Friday, January 26, 2007

Come and See

I recently received an invitation to attend a conference where Christian theologians are going to defend the faith against deconstructionists. The best defense, the organizers claim, is wielding the sword of "propositional truth." After all, if deconstructionists maintain there is no absolute truth (oxymoron!), then the best thing we can do is to show them what is absolutely true: arguing for the verities of our faith one proposition at a time.

Ever since my first philosophy class, I've always been a bit suspicious of "propositional truth." My philosopher professor loved to show his students how absolute claims rarely bear the weight of careful argumentation. Like cracks in a concrete foundation, flaws in the premise of an argument eventually brings the whole house down. I decided right then I wouldn't ever find shelter from the storm of doubt in a house built on rationalism. One person's reason is another person's invitation to try to blow the house down.

Greek students know that "abide" or "remain" is a code word in John's gospel and letters. As a matter of fact, it appears so often, they get sick of seeing it. Abide here, abide there, abide everywhere. Abide, abide, abide. That's why most readers miss the irony of the question when a couple of would-be disciples of Jesus asked him, "where do you abide?" They had begun to follow Jesus because their mentor, John the Baptizer, told them to. Jesus, perhaps curious about their intentions asked them, "what are you looking for?" (Jo. 1:38). "Rabbi, where do you abide?" Jesus said, "Come and see."

I'm so glad he said, "Come and see," rather than, "I'm staying in Capernaum" or "The Son of Man has no where to lay his head" or "You have no idea what you're asking. Do you realize the implications of 'abiding'? That's one loaded question. Let's see. Some might say that I abide with the Father. Others might say that I abide in the hearts of believers. . ." or [I'm especially glad he didn't say] "split a piece of wood, and I am there; lift up a stone, and I am there."

Instead, he gave one of the most tempting, tantalizing, curiously inviting, intriguing, provocative, profound replies. Come and see. Come and see. Oh God, I'm so glad he said, "come and see."

Out of my wonder, sorrow, and night. Jesus, I come to thee.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Ashamed of Jesus

There's a story in Mark's gospel that I've never really paid much attention to. It's when Jesus' family comes for him when he's teaching but they can't get to him because of the crowded house. They send word for him. Jesus, obviously interrupted by their notice of arrival, callously replies, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" Then he says to those listening to him, "See! My mother and my brothers." Justifying his strange comment, Jesus states, "Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother." The reason, I think, I've never been bothered by Jesus' provocative statement is that I have always found myself in the company of those who belong to Jesus' new family. Sitting at his feet, I hear his words as if he were talking to me. I revel in the fact that, even though I don't have Jewish blood coursing through my veins, I'm still Jesus' brother because I try to do God's will. So, I belong to him. He's like family to me.

Mark finishes off the story as a continuation of what happened before. Because Jesus reconstituted Israel by choosing the twelve (God is starting over!), his family thought he had lost his mind (Mark 3:21). They, embarassed by Jesus, came to retrieve him--to get him out of the mess he was making. Even for them, things had gone too far. This is why they come to remove him from the crowded house. But, to their surprise, Jesus went even further with his charade. Not only was Israel being redefined. Jesus was re-imaging what it meant to be family. Imagine how shocking it must have been for his mother and brothers to hear the report. "Did you tell him we're out here? Yes, we told him. What did he say? He said you're not his family anymore. He said we're his family now."

Now, I find myself outside the crowded house where people who are not Jesus' family gather to listen to him. They're addicts and divorcees and homosexuals and foul-mouthed vagrants. They're also Asians and Africans and South Americans and Indians. They don't worship God like I do. They don't talk like I do. They don't eat and drink the right things, read the right books, or listen to the right preachers. Yet, there they sit. Gathered around his feet. Studying his every word. Trying to make sense of his life, his teachings, his ways.

This is embarassing. They act like they are his family. They act like they know him. They act like they're listening to him. They even quote him (like they know what he's talking about). Somebody needs to go to Jesus and pull him out of this mess. He needs to know things have gone too far. This is getting out of hand.

I know. I'll do it. I'll go and tell him his brother is here. We need to talk.

"God does not need us. Indeed, if He were not God, He would be ashamed of us. We, at any rate, cannot be ashamed of Him." Karl Barth