Surrender to love

What do you do when you want to see Jesus? “Hey, Google, show me Jesus.” I tried that, I wasn’t impressed. Perhaps you have better luck with Siri or Alexa?

It’s not terribly difficult to find pictures of Jesus. I did a quick image search, without any filters, and the results were, well, let’s say, interesting. Perhaps you’d be better off getting one of those big, glossy art books from the library, Jesus through the Centuries, or some such title, with pictures of early drawings in the catacombs, medieval book illuminations, icons, renaissance oil paintings, frescoes, statues and murals from cities around the globe. All those representations will tell you how people of different times and places have seen Jesus in their imagination. I expect they did what most of us do when we think about seeing Jesus: they had a collection of pictures in their minds, they were somewhat familiar with the stories about Jesus in the Bible, and they went ahead and created a composite of all those impressions. When you create an image of Jesus in your mind, it’s always a mash-up of what you’ve seen, what you’ve come to know about him, and how you think he looks at you.

To celebrate the new millennium, the National Catholic Reporter invited people to submit original artwork to answer the question, “What would Jesus Christ look like in the year 2000?” The contest was a huge success: The panel of judges received 1,678 representations of Jesus from1,004 artists in 19 countries from six continents.[1]

The winning entry was “Jesus of the People,” by Janet McKenzie, age 51, of Island Pond, VT.

“The painting simply came through me,” she said. “I feel as though I am only a vehicle for its existence.” McKenzie said her work has always walked a “spiritual path.” In the early 1990s, however, she began to feel discomfort with the art she had been producing, mostly images of white women.

“I realized that my nephew, a mixed race African-American of 9 or 10 living in Los Angeles, would never be able to recognize himself in my work,” McKenzie said. “I determined to be more varied, to make a racially inclusive statement.”

Since that time, McKenzie said she has worked with a variety of racial types, and her commitment to inclusivity shines through “Jesus of the People.”

“I decided I would use a female model,” she said, “to incorporate, once and for all, women, who had been so neglected and left out, into this image of Jesus.” The model was an African-American woman from her neighborhood. Despite wearing a crown of thorns, McKenzie’s Jesus does not seem anguished.

“It’s a total acceptance of his fate, and that’s what the painting is about – acceptance,” she said. “I want to remind people of the importance of loving one another. I hope people are able to go to the essence of the work, which is kindness and peace.”[2] This is the Jesus McKenzie sees and wants to show us.

It was on Passover, John tells us, in Jerusalem, when some Greeks came to Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” People had been talking about him. Over in Bethany, they said, only days ago, he called a dead man out of the tomb, and he was dead for sure, he had been in that tomb for four days. People were interested, people were curious, and Jesus’ opponents said, with worry in their voices, “Look, the world has gone after him!” (12:19). And as though to prove them right, some Greeks came to Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip told Andrew, and then he and Andrew went and told Jesus, and Jesus’ response Jesus’ response leaps out of the story and addresses every last one of us. “The hour has come,” he says, “for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

We’re never told whether these Greeks got their wish. The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. This is where you go, if you wish to see Jesus, John seems to be telling us. He paints a picture for us, a picture of the moment – the hour, he calls it when it is fully revealed who Jesus is. And the first layer of that picture is a brief parable.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Falling into the earth, and giving its life, the single grain doesn’t become lifeless.

It becomes fruitful, it participates in the fruit-bearing, seed-producing, life-multiplying fullness of life. Later in the unfolding story of his final days, Jesus talks about branches that bear much fruit because they are connected to the vine. Jesus’ life bears fruit in the lives of the people who abide in him. His own life-giving, selfless love multiplies in the life of all who believe in him, all who serve and follow him.

The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the witnesses tell us – the glory of life and light, of grace and truth, the glory of God’s boundless love. With all that he is and does in the world, Jesus embodies divine love for the world, the same love that unites him and the one he calls Father. These relationships are his life: the world and all who live in it and God. Now the hour has come for the Father to glorify his name and for the Son to be glorified in death and resurrection. Now the hour has come to reveal the unbreakable bond of their love.

No matter what the forces of evil will do to Jesus, they will not take from him his love for God. He will lay down his life in free, surrendering love – surrendering not to the powers of the world, but to God and to the promise of a world where love reigns supreme, a world fully at home in the intimacy of their relationship. He will lay down his life in sovereign love for God and his friends, with his death not the tragic end of a beautiful life, but the complete gift of his beautiful life for the glory of God and the life of the world.

Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Jesus isn’t calling us to be life-haters. He calls us to be lovers of life in the fullest sense of the word. In John, the word hate means reject, and it typically refers to what the world does to Jesus and his friends: it rejects the life Jesus embodies and proclaims, and it clings to its own definition of life as a small and isolated existence, ruled by fear and self-centered obsessions.

Those who love life and live in love in the company of Jesus will reject that stunted version of life and its hatreds. They will embrace life in communion with God.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified, and the hour presents the world with an urgent choice: Will we respond with faith to the invitation to find life in communion with God? Or will we cling to the promises of the ruler of this world?

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

John has added another detail to his portrait of Jesus. The world and its ruler will sit in judgment and condemn Jesus to death by crucifixion. He must die because domination, violence, and death are the world’s ways under its ruler’s reign, and all that does not fit must be eliminated. And Jesus does not fit. There’s no room in this ruler’s world order for fearless truth-telling or self-less service or table-flipping temple-cleansing. Jesus can’t be silenced. Jesus can’t be bought. Jesus must die.

“If my kingdom were from this world,” Jesus later tells one of his judges, “my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” But his kingdom isn’t from this world. His kingdom is the end of this world.

He lets the world have its way with him. And he refuses to respond in the ruler’s own violent terms. He lays down his life and dies. He dies as though the devil were in charge. He dies as though sin, violence and fear would continue to have the last word.

McKenzie painted a picture of Jesus who shows total acceptance of his fate. But Jesus was no believer in fate. He entrusted himself completely to the love that holds this rebellious world in its wide embrace.

The cross looked for all the world like the judgment of Jesus, but it was God’s judgment of this world and its ruler. The cross revealed the institutional captivity of our religion, the violence at the heart of our justice, and our willingness to do just about anything for the sake of political convenience.

But the other side of that story, the other side of this picture in which we see Jesus as well as ourselves revealed, the other side is the deeper truth: Jesus was lifted up on the cross, he was lifted up in the resurrection, he was lifted up in the ascension and lifted up from the earth, he continued to draw all people to himself, to life in fullness, to life in communion with God. He continues to draw women, men, and children from every tribe and nation into the community of believers who participate in God’s liberating and reconciling work.

What do you do when you want to see Jesus? You follow him.

“Where I am, there will my servant be also,” he says.

You let yourself be drawn to him. You let yourself be drawn more deeply into the kingdom that is not from this world, but for the world and its life.

You renounce the ruler of this world and embrace the life of Jesus. You renounce the logic of domination, violence, and fear and you surrender in love to love. You surrender in love to the love that breathes life into dust.

 

[1] https://www.ncronline.org/jesus-2000

[2] http://natcath.org/NCR_Online/archives2/1999d/122499/122499a.htm Please follow the link to see the picture.

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