Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fifth Sunday after Easter

James 1:22-27 / John 16:23-30

Much is made by theologians and attentive readers of the Scriptures of Jesus' use of parables. While some may exaggerate the role of parable in Jesus' teaching, there is no doubt that parables made up at least a notable portion of Jesus' public speech.  So, many of these same theologians go on to suggest that there is some intrinsic merit in a parable that cannot be accomplished by direct speech. That is, granting that Jesus is the consummate teacher, they hold that something crucial is gained through a kind of indirection, through the telling of a simple narrative or extended metaphor, something that the hearer would not have the occasion to learn had he been presented the same truths directly. Indeed, some might even want to insist that such truths can only be told in parables.

Jesus, however, presents just the opposite kind of conclusion. In his Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus tells them that the time for parables is coming to an end, and that the things he has up to that point presented in parables, he will now present plainly. Indeed, more to the point, what he intends to show plainly is no one other than the Father himself, suggesting that every parable was at best a veiled presentation of the Father.

What makes this claim striking is that we are left wondering why Jesus should refrain from speaking plainly in the first place. That is, if the mystery of the Father admits to a kind of plain, direct presentation, and if our joy is complete precisely in knowing the Father, then it is hard to see why Jesus should not want to speak plainly of the Father from the beginning.

Yet, this way of putting things is to confuse what Jesus is saying and what he aims to do for us now that he has risen from the dead and sent his Holy Spirit upon us. Jesus reminds his disciples that the Father's love for them is grounded precisely in their love for Jesus and their belief that he comes from the Father. While some who do not have saving faith may worry that this is an arbitrary limitation, and that Jesus should be open enough to share any life-fulfilling knowledge with all, regardless of their belief in him, this perspective is deeply confused. The fact is that the Father can only be known in the Son, since the Son is the perfect image of the Father. Any attempt to arrive at knowledge of the Father apart from the Son is, therefore, a lost cause even before it starts. Conversely, it is when we have come to know the Son, the Son who in his mercy has graciously revealed himself to us in our own human nature to draw us closer to him, that we can finally know the Father. That is, the move to plain speech about the Father is only possible for us to hear and to bear when we have been brought to understand the Son in the fulness of who he is.

This is also why mission, in the plain and ordinary sense of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is so central to our own happiness and the happiness of the world. As our joy is only complete in the knowledge of the Father, and the Father is known precisely in coming to know the Son, then it is our task and our joy to help the world come to know the Son, that in him the Father will be revealed plainly and without parable. On that glorious day, we will not simply believe in, but rather know immediately the Father's love for us, and in that love, will find the fulfillment of the deepest longings of our heart.

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