For John, it’s clear that Jesus has always been divine.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being”**
The Jesus we meet in John’s gospel has been described as uncreated and imperishable. *In this framework, Jesus comes from God, descending to live amongst us, and serves as a mediator between God and humanity.* Jesus is the perfect mediator, being fully God and fully human.* From the beginning, we know that just as Jesus descended, he will once again ascend to return in unity with God.*
Whereas in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, there is wiggle room for the when and how, and even whether, Jesus becomes divine. Was it at the incarnation? At his baptism? In any case, unlike John, it was not before time began.
Who knows what the ‘right answer’ is, or whether such a thing even exists. Some of us might know squarely where we stand and how we understand the nature, role, and person of Jesus. And that’s cool. All I know is my own experience.
When I become absolutely certain of something, I usually find myself being pushed back by some other idea or experience. Yet when I remain more curious than certain, I find I am drawn to different aspects of God and different ways of understanding Jesus. Instead of feeling righteous, I feel a sense of calm and content, as I make this journey through life and faith.
This means there are moments when I do hold a high christology like John and support this idea that Jesus was always divine.* For me the story of the incarnation has always meant the most, whereas for others it might be the cross and resurrection. This means Christmas is my favorite high holy day, and it’s not for the presents, or at least not in the way our culture thinks about presents. The gift that God would take on human flesh to walk beside us is a source of deep connection. I know when I pray and worship God, that this God knows everything I feel and experience, the greatest joys and pains of this life.
There are other times, where I am not even sure Jesus’ divinity really matters. Maybe Jesus is divine, as we all are, made in the image and likeness of God. Maybe there is nothing extraordinary about this prophet, healer, and teacher, beyond their deep connection with the divine and God’s dream for this world.
In other words, there well may be a spectrum of how we might understand the nature, role, and person of Jesus. In some ways, it should come as no surprise that there is such a wide range of interpretations on the purpose of Jesus, or any other matter the Church has historically cared about.
Maybe at this point you are wondering why I am still yammering on about these differences, many of which may be old news to you. Yet this spectrum of understanding is an important factor when we approach the gospels.
Take this Sunday’s lesson.* * *
We are in the fifth and final week with John 6. Jesus, the twelve, and many other disciples are in the synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus is expanding on his earlier teachings in this chapter, affirming that not only is he the living bread, but that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will abide in him, just as Jesus abides in God.
This is uncomfortable for the crowd, even sacrilege. For in the Jewish tradition, blood was life itself.**** There were an abundance of purity laws: due to the blood that was passed in childbirth, women would undergo a period of impurity for 40 days if she bore a son, and 80 days if she bore a daughter.***** The reason for the extra 40 days was because that newborn daughter would someday have the lifeforce to bear children herself.
This is one small example of many within scripture. So you can imagine why some of the disciples, upon hearing they would be drinking his blood, felt a little overwhelmed and doubtful.
The teacher met their discomfort and alarm by asking: “Does this offend you?”
For some of the disciples the unspoken response was, “Uh, yeah…”
Jesus acknowledges that there are some amongst him who do not believe. And remember, because this is John’s gospel, the Jesus before us is an all knowing, uncreated, and imperishable being in full communion with God. Simply by looking at the gathered people, he can separate the wheat from the chaff, who believes and who does not.*
At this moment, some disciples rejected Jesus’ teaching. The departing disciples could not fully swallow this idea of Jesus descending and ascending, that this truly was the all-knowing Christ Jesus.
Jesus turns to the twelve and essentially asks, “And you? What’s your choice?”
To which Simon Peter cries out on behalf of the twelve an unapologetic, ‘We believe!’
What does this story tell us about how we practice Christianity?
For so long we have gone along with the binary frameworks we have been offered by authors, like the one who composed John’s gospel. We have been taught historically that to be a Christian we have to be all in, like the disciples in today’s gospel. The author of this gospel sees the world as so many of us were raised to see it: with tunnel vision and either/or thinking, when what we really need is both/and, or better yet, a spectrum, a rainbow of different ways of looking at things and understanding them.
It needs to be okay to be unsure about it all, to doubt and question. When we are offered binary options, we need to know it is okay to push back and use our reason. After all, reason is an essential part of our Anglican three legged stool of scripture, tradition, and reason.
My hope is that we each might become more curious than certain as we take in the gospels, how the passages relate to our lives, and what it tells us about the role, nature, and person of Jesus.
This week, I invite you to do some reflecting:
I would encourage you to share your thoughts with a spouse, friend, or fellow parishioners. Go for a walk or a cup of coffee and share your insights and questions. As a community, let’s get comfortable being a bit uncomfortable, asking hard questions, and letting there be space for doubt in our faith. Let’s learn to talk about the things we’ve never felt okay to talk about. In the end, getting curious about our faith can help us to expand our root system, to have conversations we never imagined possible, and to find new ways of seeing the God of Love in action throughout scripture, tradition, and life itself. Amen.
*The New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV, with the Apocrypha, Fully Revised Fourth Edition. Editor- Michael Coogan. Commentary by Jerome H. Neyrey pgs 1879-1881.
****Genesis 9:4 and Deuteronomy 12:23
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