Love or Logic?
I read an article about Mother’s Day this week in the Washington Post, a retrospective. The author, Caitlin Gibson, was remembering last Mother’s Day. It was her first as a mother, her new baby just 10 weeks old. It was her last with her mother, her mother would live just 3 more weeks. Knowing it would be their only Mother’s Day together, she watched as her mother sang the same song to the baby that she had sung to her. She says, “My eyes devoured their every movement, even as another part of me raced ahead to the time I knew was coming, when there would only be a memory of this. My heart began to pound. Against its frantic rhythm, I pleaded with myself, be here, be here.”
After her mother died, she received a card from “A dear friend, herself a grandparent,… about her own late mother: I never stop wishing she were here, and that’s as it should be. A simple thought, but [she says] it felt like permission: You are allowed to miss your mother for the rest of your life. I read the words over and over until the spine of the card began to split….I had never been without the certainty of her existence; her presence was the entire landscape of my life, the sky I had lived beneath. Now I felt her missing even in places she herself had never stood…..Here I am, in the time I always knew was coming, when I can only remember her….The time we had, which must and can never be enough.”
John concludes his Gospel with a similar sentiment, “There are many things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” And so, every story that John does tell us has deep and significant meaning, reason to be remembered and treasured. And John is writing a retrospective, too, he is looking back on and contemplating the meaning of Jesus’ life.
He remembers how close Jesus was to being stoned in Jerusalem during Hanukkah. To fully understand the significance of the interactions, we have to understand the history of Hanukkah, or the Festival of Dedication. In 170 BC, Syria attacked and took possession of Jerusalem. Their king was determined to eliminate Judaism, and he loved all things Greek. Many Jews died or were sold into slavery. I could go into their cruel punishments for following Jewish religious practices, but the greatest insult was that they took over the Temple and deliberately desecrated it. They turned the altar of burnt offerings into an altar to Zeus and offered swine on it.
In 164, after 6 years of occupation in Jerusalem, a priest, Judas Maccabaeus, and his brothers led the Maccabaean revolt and they delivered their country. Then, it was time to cleanse the Temple. The altar was rebuilt; the statues to Greek gods were removed; the robes and the utensils were replaced. And when they were finished, they instituted the Festival of Dedication, or in Hebrew Hanukkah, as the cleansed Temple was dedicated again to the worship of God.
Judas Maccabaeus was a hero! “And the significant thing for our purposes [as we reflect on this exchange that took place as Jesus walked into the Temple through Solomon’s gate is] that through this remarkable act of courage and religious devotion, Judas and his family became kings. To liberate the Temple from the enemy, and to reconsecrate it, was as close as you could come to doing again what David and Solomon had done. So, even though Judas wasn’t a descendant of David, he started a dynasty [of kings that] lasted for a hundred years. When it ended, the Romans made Herod the Great king instead – and he married a princess from the family of Judas Maccabaeus, to show he intended to continue the line.”
So the celebration of Hanukkah was not only about being free to worship God, liberated from oppressors, and the Temple being consecrated, it was about kings, and heroes who became king.
As Jesus walks in to celebrate the festival through King Solomon’s entrance, the gate where the King’s judgements are announced, the Jews who are gathered around him ask, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the anointed One, tell us plainly.” They are hopeful that he is the next king, the next liberator, the hero they have been waiting for.
And Jesus responds, not with logic, but with love. Look at my life, what I have done. It’s plain to see. Water into wine at the wedding, healing the suffering, feeding the multitudes, raising the dead – these tell you who I am. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Sheep don’t follow the shepherd because they know his business plan. They don’t follow a shepherd because they make a rational decision. They follow the shepherd because he meets their needs consistently. They know he loves them.
When a baby is born, he or she knows mom’s voice. And through loving, consistent care from parents and the community of faith that surrounds them, they begin even before they walk and talk to trust and to love, to begin to have faith. And then as they reach 3 and 4 years old, they begin to know Jesus because of the love of their parents and church family. They don’t reason it out on a piece of pros and cons, knowns and unknowns…they hear the voice of the shepherd.
Jesus says, “I am the Father are one.” He isn’t making a physiological argument. He isn’t hinting at the Trinity. He uses the Greek word, “hen,” for “one” and that’s the neuter form of one. To say that he and God were one person would require the masculine form for one. What Jesus is saying is that his work is God’s work. The love that he shows is God’s love. We know God through love, not through logic.
They ask Jesus if he is Israel’s true king. And he refers them to his works. N.T. Wright reflects, “If they can’t draw the right conclusion from what he’s done, adding more words won’t do any good.” It seems to me, the question for us is “Are we disciples?”, and the answer is found not in our logic, but in our works.
One day, people will reflect on our lives. And what they remember won’t be our words, but our example. Perhaps the song we should sing as we rock our babies is “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”