Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009, "Sign language"

Sign language

If you are reading the daily readings the Episcopal Church appoints for each day during lent, you are reading most of John’s gospel in sequence. There is a first miracle of Jesus at a wedding party, where he takes water that is supposed to be used for washing feet and transforms it into wine. John calls this event Jesus first “sign.”

A bit later, he encounters a political opponent, Nicodemus, who comes to see him at night so that no one knows he’s coming.

Next Jesus engages in conversation with a Samaritan woman, the equivalent of a dialogue between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, or Serbs and Croatians in Kosovo, or Indians and Pakistani’s in Kashmir.

And in today’s reading, Jesus is being sought out by a Roman Centurion, a leader of a company of men, enemies of the Jewish people. Imagine if you will, a Shiite Iraqi itinerant preacher, who has his rally interrupted by a U.S. Army Captain, who begs the preacher to heal his son.

Jesus audience was not people who loved the Roman invaders. They were people whose lives had been made difficult by their heavy-handed invasion, by puppet rulers like Herod, by blackmail, by heavy taxes. They were people whose sons and fathers had died fighting the Romans, whose daughters had been raped.

John says that the people in Cana were glad to have Jesus back. Imagine the damper the Roman Centurion’s appearance put on the crowd. I’m sure the air was electric with tension. The officer, a man used to commanding, begs Jesus to come with him as his son is about to die. And Jesus refuses, saying “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Again the official pleads, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.”

Jesus replies “Go, your son will live.” As the father leaves, his slaves find him on the way and inform him that his son has recovered. The centurion figures out when all this happened and he and his whole household believe. John says that this is Jesus second “sign”.

When C.S. Lewis wrote his radio talks that later became the book “Mere Christianity” he wrote this introductory sentence to his talk on forgiveness:

“I said in a previous chapter that chastity was the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. But I am not sure I was right. I believe there is on even more unpopular. It is laid down in the Christian rule "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Because in Christian morals "thy neighbour" includes "thy enemy", and so we come up against this terrible duty of forgiving our enemies."

Jesus second “sign” is not the miracle of healing, but the miracle of loving our enemies.

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