“…What we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,
we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
I John 3:2 (NIV)
Have you seen those bracelets that say WWJD? It’s on tee-shirts too, and some keychains. It’s just about everywhere, in fact. Mainly, the people who wear, carry, and spout-off about that think they know what Jesus would do. But, they don’t. Neither do I, and neither do you. Jesus is more complicated than that. In fact, we don’t know much about Jesus, or what he would do, at all. The Bible gives us some clues, but there’s a lot it doesn’t say too. So, it’s hard.
Around 90 or 100 AD, when John was living in Ephesus and probably writing this epistle, the early church was in the midst of a Christological crises. You have to read a little bit further to see it, but the second chapter tells us that some people had left the community of faith because they didn’t believe that Jesus had been human. In the following centuries, people would continue to leave the fellowship of one church or another because they didn’t believe that Jesus was human, or that he was divine, or because they didn’t believe either of those things… or both. There have been schisms and exiles over it. Athanasius was exiled five times, remember. We Christians have a long history of questioning who, or of what nature, Jesus actually was, is, or may have become. We don’t often ask right out, but there is an undercurrent of speculation about what Jesus would do, what he was like, and what it would it be like to know him today. Would Jesus hang out with us, or is he too divine for a meet-up at the pub? WWJD? It’s complicated, really.
Lots of ink has been spilled on the Christological questions. It’s fascinating stuff, but, is it the right question? The verse above makes it pretty clear that we have not yet seen him as he really is. So, are we barking up the wrong tree? One of our gifts as Anglicans is that we engage the questions, and I think we are particularly adept at identifying really good ones. So, let’s try to get the question right, Maybe it’s not about who Jesus was, but about who we are. A better question might be, “Who are we?” and there’s another one too, “Who will we become?”
The writer, some people call him The Elder, says that we are children of God, and this is something of a recapitulation of the Gospel of John where he also says that we are children of God. In this letter, though, he goes further and says that while we know who we are, we don’t actually know who Jesus is. But, when we find out, we will become like him. That is the short answer to the question: We are children of God, and we are becoming like Jesus, even though we don’t really know what that means.
And that brings us to the 16th day of The Omer and the 14th day of Easter. We count the days because something is supposed to be happening between Passover and Shavuot, between Easter and Pentecost. This is the time when we figure out who we are becoming.
At the first Passover, there was no lengthy Seder and no Manischewitz. People marked the doorposts of their houses and then, when the time came, they got out of there. Even though they’d been released from slavery, though, they still weren’t really free. It took a lot of roaming around on the back roads of the desert for them to shake off their slave mentality and begin to live like children of God. Likewise, we Gentiles who are now part of God’s family too, have become children of God, but we still live like we were members of The Great Here-And-Now Society.
Even though God has adopted us out of the entanglements of the world, we often behave as if we were still children of the world. We haven’t made the long trek through the desert of discovery to find out who we should become now that we’ve been adopted. Saint Augustine said, “How many are called “physicians” but know not how to heal! How many are called “watchers,” but sleep all night long! So, many are called “Christians,” and yet in their deeds are not found to be; because they are not actually what they are called, this is, in life, in hope, in charity.” Augustine gets it. Talk is cheap, but adoption is serious business.
In the Roman milieu in which this was written, adoption required an elaborate and symbolic ceremony in which the biological father sold his son to the adopting father. He would do this two times, and each time he would buy his son back. On the third time, though, he did not buy his son back. Next, the adopting father had to go before a magistrate and make a case for the adoption. Only then, after approval, was the adoption complete. But, it wasn’t a simple affair: there were symbols, a liturgy, witnesses, and ceremony. And, if the rights of the adopted son were ever called into question, the witnesses to the ceremony would testify for the son. In this way, the apostle Paul says that God’s spirit bears witness that we really are adopted. The Holy Spirit is our witness and will defend our claim as heirs.
God adopts us all in different ways. Maybe God came to you in a flash like he did Saint Paul, or maybe it was more of a quiet wooing, or maybe through study, or some spiritual practice, or regular worship. There are a million different ways to be found by God and adopted into God’s family, but becoming an heir takes a lifetime!
During these Great 50 days of Easter, or the days of The Omer, we have time to reflect on the life of slavery to sin that we have left behind and the life of the spirit which will, somehow, out of sight, and in ways we don’t understand, prepare us for the day we see Jesus and become like him.
In John 13:34 Jesus said that we should “…love one another. As I have loved you.” And this seems to be the crux of who Jesus was and what he expects from us. It’s not about being human or being divine, it’s about loving. This is the information we have. There might be a reason it’s the only clue we really have. Maybe it’s the only one we really need.
It is tempting to just sit back and enjoy this time between festivals. But, every day matters. That’s why we count them. Not one day can pass without us looking at Jesus and longing to love the world the way he did.
So, who will you become today? How will you love and how will you be loved? And, are you ready to finally see Jesus as he really is? This reading implies that all the things we wonder about may become known someday… and what a day that will be!
Linda McMillan lives in Sakaka, al Jouf Province, in Saudi Arabia.
Image: FreeImages.com/Efron Nitrauw
Some Notes of Possible Interest
There is an orthodox position on the humanity/divinity of Jesus, but the truth of the matter is that most of us bounce from one near-heresy to another because it’s just too much! And, that’s OK. It’s only a heresy when we pitch a tent, build a campfire, and camp out in one way of thinking or another. But, in defense of the Johannine community, it’s hard. — The writer of I John — probably John the Apostle — did try to simplify things. The book is full of this versus that: Light v. darkness, truth v. falsehood, love of God v. love of the world, and the Spirit of God v. the spirit of the Antichrist. In 2 John, the writer even calls those who have left the fellowship anti-Christs! But, in reality, we know that it’s not that simple. Read all three of the later Johannine epistles for the full story. It doesn’t take long.
The quote from Saint Augustine is from his collection of homilies, (Homilies IV on the epistle of 1 John).
Romans 8:16… The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (NIV)
John 13:34, 35… “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV) — This is not a new commandment, by the way. It is pretty much the whole Torah all by itself. The only new part about it is that Jesus loved us. Even so, it still pretty much wraps it up: Love.