Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter
I think we live in a culture that thrives on opposites. We teach our children early on about opposites: light/dark, hot/cold, wet/dry, open/shut, and so on. We buy sweet n’ salty mixes at the store; we love to have our cold slushy milkshakes alongside crispy fries and hot hamburgers; we like a good love story about opposites attracting; and, let’s face it, our political system seems to thrive on having a good mix of opposition on the floor of congress (even as some decry the nation’s lack of unity.
Opposites can be useful, but today’s scriptures focus on the less-flattering aspects of opposites. In fact, today’s scriptures take issue with the very idea of opposites, in favor of promoting unity in Jesus’ name.
The opposite pairs in the first scripture (Acts 13:26-33) are Jew/Gentile and Old Covenant/New Covenant. If you read yesterday’s passage, you know that Paul is on one of his famous missionary trips and is in Pisidia trying to convince Jews (for the most part) to become Christian. They are balking for a couple reasons; one is that it isn’t clear to them that the Christian God is the same God that Jews are instructed to worship; second, Paul hangs around with a lot of non-Jewish Gentiles.
The first part of Paul’s sermon to the Jews was read yesterday; today Paul continues it today. Note first, that today’s passage begins with Paul addressing “My brothers, children of the family of Abraham, and those others among you who are God-fearing.” In the Greek, it is clear that “those others among you” are Gentiles, and the “children of the family of Abraham” are Jewish. So Paul seeks to find unity between these two groups in part by addressing them together. But also, he seeks to find unity by explicitly linking Jesus’ life and ministry to passages from the Old Testament and the Old Covenant God made with the Jews, and he specifically mentions part of the Psalm that is also one of our readings today: “You are My Son, this day I have begotten you.” (Psalm 2:7) Jesus brings in the New Covenant; God is doing a new thing in Jesus, but God is not thereby rejecting the Old Covenant and the Old Testament. What Jesus does, and what Paul is doing, is connecting the two. We often like to think that the Old Testament and the New Testament are polar opposites (one depicts a God of wrath, the other a God of love), but in fact, Paul is trying to show that this view is not correct. The God of the Old Testament is the same loving God who sends Jesus.
Another opposite pair in this passage is the way Paul links Jesus, “risen from the dead” with the statement that most of us probably link to Jesus’ birth and/or baptism: “You are My Son, this day I have begotten you.” We often think of birth and death as opposites but Paul is trying to show that because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, now we cannot even call birth an opposite force to death because death is overcome in Jesus.
Thus, the overall emphasis of the first passage is that Jesus unifies. This unity resounds in today’s gospel passage (John 14:1-6), where Jesus speaks of there being many rooms in one mansion. We Christians may see ourselves as divided, but Jesus does not: what we see as separate things are joined together by Jesus in one house. Moreover, Jesus is the way, because he is the one who unifies. Without him, we do indeed see ourselves as opposed to each other, as utter opposites who cannot get along.
Today, let us pray for the true unity that Jesus brings.
- Jana M. Bennett