Listen To Article
by Thom Fiet
I have spent a little time teaching at West Point as an adjunct professor. Nearly all of my students were soldiers who have returned from active duty either in Iraq or Afghanistan, or both of those places. Some had six deployments with forward units. Over time, they felt comfortable enough to tell me some of what happened to them over there, horror stories mostly, the kinds of stories one does not tell, but rather spits out with a blank stare. Weeping would be an insult, expressing not nearly enough.
With a lump in my throat I asked if they thought the second Gulf War was a just war in their minds. Not a single one thought so. Even though these were supremely dedicated and patriotic soldiers, they all said no. All of them felt lied to. It was a poignant moment, seeing that we were talking in room 208 of Mahan Hall, towering over the Hudson River. Looking back, things got clearer in their minds.
Looking back, things got clearer for the writers of the Gospel of John. Enormity often takes time to settle and cohere, and John’s gospel gives us an example of such a progression. In our passage for this fourth Sunday of Easter, we find John trying to put the pieces of the life of Jesus into some kind of theological integrity, going deeper into the causes and meanings of Jesus’s life. He plumbs the depths of identity: Just who is this Jesus? Twenty centuries later, we are still at it. He is closer than a whisper; we do not know him: both are true.
If we listen carefully, we can sometimes hear the creaking of the timbers in the gospel of John. The timbers of human words buckling under the enormity of an incarnated God. Everything we know strains under his weight. Get too close and you could get your heart crushed by this good news. This good news could kill you, or get you killed.
There are times in the Gospel of John where words snap like sticks. The writers will resort to twine, spittle and glue in the form of rhythm and repetition to hold it together. “I am in the Father, the Father is in me, you are in me, goo goo g’joob, I am the Walrus, I am the Eggman.” Indeed, what can we say about that which cannot be borne by language, or the other limited capacities of the human family? Physicists have it easy compared to this.
Do we not have sympathy for the religious leaders who only want a “simple” answer when they meet up with Jesus: “Are you the Christ, if so, tell us plainly” (They are asking for a Thomas Kinkade painting, something suitable for framing). But there is no “plainly”, there is only creaking, spitting, snapping of language. There is only enormity exploding in the human brain, even if that brain went to Calvin College.
Perhaps if we look back, even from the safer distance of a million light years, we might see a bit better, and hear perhaps more clearly, that nothing can snatch us from the Father, or from the Son-we are safe in their hands–SAFE IN THEIR HANDS–for they are One, goo goo g’ joob.
In the meantime, in real time, we follow, even though there is cracking and snapping from under our feet.
Thom Fiet is pastor at Lyall Memorial Federated Church, located in Millbrook, New York