The Conversation: Lent 5, B

ADialogue between someone named “Me” and Jesus and John: Reflections on Jeremiah 31: 31-34, “I will write on their hearts”, and John 12: 20-33.  “While you have light, believe in the light so that you may become children of the light.” The conversation begins with “Me’s” feelings and thoughts about why Jesus chose to go to Jerusalem, the connection thread of Lent. If Jesus sounds like James Carroll from his recent book, Christ Actually, Me’s” reading him now.

Jesus stops with two disciples in a blowing alley. Thanks to artist Joe Forkan for the painting.

Jesus stops with two disciples in a bowling alley. Thanks to artist Joe Forkan for the painting.

Me: “I would’ve said that (turning to Jesus and John), I would’ve said that I have to go up to Jerusalem whether they kill me or not. “

Jesus: “Yeah, that’s pretty much how I felt. I had to go to the heart of the world machine. On that hill was the Temple, the center of my religious outlook. To its side stood the Antonia Fortress, the presence of Roman Occupation. I had to go and confront my fear and the fear of my people that you could destroy the life of the spirit, the justice of God, and God’s mercy and grace. I needed to live out the truth that we can refuse to live in fear and that death cannot destroy truth and love…that each life has a purpose and a meaning beyond suffering.”

Me: “So what are we to think about the cross? I’d say, I wonder if I speak out of pride. ‘God, I don’t need you to sacrifice your son for my sins.’ I’d say to God, ‘I’m not going to the cross to make you look bad or good. I’m going there because that is what is needed to change people’s heads and hearts. That you were not only willing to be born a human being, which must have been hard enough, but that you were willing to experience the full extent of human suffering.’ I needed to believe in a God who is totally with us in our suffering as I looked out over the last century and the beginning of this one.”

John: “So you think you can be responsible for your own sins?”

Me: Aren’t I? I’m the one who has to live with them and the people, creatures, creation that I have hurt or destroyed or collaborated in. I suspect that sacramentally every one of my sins is another nail in the cross of Christ. But I don’t want Him to suffer for me, all I want is to know he is willing to suffer with me.

Jesus: “Sure, I hear you both. I didn’t think of my crucifixion as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. And yet such an unjust death, a death by the death machine, is often seen as a sacrifice of one for the sin of all. Look at the assassination of Martin, or the prophets, or the Jews and others in Auschwitz and Bergen –Belsen. The list is long and grows longer each day. The real sin is to turn our faces away from the sacrificial nature of these deaths. To turn our faces from the evil is, as Abraham Heschel said, even a greater sin than the evil itself.”

“The idea that my Father would need a sacrifice, once and for all, for the sin of humans is as outmoded as the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham. I don’t know a Father like that. The Father I know was with me on the cross. It was God’s own blood that was spilled on that day and is so wherever there is bloodshed and violence. My cry from the cross, “Why have you forsaken me,” was an essential part of the experience of utter aloneness and abandonment. It was that experience that I needed to go through to live my life fully. But feelings aren’t always truth, they are signals. There is nowhere that you or I can go from God. Nowhere. Even as I experienced God’s absence, I lived in God’s presence. My mental state caused me to feel the separation. To experience abandonment is sometimes part of the human condition. It is the signal that we need to take responsibility for the life we are given, but when both the abandonment and responsibility grab you it seems absolute. You have to work through its clutches.

John: When I was writing the Gospel I had come to believe that God loved the world so much that God gave you to be his only begotten son so that all who believed in you would not perish but have eternal life. That was my honest experience of who you were to me and our community.

Jesus. “Yes, God gives us all things, God gives life to me and to you”. Looking at me with a smile on his face, “even ‘me’ here. And I don’t think it is possible for a Jew to truly believe that I was the son of God. Even the thought of being godly was a hindrance to my purpose which was to show forth the One God. I knew what Martin Buber called the “Eternal Thou” was not containable in the human body, but its humanity could be fully expressed and explored. I wanted to make what was human an image of the divine, but not the ultimate divine. I discovered by living that the divine could find birth in the human.  I said many times: “No one but God is good.” Only as I fully lived out as an authentic human in the present, could I fulfill the purpose that I came in time to understand: To show the merciful God who is with us at all times, who is beyond our imagining and yet incarnate in all things. But belief is tricky. You may believe a hundred things or more that are wrong. One of the most egregious was that I was at war with the Jews. I am a Jew. I never even knew the word Christian in my lifetime. I went to Jerusalem to visit the temple. Some of the trading and practices in the courtyard were an abomination because they placed a barrier between the poor and their access to God’s mercy and grace. And I came to confront the fear that kept my people in servility and powerlessness. I went to confront my own fear of Herod and his sycophants’ and the Roman death machine. I didn’t go to Jerusalem to destroy faith in and love for the God of Israel.

My whole mission and purpose was to remove the veil that has closed us off from God. To show forth the love and mercy of God.

John said, “But we came in those days of terror, waiting for your promised return, under the persecution of the Romans and the continued killing of the Jews, to see you as the only son of God. We had to believe in you to face those times of persecution.

Jesus: Even if I returned the destiny of the communities, both the Jews and the new Christian communities would not have discovered the presence of the holy in their very midst, even in times of persecution. Those early manifestations of the Holy Spirit, the sharing of all their goods, the generosity of the spirit and heart of the community of believers wouldn’t have been possible.

I was much less interested in right belief and more in right action. As I said, it’s all written in scripture and the prophets.  But right belief is critical. Wrong belief leads to murder.

So you probably don’t know me as well as you think you do. Certainly most of our ideas about the Holy are by necessity of our humanity, limited.

Me: So are you the Son of God?

Jesus: What do you think?

Me: My head has doubts, my heart seems to know though.

Jesus: Tell me what you mean

Me: Everything is in God. I don’t have to figure it all out. I need to stay open, “in spite of” what’s going on. The violence, the cruelty the genocide, the weapons of mass destruction that can instantly eliminate most life. These talks with you will certainly be seen as ridiculous. I come down I think with you that the life of the heart and the imagination, to see the presence of the holy in just about everything is my purpose. I look to you as the key that helps unlock the door to the life of the spirit.

Jesus.” It’s always been hard. Even when there’s faith it doesn’t always see. The simple faith of being present in the ordinary acts of life; breaking bread, sharing a drink of water. I moved into God through simple acts of faith everyday…Choice by choice.” “Unless a grain of wheat dies it can’t produce new life.” And actually the grain does not die does it?”

Me: The cross is to me the crossing into eternal life, as is the birth of a child, or the song of the Robin as it returns after the long and cold winter. It’s filled with the possibilities for seeing into the eternal heart, the Eternal Thou.

Jesus: I resonate with Bonhoeffer who challenges your generation as he waited for his own death sentence. “The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. The God who lets us live in the world without a working hypothesis. God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God. Before God and with God we choose to live as if God is in the uncertainty. I still make my stand for a divine mystery of love and compassion.

Me: So as we are caught in the jaws of the world death machine, subject to the system and imprisoned we make a break for freedom.

Jesus: “We make our own prisons. We are prisoners of the world machine only as we live out of fear and close out hearts and minds to compassion and love. We need to let go of our attachments to everything that is drawing us from living into the Oneness of all things. Like you have to let go of your attachment to the Red Sox.

Me: Now you’re treading on holy ground.

Jesus: I know, my father is a Red Sox fan.

Me: (Laughing) Boy how old is that joke?

Jesus: God loves two things: Change and a good joke. And God loves to dance.

You ask if I’m the son of God. John wants to know if I’m the only one. As much and as little as you are. It is a consciousness that grows. You become aware of your mothers heartbeat, the sound of her voice, her smile of utter approval and affirmation. Aware of your father’s knowing and skillful hands.

I come to know I know. I know that I am a person and loved, protected. In such a way I learn to understand that I am a part of creation, my existence is only partly my own, I am a part of my family and by extension the community and the world.

Then, my mentor, John the Baptist saw me. His knowing me opened to me the understanding that I know, and I know that I know, and that I am known. This process of seeing is common to all human beings. Too few avail themselves. Some call it enlightenment.  I continue to be known through the open minds and hearts of the disciples. Through their seeing and not seeing, my life becomes an entry into the heart of God who I called Father, Abba. You call the knower God, I call the knower Abba. The relationship becomes that intimate and yet as Bonhoeffer says, even being known, I lived at times without that presence.

It is that knowing that one has been seen by what is the Eternal Thou that moved so many to see me as the Son of God.

If I asked you are you a child of God, how would you respond?

Me: “Me! Are you kidding?

Jesus: How would you answer?

Me: The list of my faults is too long, but I see what you’re getting at. I have been seen by a hundred even a thousand eyes who have held me up when I could no longer look at my own face in the mirror. I’ve always teased that I was neither one of God’s chosen, nor called God’s son. But I have learned that the God I know and love is a God who is merciful, full in delight in the creation, weeps over her wounds, and is present in the ordinary and commonplace. At times it is as if I am able to see through the heart and eyes of what you call the Eternal Thou.

I suspect it is an evolution in consciousness. I guess the story of the Prodigal Son is one of the great hearts of the writings: “Holy One I am not worthy to be called your son, but say the word and I shall be healed.” If I partake in the divinity of the Eternal One, it is in and through that divinity that my life as a son will be recognized or not.

Jesus: And so we try to stay open to the promptings of the divine, working from love to love, from choice to choice, from encounter to encounter to learn our true meaning. We take in the sense of being known in stages, the love of the mother, the approval of the father, the companionship of friends, the passionate love of the lover, the wise knowing look of wise ones and mentors. We finally come to see in the progression what has been taking place all along. We are held by the knowing and compassionate gaze of the God. It is the One I called father, the God of my ancestors who I learned to know through my community and the stories. And then I let go and entered as fully as I humanly was able into manifesting the living presence in the twists and turns of my one life.

And my mother. If you really want to know if I am the son of God, you better talk with her. Other than that I hope that has left you as murky and muddled as you were when you started.

Talk to you later.










2 thoughts on “The Conversation: Lent 5, B

  1. Thank you for letting me listen in to your conversation. Some may call it hubris for you to write the words of Jesus and John. Nonsense. We all have a tiny part of the divinity in us. It’s the other parts of us that make more noise, the wants and cravings, the needs. It is when we can silence these parts that we stand a chance to find the divine. I like that you say the right actions are more important in some sense than right belief. It does no good to claim the right belief is one doesn’t act on that belief. We know there is a tendency to say the right things on the Sabbath but to avoid those thoughts in the rest of our lives. I believe that the proof is in the actions. It does no good to say one is a “born-again Christian” and then become a warmonger.
    Such so-called Christians assert their piety while cutting food stamps and fuel assistance to the poorest among us. They worry about the unborn fetus, but ignore it once it is born. Wait a few years and it becomes the dangerous “other” that is shot for no reason by our police. It seems strange to give lip service to the deity of a man while ignoring his basic teachings. I do not, of course, include you in this group. You endeavor to live and teach your beliefs, and it is a delight to read and think about your writings.

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