Friday Reflections for Lent from Jesus Freak: Come and See

In my second installment in the Friday Lent series, I cite a portion of the chapter “Come and See” from Jesus Freak by Sara Miles. As she reflects on Jesus, she also gets at the essence of Scripture, and the core message of the Kingdom of God. Enjoy.

“Somebody told me a story. And it turned out to be true.

According to Jewish and Christian tradition, we understand God through stories. How the stars were set in the firmament. The time the big brother cheated the little brother. What happened to the women who went to the tomb and found it empty. The Bible is stuffed with tales that jumble together the stuff of spirit — burning bushes, angry angels, mysterious clouds, and voices from heaven — with the most prosaic and earthbound details: bread, water, a coat; bricks, weeds, an argument among siblings, labor pains. We can barely wrap our minds around it all, but we keep listening. By the time Jesus appears, he’s holding everything indivisible: body and soul, heaven and earth.

I tasted Jesus before I read about him, and turned back to Scripture for clues about what I’d already experienced in my own body. Listening to and reading the Gospel accounts felt, for me, like the opposite of that old game of Telephone, where a phrase is passed down a line, losing its sense as each person attempts to repeat the words exactly. Instead, the tales about Jesus only gain significance in repetition, gain depth and breadth as they resound through different readers, are stuttered or proclaimed in a million different voices, down the years. Interpretations multiply, but in place of chaos there’s a glimpse of something that looks like truth: vast as galaxies flung across a night sky, specific as a puddle by the side of a road in Galilee, or a rutted sidewalk in East Oakland.

Here’s what i hear: Jesus is the Word made flesh. While he lived among us, what he said and what he did were the same thing. His human body was God’s language, as much as his human speech.

Sometimes, in the Gospels, this language is easy to read, as when Jesus lifts a hand to rebuke the waves; pronounces, “Be quiet”; and the tempest is stilled. Sometimes it’s frustratingly mysterious, as when he scribbles in the dirt with a stick or invites his friends to eat his flesh. Jesus’ dense parables are invitations into more and more meaning, as are the daily actions he undertakes: walking, washing, lifting, touching, sleeping, eating a piece of grilled fish with his bare hands.

But it’s all teaching, and it’s all driving toward a point — though it’s frequently confusing. “What do you see?” Jesus asks, as he rubs spit in someone’s eyes. Or, teaching a clueless crowd: “What do you think that landowner would do?” Then in a seemingly unconnected gesture, he takes off his clothes, kneels down, and washes someone’s feet.

But I don’t think the words and actions recorded in the Gospels are random. Jesus is showing his disciples some crucial things about the nature of God, so that they could participate fully in God’s work after he was gone. So that their feeding, healing, and forgiving could take place on God’s terms, and add up to resurrection.

In stories that still have the power to scare us, Jesus tells his disciples to live by the upside-down values of God’s kingdom, rather than the fear-driven values of human society. He shows how family, tribe, money, violence, and religion — the power of the world — cannot stand against the love of God. And he tells us that we, too, are called to follow him in breaking down all worldly divisions that get in the way of carrying out his instructions. Sure, it’s impossible to feed five thousand people, make a deaf man hear, bring a dead girl to life, as long as you obey human rules. So do it God’s way instead, Jesus teaches.

Say yes. Jump right in. Come and see. Embrace the wrong people. Don’t idolize religion. Have mercy. Jesus tips cast a light forward, steering us through the dark.”

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