called upon people to believe in him. When we think of believing in him, we think of believing that he existed at a point in history, that he was who he claimed to be, and that he accomplished theologically exactly what we have been trained to understand.

But his original audience was called to believe in a different way. They didn’t have to stretch too far to believe that Jesus existed—he was standing right in front of them. They didn’t have access yet to any of the apostle Paul’s theological explorations about Jesus. Did they need to believe that he performed miraculous signs? All they had to do was hang around awhile for that one. That he was the Son of God? Yes, that one might have taken some work on their part.

But in this text from John, Jesus isn’t asking his hearers to believe in him the way people might believe in ghosts (or in Darth Vader, for that matter). The belief is directed toward God the Father. But these were first-century Jews, and they had no trouble believing in God. But there was something about God that Jesus wanted them to believe, something new and revelatory about God that would be new for them.

And in Jesus, they could see that new and revelatory thing. They already felt that they were under God’s judgment—that’s why the Romans were in charge of everything. But Jesus showed them the redeeming, saving, healing face of God, the face that their ancestors experienced long ago when being rescued from slavery in Egypt. Jesus wanted the people to believe what he was saying and doing—his words and his works—so that they might be reborn as God’s people, a people destined to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth, God’s people through whom all the families of the world would find blessing.

And many did believe. But enough didn’t believe and ultimately they won the day. The face of God that Jesus showed them impacted them in such a way that they could rise up and proclaim with one voice:

“Crucify him!”

Because, he was real, dude.

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