After our Laetare reprieve in the wilderness, sitting on the green grasses while our Shepherd feeds us, we return to another Gospel that has reference to demons and Satan in it. And this week gets to the heart of the issue. The contest between Jesus and the Jews is really a surrogate war between the fathers of each, between God the Father and the father of the Jews, Satan.
Jesus lays down a lot of teaching about His role in the Holy Trinity. He came forth from God the Father. He had nothing to do with this sending. He does not honor Himself. And the Word He teaches is God’s Word, not His. And this Word He brings gives life, even as He said in another place, “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself.” And this life is in His flesh and blood, for He is the “Word which became flesh and dwelt among us,” and “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” And it’s the Holy Spirit who delivers this by proclamation, for “He will take of what is mine and declare it to you.”
So, in a nutshell, at Holy Communion, we come face to face with the Lord God Almighty, our Father, and delivers eternal life to us. Who rejects that? In John 6: 66 – ahem, the only 6: 66 in the Bible – we learn who rejects that. John 6 is the “bread of life” chapter we heard from last week. After Jesus taught how His flesh and blood is the true bread of life, and that we must eat and drink His body and blood, many were offended at this and could no longer follow Jesus. Like Gnostics throughout history, they were offended at the notion that flesh could deliver anything, even if, as Jesus clarified, it wasn’t just flesh, but flesh animated by the Holy Spirit.
In any event, this is the last verse of John 6: “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father. [And here’s verse 66] From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.”
It’s the battle of two fathers. God the Father is the fount and source of all life. He’s the creator. He’s the Actor, the Agent, the Doer of His creation. He sends forth Jesus. He grants that the true disciples come to Jesus. He causes who will be “of” Himself.
The devil too is a father, the source of something else. If the Heavenly Father’s watchwords are “sent [Jesus],” “honors [Jesus],” “one Who seeks and judges,” “never taste death,” “granted by the Father,” the devil’s watch words are “desires,” “liar,” “murderer,” and “no truth in him.”
It’s Jesus, Truth, grace, and life vs. Satan, lies, desires, and death.
Similar to the Gospel two weeks ago, when the Jews accused Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub, here again they accuse Jesus of operating by Satan. They would put Jesus on the side of the lies, desires, and death worked by Satan.
But the Jews showed their hand when they declared to Jesus, “Abraham is dead.” Really? Then how does God reveal Himself as the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Is God not the God of the living and not the dead? Of course He is, as Jesus taught elsewhere, proving the resurrection. The Jews cannot fathom this, forgetting something they claimed they believed in. They’ve given in to the lie and deceit, that death is “just the way things are.” Their words put their own father to death. They show themselves to be on the side of lies, desires, and death.
Jesus has no problem saying Abraham is alive. Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day of triumph. Abraham lives. And the one who keeps His word, as Abraham did, will never see or taste death. Jesus’ words resurrect what the Jews’ word put to death, their own father.
But that is the operation of Satan, that is his work, to normalize death, to get us comfortable with death, even to sanctify death and make it seem like an escape. The Jews had too willingly given in to that lie.
Jesus’ work is to infuse His life back into a creation cursed to return to the formlessness and void. He is the “I Am” the creative Word of creation, the “Let there be.” If Adam undid God’s original “Let there be” and caused it to become a “Let it not be” – everything returning to a state of dusty non-being – Jesus came to be the one part of creation (Him being human) that could not return to non-being, and therefore the source of life for the rest of the dying creation, if they received Him.
Let’s try a rather esoteric analogy. If you saw the whole history of western art from the days of the icons to now in, say, a twenty second segment, you’d see the objective centrality of Christ (Gothic/Romanesque) and the distinction of beings (Renaissance) slowly disintegrating into subjectivism (Mannerism/Impressionism) and finally into non-being (modern/post-modern art). Today we’re at purely political agitprop, not a reflection on being but the affirmation of its disintegration and, therefore, our need to create something in its place. For our subjective desires must trump being. (Remember Jesus’ statement about “desires” being Satan’s work in the Gospel.)
But in general, like working the “blur” function in photo software, you’re seeing the distinction of beings – rooted in the first, primary Being – fuzzify into a blurry nothingness replaced by the subjective interjection of individual “wills to power” through art, agitprop which but for an echo chamber of the like-minded doesn’t engage a single normal person.
Well, I see here a parallel to what’s going on in the creation. If nothing else it’s honest! The creation is returning to the formless void, even as we all are.
Now, imagine that history of art with one small change. Imagine the icon of Christ there in the beginning, in the Gothic period, and now imagine as history progresses that icon stays central, but everything around it is slowly dissolving. All through history Jesus can’t be touched by whatever perverse psychological motive is motivating the subsequent artists. The Renaissance artists can’t pry off his halo as they try to humanize him more. The Mannerists have to leave Him put as they try to stretch Him out and suggest movement with their gimmicks. When the Impressionists try to fuzzify the borders between Him and the rest of the world, His flesh says, “This far you may come and no further. Quit dabbing and delineate.” When the Abstractionists and Expressionists attempt to do…whatever it is they do, Jesus says, “nope.” And finally when the agitprop crowd tries to marshal Jesus to the movement, they find an immovable Lord.
That’s exactly what Jesus is to the creation. While everything about Him dissolves back into formlessness and void, He ain’t going anywhere. Why? Because He’s the I Am. He died but didn’t corrupt. Beelzebub tried to make Jesus fly-meat, but when his troops, the flies, tried to bite into Jesus, they butted up against a non-nourishing, non-corrupting God, the I Am. They had to leave Him alone and find some real corpses to feast on.
He is the I Am. The one who keeps Him –for He is the Word – will neither see nor taste death. Abraham saw Him, and lived. And Abraham’s children likewise live. We will not see or taste death. No, we will only sleep. That’s the truth faith clings to: when Jesus is around, it’s only a sleep.