My Glory and the Lifter of My Head

Week of Sunday June 1 – Easter 7
Set Gospel: John 14:1-11

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

---

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. 
          John Donne

Psalm 3
A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.
1 O Lord, how many are my foes!
   Many are rising against me; 
2 many are saying to me,
   ‘There is no help for you in God.’
          Selah 

3 But you, O Lord, are a shield around me,
   my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. 
4 I cry aloud to the Lord,
   and he answers me from his holy hill.
          Selah 

5 I lie down and sleep;
   I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. 
6 I am not afraid of tens of thousands of people
   who have set themselves against me all around. 

7 Rise up, O Lord!
   Deliver me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
   you break the teeth of the wicked. 

8 Deliverance belongs to the Lord;
   may your blessing be on your people!
          Selah

 I'm a natural depressive. I'd rather be on my own. As much as I value my friends, being with people sucks the energy out of me. Meetings exhaust me. Good times mean coming home to recover afterward.

Yet I can't do without people.  Without people I am nothing. I soon begin to get sick. I don't need much peopling— no party animal me— but without people my humanity unravels. Our   humanity is profoundly corporate. Without friends who honour me, I am nothing.

The innocence of my life fell apart after the first few weeks of school when I became the bullies' target. In biblical terms, my honour and glory were defined by those around me, and they decided I had little. School memories other than bullying only begin again after about three years when, completely unexpected, I came top of the class. Now the world around me decided I was somebody, although mostly somebody of whom to be jealous.

We had an excellent and benevolent Headmaster in Primary School. In one of the intense dramas of school there came a time when it was my word against that of the whole class who were condemning me. Mr. Rosenthal paid this little grade 5 kid the stunning compliment of saying, "I have never known Andrew Prior to tell me a lie, so I will believe him."

I learned that day that our honour and glory, our identity and humanity, does not have to be defined by the mob. I did not consciously see this, of course, but from that day my memories of life proliferate! I had a new identity.

Parallel to that life was my life in the church; we were that Australian oddity who really did attend church every Sunday, and often more than once. My Dad stayed off the header on Sundays, a big commitment for a farmer in our fire and thunder prone land.

It took a long time to understand what church did for me. As I struggled to survive school each week, ostracised and alienated, church put me back together. Church loved me, accepted me, even valued me. In church I was safe. For all our failings at Gladstone Methodist Church, there was a unity, a unanimity that we were all valued and loved.

•••

Simply stated, honor is public reputation. It is symbolized in good name or eminent family of origin. It is one's status or standing in the village together with the public recognition of it. Public recognition is all-important... To claim honor that is not publicly recognized is to play the fool... To try to claim honor for oneself is shameful: Jesus speaks a truism when he says, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing" (John 8:54; also 7:18; 8:50). Thus, when Jesus says in 5:41 (also 12:43) that he does not accept glory from human beings, he is rejecting a core value of Mediterranean societies. When he claims in 5:44 that one should seek only the honor that comes from God, he is saying that only God has the wisdom to legitimate an honor gain. This, of course, makes perfect sense for members of John's antisociety, given their experience in "straight" society. [pp. 121-122]

Jesus asks God to glorify him precisely when the world will shame and humiliate him.

This quotation comes from Malina and Rohrbaugh's Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John and is quoted by Brian Stoffregen. Although the commentary is about social structures in Jesus' era, I find not much difference here from our own. Indeed, much of our seeking after "many things"  has to do with imitating the status of those we admire; seeking to match them; in essence, "claiming honour for ourselves,"  and trying to manipulate our public reputation. (cf Mark 10:17-27 and see the stunning article The Problem with Rich)

Stoffregen quotes more from Malina and Rohrbaugh's book, specifically about "the "patronage system ... of the Mediterranean world." Our cultural system is different and yet uncannily similar.

Patrons are powerful individuals who control resources and are expected to use their positions to hand out favors to inferiors based on "friendship," personal knowledge and favoritism.. ... Throughout the New Testament, God is seen as the ultimate patron.

For all our pretentions to democracy we know the power of the patron. Even in my little primary school there were the popular kids who in the true sense of the word, patronised the rest of us.

Brokers mediate between patrons above and clients below. First-order resources -- land, jobs, goods, funds, power -- are all controlled by patrons. Second-order resources -- strategic contact with or access to patrons -- are controlled by brokers who mediate the goods and services a patron has to offer. ... This is clearly a role in which John casts Jesus. Jesus says, "You are from below, I am from above" (8:23). He also makes clear that the Patron (God, Father) has given his resources to the Son to distribute as he will: "The Father loves the son and has placed all things in his hands" (3:35).

We know these people too. The term "honest broker" betrays our clear knowledge of the shortcomings of this system.

Clients are those dependent on the largesse of patrons or brokers to survive well in their society. They owe loyalty and public acknowledgement of honor in return. Patronage was voluntary but ideally lifelong. Having only one patron to whom one owed total loyalty had been the pattern in Rome from the earliest times. But in the more chaotic competition for clients/patrons in the outlying provinces, playing patrons off against one another became commonplace. Note that, according to Luke, one cannot be client of both God and the wealth/greed system (Luke 16:13). 

In the New Testament the language of "grace" is the language of patronage. God is seen as the ultimate patron whose resources are graciously given and often mediated through Jesus as broker (note John's comment that Jesus or acted with the authority of his patron; 5:27; 17:2). [pp. 118-119]

This not only helps us make sense of the Father-Son-Friend imagery in John. It shows us the underbelly of our own society. It describes my childhood with painful accuracy; I remember the brokers in the intrigues of school. We see them in the numbers men of politics; we see the Member for Sturt pining to be a patron rather than a mere broker. And we know too well, that when patronage breaks down, when corruption is exposed, or when the economy fails, we look for a scapegoat to sacrifice to cleanse and reboot the system.

Where will we find our honour and glory? What will free us from the underbelly  which too often defines life.  "Throughout the New Testament, God is seen as the ultimate patron." Is it from the patrons of our society that we gain our honour, or is it from the patron of the "anti society" the church?

•••

Now I come specifically to John 17.  David Ewart says  beautifully

we must allow the circling repetition and non-sequiturs ... We don't try to manage them; try to make them line up; make them be sequential and logical. We relax in them; let them swirl around us; we soak in them; we let them become an environment in which we experience the true life that comes from Jesus." 

The message of the prayer that comes  from my soaking is this: "And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." Knowing is not an abstract thing, a knowledge that we "possess."  It is relationship. We know God by trusting and living the commandments. "As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."  John 17:21 The gospel is not "...a commodity. It is a hope for communion."

Fundamentally, Gladstone Methodist Church, and the churches which have followed, have been places of communion for me. And as much as we transcended the local systems of patronage, these churches became places of Communion.

There is a second eddy that swirls through the environment of John 17.

 Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 

This verse (11) is the setting for what follows.

12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

The call for protection is so that the joy of Christ is made complete in them. But it is made complete, sanctified in truth, on behalf of those who will believe in me...

20 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one.

The verses are in contrast to the pre-crucifixion-resurrection event where we are "scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone." (John 16:32)

Who are the thems, the theys and those in John 17? If this were an historical prayer of Jesus, then they are the twelve disciples, and we are those who will believe in verse 20. But it is not an historical prayer. It is in the genre of "last will and testament." It is the words of Jesus John imagines Jesus would be speaking to his community 60 years after his death and resurrection. John 17 is the words of Jesus now, not then in the upper room. It means the they who are being prayed for are us, disciples living in the absence of the physical Jesus, long after his death. It  means the those of verse 20 are the world who will believe because of us!

Our unity is so the whole world can have a unity, a joy made full, and a freedom from the inevitable pettiness and violence of patronage. But

We aren’t one as Jesus and the Father are one. We spend most of our time competing with one another, finding scapegoat enemies on whom to blame the world’s problems, and yelling.  We’re running a repetitive grinder of anxiety in our collective stomachs.  If Jesus is praying on our behalf for us to attain a higher, more lofty sense of togetherness, we sure haven’t listened. (Danielle Shroyer)

What makes the church any better a society than any other group. All groups have a demonic potential; any group becomes more than the sum of its parts and seeks a lordship over the members. Ewart again:

... the quality of companionship between Jesus and God is the measure of our companionship. Shortening the quotation to "that all may be one," misquotes the verse as it omits the defining quality of the oneness to which we are called.

Unity is not about agreement. Too often agreement is about the patron calling the shots. Was not the Nicene Creed hastened to a "unity" because of Constantine's political needs and some not too subtle threats? Unity where agreement is paramount will forever be at risk of scapegoating. Just get rid of the difficult ones, the odd ones out, and we will have agreement.

Unity is about loving each other as Christ has loved us. (John 13:34-35) The love of Christ does not kill the ones who disagree; it dies for the ones who disagree!

This sounds almost impossible. Yet the abundance of grace to which we open ourselves when we try, is out of all proportion to our success. As a little kid I did not know what gatekeepers and naysayers were, but I knew who they were. Yet the little unity that we had, the imperfect love and care led me to believe! I found something trustworthy in us! It saved me. It freed me from the patronage of a world that considered I was only shitworthy.

I think calling the church an antisociety is a wonderful description because at its best church breaks all the rules of society. It creates chaos. All the patterns of behaviour are challenged. The patrons are bankrupt, the brokers are irrelevant, and the clients are free. We can only trust; that is, believe the Father who loves us, or flee back to our oppressors. May the Father indeed protect us from the evil one, for the world is terrified it will lose its many possessions. Amen.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!

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