Thursday, March 15, 2018

Pivotal Theophany


I skimmed through all of John this morning to confirm (I think) that Sunday's gospel lesson (John 12:20-33) is the only time that the Father "speaks" during John's gospel account. When Jesus said, "Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." a voice from heaven responded, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." In the synoptic accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), we hear the father's voice at Jesus' baptism and again at the transfiguration. Those events aren't directly recorded in John, and, despite a reference to John the Baptist seeing the Spirit descending upon Jesus, there is no reference to the Father's voice. This is it. This is the only time the Father speaks in John.

If you consider John's entire narrative, that makes sense. For John, Jesus is the theophany. What Jesus says is what the Father says. Several times, he makes that point when speaking to his opponents: "I and the Father are one" and "My teaching is not mine but his who sent me." For John, Jesus himself is the testament of God to the world. His miracles are not recalled as "miracles" but as "signs" that point back to God. The synoptic accounts, however, give us those defining moments of baptism and transfiguration when the Father breaks through the silence and discloses Jesus' true identity. John's single verbal theophany, therefore, is worth noting not only because of its singularity but also because it is so different from the theophanies of the synoptic tradition.

The only time the Father speaks in John, he says, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." This is a turning point for John's account. Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowds are gathering. People are excited. They are also confused. At this point, the stage seems set for Jesus to take over the throne of his ancestor David. He has brought his movement to the holy city during the Passover festival. Everyone is thinking about freedom. This is the perfect time for Jesus to overthrow the Roman oppression. Will his movement reach its climax? Yes, it will. But it won't be the culmination that the people are looking for. Instead, he will be betrayed, arrested, tried, convicted, and executed. And the crowd will be left to wonder, "What happened?" And God the Father is offering the answer: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."

As a Christian, the hardest thing for me to internalize is the counter-cultural, counter-instinctive nature of God's glory. God's glory is not revealed in splendor or power but in humility and weakness. That's not just an accident of history. That's not just political spin by the followers of Jesus after his movement stumbled (failed?) during this Passover showdown. It is the very nature of God's glory. And God the Father speaks to be sure that we hear it.

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