3/19/2015 9:00:00 AM WORD OF FAITH Experiences led to Scripture
BY REV. ROGER KARBAN
FROM A READING FOR MARCH 22, FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT 'Jesus answered..."Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself..."' -- John 12:31-32
Our Scriptures are based upon experiences. Somehow, somewhere, our sacred authors experienced God working in their lives and generously shared those experiences with their readers.
Because many of those readers had parallel experiences, they held onto these particular writings and passed them on to others. They discarded other writings which contradicted their experiences, providing us with various collections of "apocryphal" scriptures.
Sunday's Gospel (John 12:20-33) contains one of our sacred authors' best-known and most-appreciated experiences: True life only comes through death. John's Jesus perfectly sums up that belief: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit."
Though John's Gospel wasn't composed until the mid-90s, followers of Jesus had discovered the truth of this saying more than 60 years before -- in Jesus' own death and resurrection.
Just getting started
What most people thought was finished at 3 p.m. on Good Friday, Jesus' followers realized was just beginning at sunrise on Easter Sunday. This itinerant preacher had not only come back to life; He had returned as a totally new creation: No longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman. Those who had committed themselves to becoming other Christs never experienced anything (or anyone) quite like this before.
That's why they could identify with Jesus' assurance, "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself." They themselves had been drawn.
Yet, as the unknown author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us (Heb 5:7-9), the historical Jesus had to experience this death-to-life process first before anyone else would dare go down that same road. Though, like any human, He prayed to be spared suffering and death, "He learned obedience from what He suffered; and when He was made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him."
His original disciples took a chance: If it worked for Him, it could also work for them. Obviously, it did, or we wouldn't be reading these Scriptures.
Life through death
But Jesus wasn't the first biblical person to reach life through death. In Sunday's Jeremiah (31:31-34) passage, the prophet encourages his listeners to die to the external 613 laws of Moses and experience the new life which comes from following the law which Yahweh has written on everyone's heart.
Such a leap of faith is rooted in the belief that God not only works in our lives through forming relationships with whole groups of people, but also through developing relations with each of us individually. "I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know Yahweh."
For biblical people, to "know" someone or something isn't just to have intellectual familiarity with that person or thing; it's to actually experience that person or thing.
These particular Gospel sayings about dying and rising are delivered in the context of Greeks (Gentiles) seeking Jesus. First-century Jewish Christians, especially, died by accepting non-Jews as equal partners in their quest to imitate Jesus' dying and rising.
To admit that Gentiles, as Gentiles, could also experience the risen Jesus in their daily lives had to entail a huge mental death for His original Jewish followers. But it also brought them a life they'd never before experienced. No wonder they saved this Gospel.