Tag Archives: Gospel of John
Now when a crowd shows up in ancient literature, it usually stands for human nature at its most basic and unimproved. The crowd is not very smart. The crowd is not very patient. The crowd is not very reasonable. The crowd is prone to fear. The crowd is fickle and impulsive. The crowd is like a child: when it hasn’t had a good night’s sleep and something to eat, it can become difficult.
This principle–God’s words are actions, God’s actions are words–is something I try to keep in mind whenever I read a miracle story in the Bible. Because the fact is that miracle stories can seem very disappointing after you get used to them. The people who are healed and fed in the Bible just remind me, at least, of those people ever since and even today who are not healed and not fed. Where’s the miracle for them?
This fear is a dreadful burden to carry. It really is. We don’t notice it, because we’re so accustomed to it, but it’s like a load of bricks on our back. It’s a way of letting death win in advance. And here’s my pet theory about it: It’s not that we, as modern Americans, are so in love with our own lives—that we are so overflowing with joy and satisfaction that we lash out at the slightest hint of possible danger. It’s that we do not believe in or value our eternal souls. As if so many of us believe we are not prepared to bring our sins before God. Or maybe worse, as if we think there is no such thing, and there will be no accounting of our actions.
Now for Luther, the big problem was that people didn’t pray boldly enough. They didn’t expect good things from God, because they were afraid of God. He compares the person who asks for too little from God to a beggar. A rich and mighty emperor invites the beggar to ask for whatever he might desire, prepared to give him “great and princely gifts.” And if the beggar asks only for a dish of beggar’s broth, he would be “considered a rogue and a scoundrel who had made a mockery of his imperial majesty’s command and was unworthy to come into his presence.”
And this sounds kind of strange to us today, perhaps. But for Luther, salvation was a human impossibility. Every road we could choose would take us away from God. You can ignore God and go from bad to worse, or you can try to please God and only learn pride, or become more painfully aware of your own failings. And it’s all hopeless, except that God makes the impossible, possible. God gives his Holy Spirit to me so that I may believe things that are beyond my own power to believe. So that I can come to a Jesus I cannot recognize on my own. And every little bit of faith I have is the gift of this Spirit. It’s not something I could have ever gone out and found for myself, however small it feels.
Jesus is steering himself straight into the heart of that great fear that lurks in the human heart: not just of death, but of humiliation; not just of pain, but of abandonment and rejection; not just the fear of failure, but the fear of breaking the solemn silent code among humans: you stay seated, and you stay seated, and you stay seated, and you stay seated, and I stay seated, and all of us will stare at the floor together. And whatever happens, happens.