May 5, 2013, Easter 6 – Knowing is Loving – or Loving is Knowing
Have you ever known somebody you kind of hesitated to ask questions, because you knew they would really give you the answer? When our kids were struggling with a math problem, a lot of times they would come to me for help instead of Carroll, which would make a lot more sense, because it was a good bet they could get me to give them an answer like “56” or “x”, whereas Carroll would really give them what they needed to know to understand the problem and find the answer. It was a choice of: go to Mama and get a quick fix and you’re done, or go to Papa and spend an extra half hour on math – which was really the smart choice because then, they would really understand what they were doing. From reading about the conversations Jesus had with his disciples in the gospels, Jesus seems to have answered questions in a very Carroll way
In the gospel reading today Judas – the other Judas, not the one who betrayed Jesus – asks a very good question. “What do you mean by saying that you will make yourself known to us, but not to the world?” How can that be, and why? And this was Jesus’ reply – “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
It is a classic Jesus answer, because it seems at first like he is going way off on a tangent and completely avoiding the question. But actually, Jesus is doing what he always does, which is to pierce right to the heart of the question, and to answer it in a way that opens up a whole new way of understanding. “Remember that I said to you, ‘he who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and manifest myself to him’. When I talk about manifesting myself to people I don’t mean for people to know about me, I mean for them – for you – to know me. Making myself known isn’t about letting people know that I exist or even who I am. It isn’t about convincing everyone that I’m in charge. Real knowing isn’t about having the facts, and it isn’t about proving a point. The only way to truly know someone is by loving them. It isn’t an accident that the Hebrew word for knowing also means having sexual intercourse; that wasn’t just some kind of Jewish euphemism, a nice way of not coming right out and saying it. The whole idea of knowing another person, as God has defined it in Scripture, is to have a deep personal connection with them.
In fact, what God says all through the Bible is that his relationship to his people is a lot like marriage – and that isn’t just a coincidence, because remember – marriage was his invention in the first place. Over and over again in Scripture, God uses marriage as a picture of his relationship to his people. In the Old Testament, he speaks of Israel as his bride, sometimes faithful and sometimes unfaithful, but all through his long history with Israel, God pursued her and protected her and forgave her. He made his home with her. The Creator of the Universe chose Israel to be his beloved. He made a vow of faithfulness to them saying, “I will make my dwelling among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people.” The most vivid pictures of marriage that God uses are in the Song of Solomon, which is a love poem, full of erotic imagery, to express the intense and intimate love God has for his people. The marriage image carries through to the New Testament, too: when Paul writes to the Ephesians about the marriage relationship he says, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” And finally, the happily-ever-after climax of John’s Revelation pictures a wedding feast: the joyful marriage of the Lamb, who is the risen and glorified Christ, with his Bride, who is the cleansed and beautiful gathering of his people – the Church radiant and triumphant. The image is there, from beginning to end.
It seems clear that one reason God gave us the gift of marriage was to help us understand what it means to know and be known, by God or by another person, although like all human relationships we are hindered by having to view the symbol through the grimy lens of our personal experiences. But even in the frailty and selfishness of our human relationships we can still learn a lot about what God has to teach us in marriage. Almost forty years ago, Carroll and I were married. Forty years is quite a long time, although I know there are people here who have been married even longer than that. But I think the reason it is so amazing to me – other than the fact that it makes me realize how old I am – is that I feel like we really beat the odds. Marriages fail more often than they succeed these days, and by any rational worldly standards we weren’t a very good bet. Carroll was a nerdy math-and-science guy, very smart, just graduated from CalTech, who had grown up in the deep South and attended the Southern Baptist church. On the other hand, I was born in Massachusetts and grew up Roman Catholic. As I recall, I was a very silly and self-centered high school kid, whose life plans were either to move to Paris and become a painter, or move to Scotland and become a shepherd. And on top of that, neither of us had solid employment, and we didn’t own much of anything. But God in his wisdom and with his excellent sense of humor brought us together… and it worked. And now, forty years later (almost) we are getting to know one another quite well, and I would say that we know one another much, much better and love one another much more now than we did on our wedding day those many years ago.
It’s the complete opposite of what the world wants to tell us about love and marriage. In the media, love is that many-splendored thing that bursts forth in a blaze of glory and fizzles out in the first cold breeze. It’s no wonder that co-habitation has so largely replaced real habitation, which is the making of a home, dwelling together. But where loving and knowing go together, marriage becomes a relationship of dwelling, that creates a home not of the union of bricks and boards but of hearts and minds and bodies. That is the kind of love that Jesus calls us to, a love that endures and grows and deepens: not a feeling, but a way of life.
It’s a way of life because what deepens the relationship is that thing Jesus told his disciples so many times. “If you love me, keep my commandments. The one who loves me keeps my word.” To love God is to walk in his ways, to do the things that please him. If we love our husband or wife, we keep the word of our marriage promises in everything we do. Whatever we put our hands to, whatever choices we make, behind it all is the lifelong promise we made to love that person, to do what brings them joy, to be faithful to them, to forgive them when we feel hurt. When we love, wherever we are, at heart we are dwelling in the home of our marriage at all times. If I go away to the priest’s retreat, or to visit our children in North Carolina, if Carroll is at work all day or running errands, that home of our marriage is where we both are truly living, and that is true more and more as we have grown to know one another more and more deeply. That’s what it means to know and love one another by “keeping the word” of our human marriage.
The mystery of marriage is profound, but I am saying, as Paul said, that it refers to Christ and the Church. Human marriage is the picture, the symbol, and it can be a very helpful picture, but the purpose of the symbol is not to point to itself, but to remind us of the reality, and that is our life with God. We come to know God as we abide in him, making our home with him. God’s good pleasure is to be the place in our life where we are safe and loved, the place above all others where we can be truly and honestly ourselves. And amazingly, Jesus tells us that the Father and the Son make their home in us as well, by the indwelling of the Spirit. And being at home with God, and keeping his word, are one and the same thing, just as making a home in marriage and keeping our marriage vows are one and the same: it means that everything we put our hands to, and every choice we make, we do it all out of love, because Jesus told us that the whole Law and the Prophets can be summed up in one command: to love God and our brothers and sisters with all our heart and mind and strength. And as we do all things, even the smallest and most mundane things, in love, we are at home with God, and he tells us that he is at home in us as well, his Spirit dwelling within us to teach us and comfort us and guide us at all times.
Judas asked Jesus, as they sat around the table that one last time, “What then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” And Jesus gave him the full answer. First, he said, you have to understand what we have been doing on this long journey we’ve made together. We’ve been building a relationship of love, the Father’s love for me, and my love for you, my good friends; and your love for me, which I can see in you as you put into practice all that I have taught you. We’ve built something that is going to last, so that even when I go away your home will always be in me. And my home is in you forever, because the Father will send the Spirit to dwell within you. He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.
May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all as you make your home in him. Amen.
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- Tagged: Bible, Christian, knowing God, loving God