Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Don't You Know Me?


With all apologies to Philip the Apostle, do you remember that scene from The Return of the King in which Princess Eowyn kills the Lord of the Nazgûl? Eowyn, a brave shieldmaiden from Rohan, has disguised herself as a man in order to fight in the battle of the Pelennor Fields. The long-held prophecy that no living man could kill the Witch-King is clearer in the novel than it is in the film, but Stephen Jackson’s portrayal of the scene heightens the moment of surprise when she pulls off her helmet and says, “I am no man,” before thrusting her sword into the shadowy face of the Nazgûl. It’s an a-ha! moment of irony and pride, which is worth watching again.

That tone in her voice—“I am no man”—is the tone I have in mind when I read Jesus’ response to Philip’s question in today’s gospel lesson. Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied,” to which Jesus replies exasperatedly, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” There is something about the use of his name—an unnecessary word that implies chastisement—that really gets me. Literally, Jesus is calling him out. Why?

Often I am so eager to find something that I cannot see it right in front of me. That’s true in both literal and figurative ways. Jesus had taught his disciples to look for the Father. Their discipleship had focused on searching for God through a life of following Jesus. All this time, they had seen his feats of wonder and heard his enigmatic teachings. With each day, they found new ways of thinking and talking about God. They were increasingly convinced that Jesus was God’s anointed—a prophet, teacher, and mentor who could bring them back to the Father. But Jesus was more than that.

The disciples, like Philip, give us a chance to ask Jesus the same question without risking being called out. How many of us life-long Christians are still trying to figure out who God is? How many of us share the same sentiment as Philip? Just give us a glimpse of God, and we will be satisfied! But, if you want to know God, he’s right in front of you. He’s been with you all this time. You’ve seen him and heard him and walked with him. Want to know who God is? Want to know what God is like? Pay closer attention to Jesus. He came not just to bring us closer to the Father but to show us God’s very self.

I don’t know this from particular experience, but I get the sense that Jesus is a lot easier for people to believe in than God. Jesus says things like, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “Turn the other cheek,” and “Remember the poor.” When we think about God, we usually start with things like, “All powerful,” and “Creator of heaven and earth,” and “Judge of the living and the dead.” And all of those things are true, but we’re not asked to make a choice between one or the other. They are the same. Jesus shows us who God is. God the all-powerful is God the all-gracious. God the creator is God the defender. God the great judge is God the forgiver. If you want to know what God is really like, start with what you’ve been given. Start with Jesus

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