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JUNE 20, 2010: TWELFTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Zechariah 12:10-11
Galatians 3:26-29
Luke 9:18-24

When I talk or write about the presence of the risen Jesus among us, I have a problem with pronouns. There’s no such problem when my topic is the historical Jesus. The late Raymond Brown constantly reminded his students and readers that Jesus was “a free, Palestinian Jewish man of the first third of the first century CE.” He was that free, Jewish man between 6 BCE and 3:00PM on Good Friday of the year 3OCE.

But, as Paul reminds his readers, after Jesus’ resurrection, the Galilean carpenter became a “new creation.” If any of us has doubts about the meaning of new creation, the Apostle provides us with a classic description in today’s Galatians pericope. Referring to the uniqueness of baptized Christians, he writes, “. . . All who were baptized into Christ have clothed (themselves) in Christ.” Then he quickly tells us what’s at the heart of being another Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile), there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The risen Jesus is just as much a Gentile as a Jew, as much a slave as a free person, as much a woman as a man!

A few years ago, spiritual author Michael Crosby remarked in a lecture, “It took the church about 50 or 60 years to totally accept Gentiles into the faith on an equal basis as Jesus; over 1,700 years before it realized and taught that no person, by nature, was to be regarded as a slave to others; and, at the present time, we’re still working on making Paul’s insight about men and women a reality.”

Even beyond my problem with pronouns, it’s difficult for us to appreciate the risen Jesus, and ourselves, as new creations.

Certainly we can identify with Zechariah’s conviction that true followers of Yahweh will acquire a grace-filled spirit of dependence on God. Yet, no one can figure out what the prophet, or his redactor, meant by “mourning for the one they have thrust through.” Modern commentators generally shy away from John the Evangelist’s interpretation that it referred to the crucified and pierced Jesus.

On the other hand, when Luke’s Jesus speaks about how his followers reach the state of becoming new creations, he’s quite clear it has everything to do with losing one’s life in order to save it. And he’s very clear on how that loss is to take place. “Those who wish to be my followers must deny their very selves, take up their crosses each day and follow in my steps.”

Scholars remind us that “taking up one’s cross” would have meant almost nothing to the historical Jesus’ followers until he actually died on a cross. They presume he originally encouraged them to take up their “tau.” The tau, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, was employed in religious circles as a sign one was giving oneself totally over to Yahweh. Just as we’d say we did something “from A to Z,” so they said they did it “from aleph to tau.” Since tau is parallel to our T, the symbol of the cross, it’s easy to see how the tau in this saying eventually was transformed into a cross.

Becoming a new creation doesn’t automatically happen the instant we’re baptized. It’s an ongoing process which takes lots of dying to ourselves to achieve. We know from carefully reading our Christian Scriptures that the Gentile/Jew question wasn’t settled without a tremendous struggle. And our own American civil war is proof the slave/free issue didn’t just walk gently off into the night. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone when man/woman issues create bitter conflicts and divisions in some Christian communities. Though we escaped the pain our mothers experienced in giving birth to us, no one escapes the pain of being born again.