It started with parroting back anything Elizabeth or I said. Then, we moved into the “that’s-mine” phase. Now, with a second child, we hear “I want to do whatever he’s/she’s/you’re doing” quite a bit. This morning, our older child, afraid that her brother might be having even the slightest bit more fun than she, exclaimed, “I want to be wherever he is.” The mimicry, once verbal and now all-consuming, has taken on a whole new meaning. We’re getting pretty close to the next stage, which I’m pretty sure will be Ethel Merman and Ray Middleton from Annie Get Your Gun. (In fact, I just spent a brief moment singing the first few lines from the famous refrain, and my daughter, with no prompting, jumped in on cue with, “No you can’t!”)
In today’s gospel lesson (John 5:19-29), Jesus points to a little mimicry between Father and Son. Though not based in any sort of rivalry, it is a little bit of “Anything you can do I can do…also.” Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise.” A central premise of our faith is that God the Father and Son are one—one in substance, united in will and action. That means that we believe that whatever the Father does, the Son also does. And nothing that the Father does does the Son not do. (A new theological tongue twister, perhaps?) (The same is true of the Holy Spirit, but he’s not mentioned in this passage.)
That belief, which took the Church a long time to figure out, means that we can look at the life of Jesus Christ—God the Son incarnate in the world—and see God. Jesus’ testimony in this passage from John invites us to know God in a new way. He says, “Look at me and see how much God love the world. The Father has sent me here to give life to the world.”
In the religious culture of the day (first-century Judaism) and in our own understanding of faith (twenty-first century Christianity), only God can give life. That’s part of what makes God God. This morning, Jesus offers an amazing promise: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” Jesus is asking us to put those to pieces together—God the Father, the only source of life, and Jesus the Son are one. Jesus has come to give us life—not just metaphorical life like a desert might receive in a rainfall but real, actual life. And the only way that’s possible is if Father and Son are one in every sense.
God is in the life-giving business. And, since it’s a family business, the Father and Son are both in it together. That means that just as God gave life to the Universe on the grandest cosmic scale, so too is God giving that same power of life to us by sending his Son. We don’t encounter a “lesser” God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We meet God himself. Therefore, we aren’t offered a “sort-of” new life in Christ. We’re given the real thing.