Friday, May 22, 2009

This Man Receives Sinners

One of the most beautiful truths about Jesus is the way he received people and the way people felt comfortable with him. In Luke 15:1-2, we see this played out in a rather dramatic way. First, the outcasts, the failures, especially the religious failures, were coming to Jesus, and not only listening to Him, but actually straining to hear what he had to say. Something about Jesus made them feel at home not condemned, accepted and welcomed not scrutinized. Jesus treated broken people like old friends. They wanted to know more. Second, the Pharisees seized Jesus’ love as their longed-for proof that Jesus could not possibly be from God. “This man receives sinners, and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). You can almost hear the Pharisees’ gnarling, sardonic whispers, ‘Ha! Some man of God you are.’

The assumption of the Pharisees and of their whole religion is that God could not receive sinners, and certainly never eat with them. For eating with someone is an act of intimacy, fellowship and solidarity. Thus Jesus could not possibly be connected to God in any way. The Pharisees of every generation cannot cope with Jesus’ oneness with the Father. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). For such a oneness and unity simply means that what Jesus does, the Father does, and what the Father does, Jesus does. “Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing…” (John 5:19-20).

So the act of Jesus, summed up by the Pharisees’ accusation, “This man receives sinners, and eats with them,” is either the living expression of the Father’s heart and being, (the ultimate truth about God and humanity, and thus the gospel) or it is a glitch in the otherwise ongoing oneness between the Father and Son, a sort of momentary act of independence, dissimilarity and disunity on Jesus’ part, and thus an act that cannot be trusted as a reliable expression of the Father’s heart at all.

It seems to me that while confessing the oneness of Jesus and his Father, almost all of Western Christianity operates with the Pharisee’s assumption that God could not possibly receive sinners and eat with them. Hence we cannot see that the presence of Jesus is in fact just that, the act of God in person receiving sinners and eating with them. Jesus is the Father’s Son standing in the far country of human brokenness and religious pride. He is the living embodiment of the Father searching the cosmos for us, finding us and receiving us into his life.

Just like his Father, this man receives sinners and shares life with them. Indeed this man’s very existence as the Father’s Son incarnate is the living embodiment of the Father receiving sinners, pharisees, and the lost children of Adam to himself. In Jesus we are received and embraced by the Father forever.

We either live with the assumption that this embrace cannot be so, and thus doom ourselves to the emptiness of religion, the pride of the Pharisees, or the sadness of the failures, or we believe Jesus and learn to live embraced by his Father.

Come, Holy Spirit, Spirit of truth and adoption.

Friday, May 15, 2009

His Presence

I woke up in the middle of the night with this sequence of thoughts running through my mind. We are wrong about God, dead wrong. We create religions out of our dead wrong views of God. We impose the religions that come from our dead wrong views of God upon God, ourselves, others and creation, seriously damaging our inner and outer worlds, poisoning marriage, family and relationships, work and play. We are deeply committed to our wrong views of God, their religions and damage. We slander, vilify and even murder those who disagree with us and our dead wrong views of God, and the religions we have created to go with them, or point out their damage.

Jesus came to show us the truth about God. We killed him. He knew we were going to kill him. He deliberately allowed us to abuse and crucify him. In submitting to our abuse and murder Jesus entered into our darkness, bringing his knowledge of the Father inside our wrong views of God, and bringing his own sonship inside the religions that we have created, and bringing the life he shares with his Father inside the damage our wrongheaded vision has produced for ourselves and others and the cosmos.

Jesus is never going away. His presence is salvation from ourselves and the hell we create, and it is inclusion in his world and freedom to live in it with him. Life is the time and space and freedom given to us to learn the difference between the worlds we create and Jesus’ life with his Father.

“Experience is a brutal teacher,” says C. S. Lewis in the movie, The Shadowlands, ‘but we learn. By God, we learn.”