Signature Peculiarity – Br. Sean Glenn

Br. Sean Glenn

Ezekiel 37:21-28
John 11:45-53

God is doing a new thing. 

Jesus has just raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. The crowd gathered at Bethany beholds something so powerful at work in Jesus that it astonishes them. A man, verifiably dead and decaying, emerges from his tomb at the voice of Jesus; a work so vivid and undeniable that some are convinced by the truth they see in him, and they believe. The power to give life is the sole property of God, and God alone. This man, Jesus from Galilee, must against all our own judgement be whom he claims to be, truly sent by the One he names ‘Father.’ Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.[1]

Others, however, cannot cope with what they have just seen. Jesus has done something that only the Lord of Israel has the power to do. And because Jesus meets none of their preexisting messianic criteria, the event they have just witnessed presents them, along with the leadership at Jerusalem, with a crisis.

God is doing a new thing.

In and around the first century there were many messianic preachers and self-appointed messiahs moving around the occupied region of Judea. Many of these figures promised the occupation-worn people of Israel a new life—a better life, one where God would act decisively against Israel’s enemies and restore the glory of the Davidic kingdom. Furthermore, many of these figures and their disciples sought this vision of national and personal glory on their own terms: victory by the sword. “Just as Rome maintains her ‘Pax Romana’ through coercion and violence,” they reasoned, “so too will God bring glory and peace by annihilating Israel’s pagan enemies, preferably with some expedience, thank you very much.”

But this Jesus? This peasant from a Galilean backwater? He eats with sinners![2]He blesses his enemies[3]and violates every trusted boundary among us![4]He doesn’t even arm his followers[5]and teaches that he must die at the hands of his people’s enemies![6]Worse still, he challenges our sense of exceptionalism[7], calling into question the allegiance of our heart to God.[8]

God is doing a new thing. 

Tomorrow, Jesus will enter Jerusalem and bring this crisis to a fever pitch. In the face of Jesus presence, the priestly and Pharisaic leadership of Jerusalem rightly fear the punitive power of their occupiers. They knew both Rome’s terrifying taste for violence, as well as parts their own people’s history: where there were whispers of messiah, violence and instability were likely to follow. What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy our holy place and our nation.[9]

No, he is not what we are expecting, so very far outside our margins. They move to resolve the crisis with the utmost expediency, and plan to pour out the fire of their grief and Rome’s tyranny.

God is doing a new thing. 

As we prepare to follow Jesus into the days of the paschal mystery, our readings this morning invite us to experience all the ways our concept of God is challenged by Jesus, and to meditate on the bewildering yet glorious acts whereby God overcomes the short-sightedness of our plans and pride.  I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and cleanse them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.[10]  Let us lovingly hold any crises evoked by Jesus in the depths of our heart, where we remember the ways God’s grace and provision have sustained us in the desert of Lent. When God provokes a crisis of love, Lent teaches us to quiet our desire for expediency and trust instead in the slow work of God. 

God is doing a new thing—and at God’s own pace. Christ’s call to us, his Easter people, is to rest and wait in the love of resurrection light; to see this new light with the eye of our heart while we wait in love for the Sun of Righteousness[11]to breach the horizon of our long night, when the whole Creation will be bathed in the life-giving love of God.

God is doing a new thing—and with God’s signature peculiarity. 

[1]John 11:45

[2]Matthew 9:10-17,Mark 2:15-22,Luke 5:29-39

[3]Matthew 5:44

[4]John 4:1-12

[5]Matthew 26:52

[6]John 12:32, Matthew 16:21

[7]See Walter Brueggemann, Reality, Grief, and Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 2

[8]John 8:12-20

[9]John 11:48

[10]Ezekiel 37:23b

[11]Malachi 4:2

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