Learning and Loving: A Reflection for the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B
Sometimes scripture teaches us as much by what it does not say, as well as what it does say. This week's gospel is a prime example. Jesus is just beginning his ministry. And already we have seen him acclaimed as the Messiah. But the full meaning of that acclamation is unclear. Exactly who is this guy?
As this gospel opens, it looks like dinner at Peter’s house is going to be canceled. His mother-in-law is desperately ill. Then instantly, Jesus cures her. And she’s back in the kitchen whipping up a meal for him and the disciples. After dinner, the whole neighborhood shows up begging for more miracles. And once again Jesus obliges them. And here’s where we must read between the lines.
The next morning, Jesus rises earlier than usual. Was his sleep troubled? Was his human nature struggling with the full import of his divinity? Jesus looks for guidance in prayer to the Father. What were those conversations like? One thing we do know, in all things Jesus always sought the will of his Father. We know too that once having prayed, Jesus knew exactly what to do…not stay where it’s comfortable, but take his message of repentance and redemption on the road, far and wide. So, he sets out to proclaim the Father’s love for all Creation… and to build the faith we stand on today.
As subsequent events reveal, Jesus is true God and true man. But for now, that has yet to be seen. And from what is said and unsaid in this first chapter of Mark, the fully divine nature of Jesus has yet to be understood, perhaps even by the fully human nature of Jesus himself. This is a vitally significant point in understanding the life of Christ as he begins his journey to Calvary.
Over the centuries many, many well-meaning Christians have gotten lost in the theological weeds trying to understand this relationship between the divine and human natures of Jesus. The Gnostics, the Nestorians, the Arians… big chunks of the early Church… were never reconciled to the true nature of Jesus as totally and concurrently God and man. This is not a theological footnote. It is the crux of Christianity. The God, who created the universe, became fully human in the form of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity.
Jesus is not a junior varsity version of the real thing. Jesus Christ is God… another aspect of the one and only God. In the words of the Creed: “He is one in being with the Father.” If the concept makes your head spin, you’re not the first and won’t be the last.
Luke tells us: he grew in wisdom and age and grace. I suspect that process did not end with his coming of age. Rather it continued throughout his public life… right to the cross. His awareness of his divinity inexorably unfolded to the point where he could plead from the cross: Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Obedience to the Father empowered the human Jesus to align himself with the divine. It gave him the power to do extraordinary things, like the miracles in this morning’s gospel. And ultimately it gave him the power to do the most extraordinary thing that has ever been done. It made him the vehicle of our salvation, the channel of God’s grace, our hope for eternal life.
We are still in the first chapter of Mark. Like this early Jesus, we have far to go and much to learn. In previous Focus reflections, we concentrated on very behavioral responses to the gospels… love of God and neighbor This week we go deeper and wrestle with the nature of Jesus. The reason is simple: the more you study and think about Jesus, the more you learn. The more you know about Jesus, the more you love him and the closer you follow him. With Jesus, learning leads to loving; more learning leads to more loving.
This is particularly true in our Anglican faith tradition. We allow for a wide latitude of conscience-formed theological conviction. As such, Anglicanism has been described more as a path to belief than an iron-clad theological system. And like Jesus in this gospel, we find that path through prayer. In theological jargon: Lex orandi, lex credendi. Praying shapes our believing. The fully human nature of Jesus evolved with his understanding of his divine nature and his divine mission. And that understanding was shaped by his constant prayer conversation…seeking always to know and to do the will of the Father. Our path is clear. Like Jesus, let us pray ourselves nearer and nearer to an intimate understanding of the will of the Father. Through prayer let us also grow in wisdom and age and grace.