I have a close friend who grew up in a church where hell, fire, and brimstone was the order of the day. It did no good for him. It just scared him away from church and from God. Not surprisingly he left the church long ago.
There was a time where I was angry at these simpletons who stood in the pulpits of his church. Now I have let that go, because I see the human condition.
It is a natural tendency of humanity, I think – to paint the world as black and white. We put people into categories, and behaviors. There is right and wrong. There is good and evil. It makes us feel in control. It helps us to cope with a world out of control.
But eventually we grow up, and we realize these categories of right and wrong are not quite so simple or straightforward. From divorce to climate change, we realize the depth of human emotion and the complexity of our needs and wants are way deeper than a simple blame game and painting one party as wrong, as we claim victory.
But it is in our nature to want to see things simple. We like categories. We like things organized and simple. So we lie to ourselves.
Jesus knows and understands the complexity of life. It shows in today’s gospel reading. He comes and challenges our presuppositions and stereotypes about God and God’s people. He wants us to broaden our minds. In many ways, John’s gospel today deals with who is in and who is out.
Remember the story of Jesus and the Woman at Samaria? The disciples discover Jesus has been speaking to a WOMAN, and they are HORRIFIED. They urge him to eat something, and he speaks esoterically about having food they do not know about. He talks about gathering fruit for eternal life, the sower and reaper rejoicing together, and those who have labored entering into their labor. It is a strange response to say the least. Then the Samaritans show up and declare to the woman that they no longer believe because of what she said, but because they have heard for themselves.
Jesus understands his work to include the harvest of all people. “Sowers” and “reapers” usually work months apart, with one planting grain, the other reaping the benefits of its growth. Here it appears here that the harvest has already come.
In today’s Gospel reading we are encouraged to wrestle with the complexity. And they lift up Jesus as a living embodiment of the complexity of God’s goodness and grace.
These miracles in John do more than stir controversy about “who’s in and who’s out” or breaking rules on the Sabbath. They focus on the person and power of Jesus. They illuminate a savior who is utterly unconcerned with the way things “used to be” or even the way things “should be.” He is concerned only with showing God’s glory in the world, and helping people to see a harvest that goes beyond the walls, beyond the rules, and beyond their imagination.
Could it be he is alluding to a day where all are drawn to the love of God? Where no one is left out? Where all are wrapped so tightly in the love of God that no one can escape? Some might say, “Say it ain’t so!” Others of us say, “Yes! Exactly! This is the Good News we have been talking about!”