Brief synopsis of the readings: Isaiah promises that “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I shall be glorified.” Furthermore “[i]t is not enough for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Our Gospel (from John) shows John the Baptist seeing Jesus and proclaims him “the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” John proclaims that Jesus is the one he promised who would come after him and be greater than himself. He then said “he is the Chosen One of God.”
Several years ago I had a discussion with a coworker about our favorite Gospel. Most Christians would never even think about choosing one over the other three but I found our discussion fascinating. I love reading the Old Testament; Matthew’s Gospel centers on explaining to fellow Jews why Jesus was the Messiah they all awaited and I said I liked Matthew best (I also loved Godspell which is based on Matthew’s Gospel) But my coworker said that she loved John’s Gospel the best because she found it the most lyrical and mystical.
I respect that. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels and they have a great deal in common. John’s Gospel (who was not John the Baptist or John the Beloved Disciple) was written approximately 30 years later in different circumstances. Simply put, John’s Gospel gives us a different view of the same life.
If we didn’t have John’s Gospel we would have a dramatically different view of Jesus. Matthew and Luke both describe Jesus’ birth and Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism. They describe Jesus as the Messiah that the Jews of the time expected: a human, chosen by God, who would lead them out of oppression and restore the Kingship of David. Mary was chosen to give birth to Jesus, but there was nothing to indicate that Jesus existed before he was conceived.
But by the time John wrote his Gospel, nearly seventy years after the time of Jesus, things had changed. The Temple had been destroyed by the Romans and the Jews were split between those who accepted Jesus and those who didn’t. For the people of the time it was easy to see their future as bleak. And we can ask the question: are these events stronger than the promise of a Messiah?
As I look to John’s Gospel in 2020 I appreciate what my coworker was talking about. John said that Jesus was the “chosen one of God” but more to the point John opens his Gospel by telling us that Jesus was with the Father from the beginning of time.
As Christians we often talk about “salvation history,” the belief that no matter what happens to us, we live our lives toward the belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection will lead us to eternal life. That belief gets us through difficult times and makes hard decisions easier.
But the understanding of the Synoptic Gospels can also cause us to wonder of the power of salvation. If we look on our history where our savior comes to us in the middle of the story, can we really trust our salvation? Can the Messiah himself be overtaken by evil forces?
Perhaps, but John’s Gospel tells us that our salvation didn’t drop into us 2000 years ago, but has been with us from the very beginning.
We believe that God’s plans for us includes an invitation to Heaven but we live with the reality that we live with human suffering. Much of our human lives demand that we live trying to understand how suffering leads us to salvation.
But I choose another path. If John tells us that Jesus doesn’t enter our story in the Synoptic Gospels, but instead begins with the beginning of time it tells us that we are not dependent on our story beginning in the middle. It tells us that our salvation began “In the beginning.” It tells us that our salvation was part of God’s plan from before the start of time.
As I write this there are good reasons to fear the future. A plane in Iran still smoulders after being shot down by mistake. Fifty six people were recently crushed to death as they mourned the death of a general who was targeted by the United States. Large parts of Australia suffer from fires tied to climate change. In the United States a majority of voters favor removing our President from office.
Simply put, we have good reasons to fear our future. And a promise of a Messiah who enters our history during our story can be seen as too little too late.
But John tells us that our salvation didn’t begin during our history but predated it. Jesus wasn’t born to fix what we’ve broken but instead was sent to ensure nothing we do will separate us from God’s love. In other words we need not fear for our future because Jesus will “fix everything” but instead because God will ensure that our story ends up with our salvation.
Last week I spoke about how we should see baptism as inclusive instead of exclusive and I believe we should see these readings in the same way. If our world was created by God at the beginning of time and Jesus was there from the beginning, our salvation is also eternal.
From our very beginning we’ve tested God’s promise salvation. We’ve taken God’s love and tried to ensure our own comfort by marginalizing people, ideas, and even truth itself. But if God’s promise is eternal and inclusive, we need not do that. We can live as those chosen for salvation. Because we are.