Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Metaphor

In the Book of John, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” but “the truth” was soon extracted and disembodied. This immaterial “truth” has been enshrined on a high pedestal of intellectual systems, only reachable by those with more advanced cognitive faculties. But Jesus did not say, “I am the abstract absolute moral principle.” Instead, he topples the conceptual idol and proclaims, “I AM the way, the truth, and the life,” which is perhaps less a proclamation and more an invitation . . .

Perhaps “the truth” is embedded in “the way” and “the life” for a reason. To say that a human being is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and not a philosophical concept, implies flesh and blood, sweat and tears, growth and breath. It implies life, a way of life that is deep and dirty and raw. In this understanding, truth is not an ideological list, not the “what” but the “how,” the way itself. Jesus invites those with ears to hear down a narrow path: truth is a way of life, and that cannot be fully expressed, only experienced, like God. Much of what many think of as God cannot be seen in a human being, but Jesus puts skin on the passion and character and vocation of God through his way of life. If the Word of God, this character and passion and vocation, could live a human life, then maybe it would look something like a peasant Jewish carpenter. Jesus incarnates the Spirit that pulses as the heart of reality, constantly redeeming things to that heart: “You have heard it said . . . but I tell you . . .”

And then Jesus disturbs the settled words and tells us of a radical kind of God (radical in the more common meaning of “revolutionary,” but also in the Latin origin which means “to the root”). His words are like water flavored with salt that leaves us always thirsting for more, digging for the hidden treasure buried in the field. Through stories and questions, through metaphors and symbolic actions, Jesus prophetically speaks of a God whose way and kingdom reverse the comfortable order of the powerful, exposing whitewashed tombs and unwashed cups. This is a God of simplicity who cares for the poor in spirit and the poor, who lives in the margins with the sinners and “the least of these,” who burns with righteous anger at injustice and hypocrisy, who feeds the hungry and clothes the naked, who gives water to the thirsty and invites the stranger to the banquet, who gives sight to the blind and heals the lame, who loosens the deadly chains of oppression and sets the captives free, and who loves the unlovable enemies. This is a God of renaissance. And in the end, one that we could almost expect, this image of the in/visible God is abandoned and beaten and nailed to the empire’s tree. “We must appreciate that we are lost before being ‘found’ or being ‘saved’ makes any sense.”

This is no picture of a God who sits on high with sovereign power; this is a picture of a God of transforming powerlessness and weakness who dances in foolishness. The world, in its wisdom, scratches its head in condescending bewilderment, plotting crucifixion and the enthronement of a God of power, domination, and coercion. This is no picture of a God of philosophical abstractions or armchair theologians; this is a picture of a God in the dirt and the mud, a God of sweat and blood who calls for hands and feet. This is a picture of a selfless God of compassion and forgiveness who desires the weightier matters: justice, mercy, and commitment. Jesus plants seeds of good news that turn the world upside-down until, as Caputo says, the world of Alice and Wonderland appears sane in comparison to the kingdom of God. The event of Jesus’ life, his sacramental way of life, is a metaphor for God in flesh and blood. Here is Jesus and the lost-and-found-but-never-quite-found God, because finding is seeking and answering is knocking.


  1. For the record, if you ever decided to choose a "career" in the traditional sense, if that career does not include you writing, consider yourself disowned! other words, well done.

  2. Theology is a human construct. Consequently, our task of divine inquiry is perpetually and innately flawed and broken. Our best attempts at knowing God pale in comparison with God's attempts at disclosing Godself through the humble, the broken, the marginal and the rejected. Perhaps that's why we are called to serve others for it's there that we discover the character of God in more poignant ways than we ever will in a house of worship.

    And for the record, I've told you in four different countries that you need to publish. Ditto to Michael's comment. I can clearly see what a poor influence I have had to that end but I am still hopeful.

    An anonymous Australian-American-British displaced Chicago-area minister (considering how you love anonymous posts).