“I AM” …. “I am not”
Jesus…said to them, “Whom are you looking for?”
They answered him, “Jesus the Nazorean.”
He said to them, “I AM.” (John 18:4)
Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter,
“You are not one of this man’s followers, are you?”
He said, “I am not.” (John 18:17)
In the Garden, after hours of prayer in union with the fullness of the Godhead, Jesus the Nazorean stands ready to say “I AM” – not once, but twice – to those coming to arrest him. Here we have he Word made Flesh among us, showing us how to live non-violently the ways of the Kingdom of God and willing to die a violent death as witness to the depth of God’s love for us. In the Garden, when they come to arrest Jesus, Peter draws a sword and violently cuts off the ear of the high priest’s attendant. The very next morning we have Peter shaking in his boots and answering “I am not” – not once, but thrice – when he is pointed out in the court yard as one of Jesus’ followers.
Jesus and Peter seem to have two very different stances on life. Jesus is grounded in who he is; Peter has some distance to go, in order to become firmly rooted in discipleship. How can Jesus get across that God’s Kingdom comes, not through violence, but through listening, teaching, healing and forgiving enemies? How can Jesus get across what it means to be disciple?
God of peaceful kingdoms,
My discipleship depends on walking hand in hand with your Son, Jesus,
uniting my daily living and dying with his passion…
for alone I am not.
—Sister Ruth Geraets
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor and find help in time of need. Hebrews: 4:15-16
Once again in our church rituals today we hear the story of Jesus’ Passion and Death with its profound morbidity. Why did Jesus take such a difficult career path…a nomadic teacher, betrayed, rejected, threatened, criminalized and executed? Had he taken the career path of a chief priest or political leader (he had the skills) he could have been the Messiah for whom the Jews were looking. He would have been well positioned to put his teachings out there with honor and status. An Abraham Lincoln or a Winston Churchill.
In the Divine master plan the path Jesus took unleashed the power of transformation, thereafter available to all who sign onto it. Jesus’ path is the “Unless the grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it remains only a grain of wheat.” In this path is true freedom, not freedom FROM, but freedom FOR.
Our remembering Jesus’ passion experience is not about inducing blame and guilt. Jesus wasn’t put to death because God was angry with us awful sinners and needed Jesus’ bloody sacrifice as an appeasement. Jesus didn’t die because we cheated on our income tax, or were promiscuous, or got revenge on someone we hate. Rather, Jesus implanted himself among us to reconcile us COLLECTIVELY back to God, as God’s beloved people. As a reconciled people in whom Jesus’ Spirit continues to dwell, we are offered the transformed light and energy to embody God’s dream for the world which has been collectively sullied.
Jesus died in solidarity with our dying, redeeming our dying, opening the way out of selfishness and sin. Because Jesus has overcome, we can. In his resurrected presence Jesus holds our hands and our hearts as we traverse the good times and the difficult ones. “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Jesus’ Incarnation and career path were necessary to get the sap flowing again. His fidelity to the journey led to the mortal pruning we remember on Good Friday, and like all pruned vines and trees, new life is born in history and in Mystery. “So you will have pain now,” he told his disciples at the Thursday night Passover meal, “but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” It is so with each of us and all of us together as we welcome Jesus’ transformed work, remaking us as midwives of a human community of God’s design.
And so on this Good Friday 2015, we pray what our heart wants to say…..