Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June 10, Proper 5: The Authentic Self of Jesus

Genesis 3:8-15, Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, Mark 3:20-35

“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Okay, that’s a nice thing for the Lord Jesus to say to the people around him inside the house. But outside the house, where Jesus’ mother was, when she found out what he said she will have felt embarrassed and ashamed. She will have felt dishonored. I can imagine his siblings retorting that to do the will of God is to honor your father and your mother, like it says in the Torah. I can imagine this only confirming their belief that their big brother was over the edge, and should be stopped for his own good. Not to mention for the reputation of their family.
The opposition to Jesus has begun. Already in the third chapter of the Gospel of Mark. The mounting opposition is the shadow of the good news. You can understand the motives of the opposition. The Middle East has always been a powder keg, and no less then. The situation for the Jews of Galilee was not much different from the situation of Jews and Christians of modern Syria and Lebanon. Everyday life was always in the balance. Naturally the leaders felt they had to keep control. And Jesus was threatening the balance. They did not understand what he was up to and they couldn’t predict what he’d do next.

This committee of legal experts on the Torah has come up from Jerusalem to investigate and issue an opinion. They decide he is a sorcerer, that he has real power, but it’s the unclean power of the enemy. Of this opinion Jesus is unforgiving. “You can slander me,” he says, “and I can forgive you. But you cannot slander the Holy God and ever get away with it. You guys have not just denied God, you have disreputed God, you have equated God and Satan.” So the parable has an innermost meaning which is a terrible judgment. It is they themselves who are in the power of Satan. Their own house is divided and it will not stand, nor will their kingdom stand. Jesus predicts the very destruction of Jerusalem which they were trying to prevent, just forty years later.

Why doesn’t Jesus work with them? Why doesn’t he meet them half way? I would have. He doesn’t. With him it’s all or nothing. Take him or leave him. One of you told me this week that St. Mark’s gospel is the most radical of the gospels, and it’s true. Jesus says, “Here I am. Just me.” No deals, no complications, no family obligations, just God, the Holy God, the Spirit of God, the God of freedom, and Jesus in his radical freedom.

He doesn’t say it, in just those words, “here I am,” but he models it. It’s what we talked about last week. It’s what his mother had said just thirty years earlier to the angel Gabriel. “Here I am,” hineini. Isaiah said it when he saw the Lord within the temple, as we saw last week. Moses had said it, Abraham had said it, it’s what you say when you realize you’re in the presence of God.

Eve and Adam did not say it, in our lesson from Genesis. I heard a magnificent sermon on this once by a rabbi from Argentina. He said that when Adam was hiding from God in the trees of the garden, that meant he had lost his true humanity and could not say, “Here I am,” which is nothing less than what it means to be a human being. They thought that they were being free, when they ate of the forbidden fruit, free from having to do the will of God, but instead they were in bondage to their guilt and their shame. That’s the power of Satan in our lives, the guilt that makes the fear of God a negative fear, the shame that takes away our freedom.

And in that bondage, they became inauthentic human beings. In their answers to God’s questions they dissembled. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. Even after they come out of the trees they still keep hiding behind their words. They could not say, “Here I am.” They had lost their both their authenticity and their freedom when they chose to be disobedient to God.

You might know that my son is an artist, and when I was with him in Germany a couple weeks ago he asked to read an essay which he told me had inspired him. It was an essay on creativity by the famous American psychologist Carl Rogers. It was a very good essay. It talked about how creativity must be grounded in the authentic self. There can be creativity which is negative and destructive, and that’s when it arises from a self which is not truly authentic, from a self which is damaged, dis-eased, corrupted, abused, in bondage, and not “true”. What Christians might call an unclean spirit, or even the power of Satan, which is guilt and shame. The awful creativity of Adolf Hitler comes to mind. But positive and productive creativity arises from the authentic self.

This gets close to what we see in Jesus here, and what the Lord Jesus offers us. Here’s a take-home: It is an obligation for us Christians to do the work required to be authentic in ourselves. To do the self-examination, to learn the self-awareness and discretion, to practice the self-control of sanctification and humility, to study the lessons of our losses and be candid with our suffering. It is not a shameful thing for you to seek professional counseling and therapy to work on this, because our culture today is so confusing and confused. But to do this work is also to notice your encouragements, the love and the support you get from other people, and their challenges to you. You want to stop excusing yourself and hiding behind your explanations and placing the blame on others. Your goal is to just say, “Here I am.” It is a position of marvelous freedom. It’s the freedom that we see in Jesus.

This freedom can be dangerous. We all know people who refuse to be accountable. We all know people who take this freedom for self-indulgence. And yet the abuse of it does not deny the use of it, abusus non tollit usus. The fact that Picasso was such a philanderer and that Van Gogh committed suicide does not deny the value of their freedom or their creativity, nor the truth of the lesson of inner authenticity.

This freedom is most dangerous when we make of it an idol, which we do so frequently in America (and in other ways in the rest of the world as well). We make our freedom an absolute and a value in itself. But our freedom is not for ourselves, that we shall do within the garden whatever the hell we want to do, but a freedom for coming out of the trees to stand before the Lord with honest authenticity and without calculation.

But who can be this free? We all have obligations. You are not free not to pay your Income Tax. You are not free from your body or your blood pressure. My father is not free from his cancer nor are we, his family. And I don’t want to be free from my vows to my wife, or from my obligations to my children. I want to be authentic in my obligations and my relationships because my authenticity is not for myself but for my God and what God calls me to.

The freedom of Jesus was clearly a freedom in community. He did not say that he had no mother or brothers; what he said was the people right in front of him were his mother and brothers. When you say it to God, “Here I am,” you also have to be saying it to the people who are right in front of you. Your authenticity is not for yourself, but for community, for fellowship, for creating fellowship and community with those people you find in front of you. It’s so that you can say to me, “Here I am.” And not just “take me or leave me,” but “you take me, and I take you.”

You have to be careful with this. You are not Jesus. You cannot be as radical as he was. You can start on this with people whom you trust are dedicated to the will of God. They may not do God’s will of God the same as you. They may be Jewish and do God’s will by the Torah. They may be Muslim and do God’s will by the Holy Koran. I have learned that I can have this kind of Godly authentic brotherhood with Jews and Muslims. But I’m guessing that easiest for you will be other Christians who do God’s will by watching Jesus in the gospels. But you see it is for love. You grant the person before you the freedom you need for yourself. And in that mutual freedom you can practice love. This freedom is for love. Our goal is always love, because our goal is always God.

Copyright © 2012, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.