May: God calls us back to faith and life
John’s gospel is at once terrible, wonderful, poetic, and confusing. It leads us into familiar fields, and yet regularly turns us around in deliberate gyres to make us look again at this man, Jesus.
The passage today is a continuation of Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees and religious authorities from the last few chapters. Specifically, from the conflict in chapter 9 over the man born blind. Jesus has acted to throw open the gates of inclusion to the community, while the Judean authorities have continued to raise barriers. Jesus responds to them here in chapter 10 by claiming that his voice is to be trusted (v4), and his authority comes from the gatekeeper (v3), and that he is the gate (v7). It is indeed a mix of images (possibly drawing upon Ezekiel 34), all pointing towards the growing conflict between costly welcome of Jesus, and the self-justifying power of the Pharisees.
In chapters 14 through 17, Jesus offers us his farewell discourse. A familiar Greek rhetorical device, it seeks to offer a final summary of the man and his message. As the authorities finally act to silence Jesus, he turns to offer comfort and guidance to the disciples (and by extension to us as the readers). Jesus does not talk of revenge or plan for counter-attack. He does speak of hospitality and belonging, reinforcing that his authority comes from the very heart of God. Even here as the curtain falls and darkness grows, Jesus points us towards relationship with God and with each other. We belong, because God has acted in Christ to call us to one another. Trust in the One who calls us, for that is more powerful than anything the authorities can raise up against us.
Continuing on from last week, Jesus’ farewell instructions centre upon love, trust, and the presence of God in Christ. Even now, as Jesus is preparing to depart, his call to costly love and discipleship is reinforced by the promise of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate (v16).
The invitation is to be present to Jesus who walks towards the cross, even in our confusion and uncertainty. Jesus’ knows how hard this road is, how it will spark opposition from those in power, and still he seeks to keep us true to his call. We may be afraid, but we are not alone; we may be confused, but we are guided by the Spirit. The commandment to love as Jesus loves, is neither easy or impossible. It is the way.
The Ascension matters more than most of us realise. We often read this passage and become dazed by the scientific impossibility of Jesus levitating to a Heaven in the clouds. Which is to miss the point entirely. The death and resurrection of Jesus is not simply a cold and passionless transaction, paying off guilt for a disembodied afterlife. It is instead completely passionate – a divine embrace and “taking up” of the whole of Jesus. All that he has been – as a child, a friend, a teacher, a healer, a prophet, a criminal, and as God’s Son – is now fully embraced by God. All of who Jesus is, is taken up into God’s presence.
And that is the measure and mark of God’s reconciliation. All of who we are, all of that which creation is, will be embraced and taken up in the Resurrection of Jesus.
It all matters to God. “And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” V52
After all of this teaching; all of this following; after ALL of Easter, now what?
God is not done with us yet.
This is such a well-known and well-loved passage. We can draw on the parallels and contrasts between Peter’s speech and Joel chapter 2. We can sing for joy recalling the birth of the Church. We can take heart and be reminded at the cross-cultural nature and calling of the Church.
Above all else it should remind us of the incredibly wild and subversive nature of our God, who is creatively calling us back to life and faith again and again. Pentecost should always point us outwards, to see that God is at work around us, and often using those outside the centres of power and tradition.
Rev. Andrew Johnson