Fifth Sunday in Easter Reflection
Yes, but… And now comes the bad news; you’re not good enough; your efforts didn’t quite make the grade and there, there goes love flying out of the window to perch on someone else’s branch. It doesn’t really matter very much what comes after the ‘yes, but’, it all boils down to the same bad news.
“Yes, that was a great sermon, but you should have heard how father Peter explained it!” It is often spiteful and vindictive and used to disparage the other so that we can feel better about ourselves. Yes, but …it is the toxic putdown, it kills respect, it kills love, and it kills truth as quickly and as easily as it destroys families, communities, and marriages; “yes, he’s a great provider, but you should see him when he gets home from work!”
This is a toxic practice that can so quickly become ingrained, become habitual. It is a toxic practice that has poisoned our discipleship of Christ, infected our Christian mindset, and contaminated the leadership of the church in its entanglement and infatuation with Empire and privileged power.
As long as we remain in the grips of this disease, the gospel remains domesticated and our love tainted. Yes, you shall not kill… But the vandals are coming for us and we will be destroyed. This is a righteous war, a holy war and so we mock God, deface God’s word, and trample love and hope in the mud. “You shall love one another as I have loved you.”
Yes Lord, but, those others are unworthy, they are sinners, and they are excluded from your protection and love. And, yes, we too are all guilty of this grievous behavior, ‘through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault’.
A Mote of Dust in a Sunbeam
It was the astronomer Carl Sagan who reflected on this belittlement of God, “Why does religion make God so small? …Look again at that (pale blue) dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Our posturing, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps a no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Against this backdrop of posturing, our imagined self-importance, our delusions of grandeur, illusions of control, the glorification of ourselves and our beauty and our accomplishments, our families, our clan, our race, our country or our team, and our own particular ‘image of God’, this Sunday’s Gospel presents us with another way, a new commandment, the commandment of love which must give of itself, sacrifice itself. God’s love is grace, totally free, and totally non-contingent on our actions; God loves because God is love, not because we are in any way worthy. The beauty and the wonder of our being is because of God’s goodness and God’s creative love that is truly that diamond within each one of us.
In the last months we have all been appalled by the images of cathedrals on fire, blood-spattered churches, suffering and death, darkness and annihilation; surely this is defeat and disaster! If we do not view this through the eyes of the gospel and through the message of Easter, we ourselves can so easily be drawn into the darkness and into the terror, separating and excluding, building the golden cages of our own prisons with ever higher walls topped with razor wire and electric fences. Terror cannot be overcome by war which is in itself an act of terror.
Darkness, ignorance, and hatred cannot be overcome by more darkness. Indifference feeds on exclusion and separation which is the opposite of love. Yes, Jesus, we call these innocent victims martyrs of your Church … But, I have neither the money, the time or strength to help uplift and feed those who are hungry, those who are lonely, those who are victims of abuse, those who have been enslaved because of our greed; no Lord, I have enough on my hands feeding and caring for myself and my own family.
Jesus assures his disciples; Jesus assures us today, that what we view as disaster and annihilation contains the seed of transformation and new life. Jesus faithfulness to his task of revealing God has brought him to this very point and so God is glorified in all that will unfold. Not the forgotten glory of corrupt politicians, our idols, ‘superstars, and supreme leaders’.
To our eyes, it appears, at first sight, that evil triumphs and we may find ourselves lashing out in rejection and anger. But nothing could be further from the truth, for on the cross Jesus will reveal the glory of God who has ‘loved us to the end’ and that this love is stronger than death; this is our participation in ‘Divine Life.’
Truth in Divine Life of the Trinity
The commandment that Jesus gives is of vital importance for it is the Way into that participation in the Trinitarian Procession of love that is Divine Life. This is the love that is the light of the world and no darkness can ever overcome it. The disciples must love one another in the way that Jesus has loved them. This is what Jesus life’s work has been: to draw the disciples and to draw each one of us also into the relationship of love that Jesus shares with the fountainhead of love. This is a love that is neither possessive nor cleaning, but a love that must give itself completely for the other, worthy or not.
The biblical story about the beginning of sin and separation starts soon into the biblical story about the beginning of everything, and the plot quickly thickens: God made all things good, but God’s human protagonists soon introduced an element of tragedy, and such has been the genre of our human history since. God made us to be ‘like God’, but this was apparently not enough for us. The roots of sin are in our desire to be even more like God: “[Eat this]” said the serpent, “and you will be like God.” There are two primordial “likes” at the genesis of human history and the essence of sin is to be discontent with the first and try for a second; sin began as a desire to be more like God than God created us to be; clinging to love that is only love when it is given away.
This irony gets even darker. Not only is this sin an essentially impossible attempt to become more than what our creator intended, but it is also altogether mistaken about the God it intends to hijack. In the very attempt to grasp likeness to God, we have demonstrated ourselves to be exactly ‘unlike’ God.
God is not a taking, clinging kind of God at all. In Christ, we find a God who, on the contrary, does not consider his divine status something to be selfishly maintained. He is, in fact, the kind of God who gives so freely that he is willing to be made nothing for the sake of those God loves, nothing, even to the point of death, and death on a cross.
Sin is the attempt to be more like God than God intends, and it is an attempt to be like God in a way that God actually isn’t. Sin is grasping at Godhood but at Godhood misconceived. To love yourself first and seek only your own elevation, is the equivalent of seeking the ultimate good in the participation of life that is the creation of our own illusion; this is true darkness, death, and annihilation.
Today 2, 2 Billion people call themselves Christians, but only by our participation in the Truth in Divine Life of the Trinity that is the source and progression of love that gives everything always to the other, are we enabled to begin to deal ‘more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known’. Our yes, but, must become yes, and!