Sometime Last Year…, Easter 5 (A) – 1996
May 05, 1996
Sometime last year I stood in my living room, watching a neighbor of mine cut his lawn. It was a typically hot and sunny Saturday afternoon. My attention was drawn to him because I wondered why he wasn’t inside watching the baseball game of the week. But there he was, outside, pushing the gas-powered mower back and forth in endless repetitions, the noise of his lawn mower joining with other mowers from other neighbors in what some people call the “Saturday symphony.”
As I watched, a small drama unfolded – in pantomime for me because I was indoors and too far away to hear any of the words. As my neighbor crisscrossed the lawn, suddenly the door to the house opened and his five-year old son emerged, followed by his wife. She put a small, plastic replica of a gas-powered mower on the grass so that the son could “help dad” cut the grass. Like father; like son.
She returned to the house, and I watched father and son pursue their separate courses, the son “mowing” over grass that the father had already cut. This charming scene continued for a minute or two, and of course, my heart was warmed by the whole thing.
Then something happened that surprised me, but also made the point with an exclamation. The son abruptly stopped mowing, abandoning the mower where it stood in the lawn. He disappeared into the house, and I thought he was through. He’d had enough, or it was too hot, or he realized he wasn’t cutting grass anyway, or his five-year old attention span had reached its limit, … none of my guesses were correct.
After a minute or two, he re-emerged followed by his mother. She was carrying one of those plastic grocery bags, resourceful woman that she was. She crouched at the plastic mower and tied the bag to the back of the mower where the handles attach to the blade cover. I glanced over to the father again and knew immediately what was occurring. The father’s mower included a grass-catching bag. The son could not truly be like his father – it wouldn’t quite be right – unless he was like his father in every detail. If his father had a grass catcher, then he needed one too.
Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father.”
Just five weeks ago we recalled the crucifixion of Jesus and collectively wondered what kind of radical or revolutionary or extremist he must have been in order to get himself executed.
He was vilified by the religious and political authorities of Judaism. He was sentenced to death under Roman decree, crucifixion being a uniquely Roman form of state sanctioned execution. What on earth do we law-abiding, tax-paying, church-going citizens have to do with him?
In this morning’s gospel we are reminded that Jesus is neither renegade nor rogue. Instead, he stands precisely on the same ground with God the Father, to use the language of the gospel writer. This God has been known down through the centuries as the God who creates, who gives life, who seals covenant, who decrees law, who anoints rulers, and who speaks through prophets. This one, true, living God and Jesus are alike, in every detail. Rather than representing something totally new, unheard-of, or tangential, Jesus speaks that which is consistent, constant, and at the very core of the divine and human encounter. It turns out that the people in authority – local and empire-wide – have strayed. No wonder Jesus was accused of blasphemy.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. God’s truth results in a life worth living. Jesus is the way into that truth. He was the way into that truth to people in the first century, just as he is the way into that truth for us. Occupying pew space, even on a regular basis, is no guarantee that we are immune to other “truths” that compete with God’s truth.
These competing truths possess great attraction. For example, many hold to the truth that if we focus completely on our own life – our business and job, our assets and property – to the exclusion of everything else, we can greatly increase our personal net worth and live in greater comfort and enjoy greater pleasures. It is also true that we can ingratiate ourselves to those who hold the reins of power, and in the name of the “common good” achieve great personal and monetary benefits. Both of these examples are true.
However, God’s truth, which has been consistently articulated from the beginning, and is affirmed by Jesus, slices through these competing truths, calling us to a life of fulfillment as its goal, not comfort. The widows and orphans cared for, the prisoners released, the sick visited, the forgotten remembered, the outcasts welcomed in, the workers compensated adequately, the strangers recognized, the foreigners given a home, choosing these activities and others like them, results in a different kind of life. Following a different truth results in a different life. Following God’s truth, we behave as God behaves.
Jesus did not make any of this up on his own. He received it all from God, the One he calls his “Father.” This father of his led Abram to a place he could call home, released his enslaved people from their chains in Egypt, fed them through their wilderness sojourn, would not stand for their unfaithfulness, but after seeing repentance, showed mercy. Jesus is in this Father, and the Father is in him. Both are passionate about life with dignity. Both are compassionate toward those who suffer indignities.
Jesus continues to be our way into God’s truth and a life worth living. This is especially important for those of us who occupy positions of authority because we need to determine which of the competing truths we will follow. As parents and spouses, we must consider the power we wield in our households, carefully examining the way in which decisions are made so that everyone’s dignity is respected within the limitations of child development. As the workplace, if find ourselves with over- sight or authority we must conduct ourselves in a way that understands and appreciates the gifts and talents of all workers, recognizing that vocation ultimately comes from God. And as members of Christian community we wield a certain amount of power for which truths compete. We are keepers of buildings, keepers of budgets, and keepers of programs. There are many truths which vie for the power we hold. God calls us to be stewards of the buildings, money, and programs of our parishes and challenges us to be both creative and consistent to holy ways in our uses of them.
In our private lives, our professional lives, and our communal life Jesus is for us the way into the truth of a passionate God who calls us to a life worth living.
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