“Show”

GOSPEL | JOHN 5:19-24

19 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.  20 The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished.  21 Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomsoever he wishes.  22 The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son,  23 so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.  24 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

“The Father . . . shows [the Son] all that he himself is doing…” (v.20)

I am a student by vocation: I love learning, and I excel in the classroom – it’s my natural habitat. Jesus begins here saying, “Very truly, I tell you;” but telling isn’t enough. We also need to be shown. What strikes me is that Jesus himself needs to be shown by the Father. Jesus is willing himself to submit to being led by his Father! Just as Jesus sees what his Father is doing, Lent is about our following Christ to the cross, where we see the love of God shown, rather than hear it told.

“…and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished.” (v.20)

The gospel text today does not tell me that it’s my job to show! (I think my job is partly to show, but certainly not to the same degree that Jesus did.) Jesus is the one who first sees, and then shows us, God’s love. We are invited, I will repeat it, to “Come and see” (John 1:29). It’s not about my words, sadly. In Lent, I have to give up all my aptitude for telling, and first open my eyes to see, and put my body where my words would be, following after Christ, knowing that the cross is where we’re headed.

“Well?”

GOSPEL | JOHN 5:2-9

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids — blind, lame, and paralyzed.  One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”  The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”  Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”  At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

The questions Jesus asks can be quite terrifying.

“Do you want to be made well?” (v.6)

I don’t know, do I? Or am I more interested in making excuses, like this sick man? As Lent trudges on, am I really listening to Jesus, or am I fixated on what gets in my way: my stubborn reluctance, the dreariness of winter, all of the busy-ness expected of me? Jesus question cuts across all of that:

“Do you want to be made well?” (v.6).

Note that Jesus doesn’t ask us, “Do you want to be well?” or “Do you want to make yourself well?” No, Jesus understands that this healing and wholeness cannot be found with some fresh insight, or renewed energy, or doubled efforts. Jesus is the only one capable of making us well.

Today’s morning prayers at the seminary centered on the beautiful gift of confession as we looked at Psalm 51 together. Rather than rob every excellent highlight (so, the whole 20 minutes) of this morning’s proclamation to beef up my post, I will include only one of the many salient quotes from Jared Ayers:

“The good news is that we are bigger sinners than we thought, and that we have a better Savior than we thought.”

The Lenten journey with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem reminds me of the pervasive obstacle of my own sin, but it also promises that his expansive grace extends beyond even the furthest reaches of sin to embrace me and cleanse me and restore me. “What Wondrous Love is This!”

“Believe”

GOSPEL | JOHN 4:43-54

46 Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum.  47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  48 Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”  49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.”  50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.  51 As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive.  52 So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.”  53 The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household.  54 Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

I wonder after reading this whether belief is enough. The word “believe” has been an echo throughout the whole book of John so far, and this is no exception. It would seem, then, that belief is Jesus’ ultimate goal. And then we read Jesus tell this official, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (v.48).

I don’t know how to read the emotion of Jesus’ voice here. Is this a kind of exasperated sigh: “You guys just don’t get it”? Is this a reproach: “Haven’t you been paying attention?!”? Or is he conceding to the frailty of human understanding, giving the official an invitation to see and to believe?

But Jesus doesn’t tell the official, “Come and see” (John 1:39); instead, Jesus says, “Go” (v.50). I don’t understand what it is that I am being called to. If Jesus is asking me to simply believe, then I am free to go on with my business as usual; but if he is calling me to be a disciple, then I have to give up something (no, everything. Contrast this call to discipleship with our usual Lenten practice of “giving something up” – hmm).

Which brings me back to how we read Jesus saying, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (v.48). Is he disparaging our need to see to believe? Or our desire to merely believe, rather than to commit ourselves entirely? Belief is undoubtedly important: after Jesus changed the water to wine (note: that was the first sign, done in the same place), “his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). However, they also followed him. During Lent, the church does not settle for “mere” belief; we are called to follow, to “come and see,” to be disciples. May the Spirit quicken us, after we believe, to rise up and follow as well.

“Work”

GOSPEL | JOHN 4:31-38

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.”  32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”  34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.  35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.  36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.  37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

This morning I woke up ready. It’s been a long time since the morning has come with the energy to face it, and on a Monday no less! All of the Lenten talk about my own sinful, lazy inertia has made me sick of my soul’s recent couch-sitting lethargy. My putting on a denim work shirt and stepping out into the sunshine helped, obviously.

Today’s passage stirs this readiness and energy within me: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work” (v.34). Meaningful, purposed work is sustaining and healthy. In fact, I am hungry for a growing sense in how the work I do is its own fuel, is a source of self-sustaining motivation for me.

But this passage does not tell me to go out and do just anything. Nor does Jesus tell me to go find what “fits” my temperament or gifts or passions or whatever. Neither does he invite me into that mythic sweet spot “where [my] deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (even though I do think this is good advice for discerning calling). No, Jesus’ “food” is not simply his satisfaction in his personal vocation, but in doing his Father’s work.

What is more, Jesus asks us to find ourselves in this same kind of shared, derived vocation: “Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor” (v.38). I may find some satisfaction in the renewed vitality of today, but it ultimately won’t last (if my past has any bearing on my future), and when I find the tide of ennui and lethargy coming in as my motivation ebbs, I will need something more than the shifting sands of my forming vocation to build on. I need the solid rock of God’s effective activity to stand on.