13 March 2008

Demon possessed Samaritan?

5th Week of Lent (R): Gen 17.3-8 and John 8.51-59
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

We find ourselves this morning in the middle of an argument between Jesus and the Jewish leaders about who it is that Jesus claims to be. In the readings between yesterday and today, we miss out on part of the argument: Jesus asks, “’Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.’" The Jews answered him, "’Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?’" Jesus answered, "’I have not a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.’” This is no simple fight among friends or a “back and forth” between a street preacher and his slightly amused audience. Remember: the disciple were quick to remind Jesus that the Jewish leaders were carefully stockpiling stones for his eventual execution. The stakes are high and the question is clear: is this Jesus guy who he says he is or not? If so, then all of Heaven is about to break loose. If not, he’s a public blasphemer and deserving of death. Jesus had already asked his disciples, “Who do they you say that the Son of Man is?” and, more pointedly of his friends, he asked, “Who do you say that I am?” The Jewish authorities turn the tables and ask Jesus the crucial question as plainly as they know how: “Who do you make yourself out to be?” Who, indeed?

When I say that this is the “crucial question,” I mean that quite literally: the Jewish question to Jesus is the question of the Cross (crucial, cruce, cross). Jesus stands before his heritage, his long tradition as a Jew and a rabbi; he looks at and through the men in front of him, and back down the ancestral line to Abraham, and responds with these shocking words, “Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day…Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.” Who does he make himself out to be? God, the Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of the ancestors, the One Who brought them out of slavery in Egypt and gave them their land and their descendants as numerous as the stars. Not surprisingly, the stones began to fly.

Why is the question of who Jesus is a question about the Cross? Modestly put, the Cross is an empty religious gesture if the man who dies on it is just a man. If the man on the cross is a teacher, we may learn some moral lesson. If the man on the cross is a preacher, we may see his end as merely exemplary. If the man on the cross is a rebel and a heretic, we may feel secure that rebellion and heresy are justly punished. But what if Jesus is telling the truth? What if he is “I AM,” and I AM is executed on a Roman cross? What now?

“What now?” is our crucial question, for us, right now—the question of the Cross that we must answer. For you, who hangs on that Cross come Good Friday? A demon possessed egoist? A mad rabbi with authority issues? A Jewish redneck from Nazareth the Cowtown, a bubba with delusions of grandeur? Or maybe a stylized first-century hippie who’s hit the bong one too many times? Or maybe he’s an enlightened teacher of peace who ran afoul of intuitional power and paid the ultimate price? For you, who will hang on that Cross come Good Friday? How you answer that question changes everything.

Most importantly, how you answer that question changes what Easter will be for you. Jesus doesn’t have to die to teach us a moral lesson, or to show us the way to peace, or to give us an example of love. He has to die so that we might live. If death is to be defeated, Life Himself must die and rise again. Only I AM can do this for us. Jesus says to his accusers: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” And our Lord remembers his covenant forever. . .

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