First Mennonite Church
March 10, 2018
Subversive Grace and Unwanted Truth
Texts: Luke 22:47-53; John 1:14
As we begin to focus our attention on Easter Sunday, let us remember, once again, that the resurrection of Jesus is a fundamental part of our Christian confession. Much of the Christian faith is grounded on the fact that Jesus did not remain in the tomb. Paul says, “If Christ did not rise from the dead, our preaching is useless, our faith is in vain, and of all people, we are worse off than any anyone else” (1Corinthians 15: 14, 19). The hope of our resurrection depends on that truth. Our baptism draws it, not only its symbolic expression from Jesus’ resurrection, but most importantly its power to live the new life. Once again, Paul says, “For we are raised to new life.”
Easter Sunday is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. But before we start jumping in jubilation that Jesus has conquered death and is sharing with us his victory, let us not forget that Easter Sunday was preceded by Good Friday. Still yet, before we get to Good Friday, let us take a closer look at this man, Jesus, the way he lived, the words he spoke, and the deeds he performed that would make him deserve such a horrible death. Today, let us reflect on the possible reasons Jesus was led to the cross. Let us look at his death from God’s perspective and from a human perspective.
What could it be that Jesus was, did or said that he was put to death? What was there about him, his words and/or his deeds that did not fit within his world that caused his enemies to join forces to stop him so violently? It is really easy to say, “Well, it was the will of God.” Or to say, “That is how God wanted to save the world.” And although, these two answers are true, they do not explain Jesus’ death from a human perspective. That is because these two answers imply that those who arrested Jesus and those who decided to crucify him only acted as robots, without a will or purpose of their own. It would also imply that neither Jesus nor his executioners had any power over what would happen to them nor control over what they did. But as we read in the Gospels, those in authority conspired against Jesus. They set aside their differences and banded together with this one goal in mind: to get rid of Jesus. In the same way, from every angle we look at Jesus’ life we see that he willingly chose to do or say what did and said. He was tempted not to fulfill his mission, but he resisted the temptation. Even at his last hour, he prayed, “Father, not my will, but your will.”
In the gospel of John, it is stated of Jesus: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). In summary, Jesus was a man who also had a unique relationship with the Father and who overflowed with grace and truth. So, what could there be so dangerous about grace? Is it possible that grace has a threatening or subversive element to the point of some wanting to eliminate Jesus for his overflowing grace? Jesus exuded such grace that the crowds were attracted to him. The people, especially those on the margin of society and religion, discovered God’s grace in the person of Jesus Christ, as they had never before found in anyone else. Interestingly, the fledgling church in Acts also exuded God’s grace so powerfully and concretely that people were also attracted to it (Acts 4:33, 34). As for truth, we know truth can be a hard pill to swallow sometimes. Truth can cut deep in those who prefer falsehood and half-truths. Truth can be a threat to something that otherwise feels comfortably hiding in darkness. And we can clearly understand why truth could have been an issue and good enough reason for Jesus to be condemned if he spoke truth to power, both religious and political. But as for grace, everyone should have rejoiced for it. Everyone would have wanted to be shown some grace. At least that is what many of us would think. But just as it is now, it was then, not everyone rejoiced with Jesus’ overflowing grace. Grace can be surprising, confusing, and even subversive. Two references of that:
The prodigal Son
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells the story of a father with two sons. The youngest demands for his portion of the inheritance and once given to him goes away to party hard. When the money runs out, he hires himself out and ends up taking care of pigs. While there in the sty, he remembers home and rehearses a confession to give to his father. But the father does not wait for the confession to finish and gives his boy a royal welcome. But the older brother fumes and would not join the celebration. The older brother expects justice, fairness, and accountability from his younger sibling. The older brother would have preferred his younger sibling to stay in the dog house, but grace intervened. Grace overturned his expectations. He was not happy.
The Woman Caught in Adultery
The second example of grace is found in the story of the woman caught in adultery. Those who brought the woman to Jesus expected judgement and her sins punished. The Pharisees brought the woman to Jesus, who said he came to fulfill the law and the prophets. The Pharisees expected Jesus to bring upon the woman the full weight of the law, which was death by stoning. But Jesus said to her accusers, “Let anyone of you without sin cast the first stone.” They were flabbergasted and confused. Their expectations were put upside down.
Grace. Jesus’ grace pleasantly surprised those who though they were unworthy and excluded of it. In Jesus, the Holy embraced the sinner. God extended his hand to mankind. To those oppressed or written off by a religion characterized of dry and legalistic rules got restored and transformed by grace. They were given back their dignity not only before the eyes of men but also before the eyes of God. Grace won them for God. But Jesus’ grace also became a threat to those who believed themselves to be the guardians of God’s truths, order, and holiness. Grace became an enemy to those who believed themselves to be the rightful authorities who could dispense at their discretion the divine favors. To such people, grace became subversive and menace to their authority and legitimacy. And so, in Matthew 27, verse one, we read: all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed.
Jesus also spoke truth to power. When the Pharisees told Jesus to go away because Herod wanted to kill him, Jesus said, “Go tell that ‘fox,’ I am busy right now and need to finish my task.” Jesus did not seek the authorities’ approval, protection, and much less did he become thier spokesperson. Jesus did not collude with them, but spoke truth to them. Even at his trial, Jesus did not shy away from speaking the truth to power. When Pilate asked Jesus who he was, Jesus answered, “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth” (John 18:37b).
As we can see, grace is good news, but not to everyone. Truth is liberating, but not everyone likes the way truth liberates. Based on Jesus’ life and in the lives of countless saints throughout the ages, it seems as if grace and truth are always on the losing side of history. But as Easter proclaims, grace and truth will overcome.
God’s grace to you and me is free, but it is not for us to hoard or to have control over it. Let us remember what happened to the Israelites in Exodus 16. When they hoarded the manna, it stank the other day. It spoiled. God’s grace to us is not only for our wellbeing, but for us to extend it to others. It is for us to spread around; freely you have received, freely give, Jesus says. If Jesus chose to show grace to the sinner woman, who can say God’s grace is not for any given group of people? If the father in the parable is a representation of God who grants forgiveness out of pure love, who has the authority to sort out who should or should not be forgiven?
It is the same with truth. Jesus said he is the way, the truth and the life. And we confess we have believed in the Truth, Truth with capital “T.” And we bear glimpses of it in our speech and life. But this truth is nor for us to beat others in the head with it. It is not for us to claim complete possession of it. But it is for us to be freed from anything that can bind or enslave us. It is God’s freedom that should keep us from the grip of every kind of darkness. And it is also a truth that frees us to advocate for the freedom of others. It is a truth that frees and empowers us to advocate for all people their divine right to bear the image of God give to them.
When grace is extended freely as Jesus did, in the best case scenario it will be a pleasant surprise and in the worst, it will become subversive and disruptive to the world’s order. If we, like Jesus, would be able to see in every human being the image of God, albeit, distorted, bruised, or violated, we will likely become an enemy to the status quo. If we would truly believe what Jesus meant when he said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” we would not sit indifferently to the injustices that take place in our society. We would cry with those who cry and mourn with those who mourn when their dignity is violated or their rights denied. If we truly believe in the Truth, we would not pledge allegiance nor align ourselves behind anyone nor anything other than Jesus Christ. And that my friends has the potential to make enemies even of your longtime friends.
Let us allow these words to continue echoing in our heart: We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. And, freely you have received; freely give. Let us go in the Lord’s grace and truth. Amen!