Blaine Detwiler, Lakeview
The Second of the Seven Core Convictions that Mennonites Share
Jesus is the Son of God. Through his life and teachings, his cross and resurrection, he showed us how to be faithful disciples, redeemed the world, and offers eternal life.
When I read the account in Luke of the resurrected Jesus walking up alongside Cleopas and company on the road to Emmaus, I detect a “hide and seek” quality. They do not recognize him as they walk but seated over supper Jesus breaks bread at their table, and suddenly they see it is Him. Then poof, Jesus is gone. An almost playful “now you see me now you don’t.”
In a similar way Jesus appears through locked doors and frightens the disciples who think they see a ghost. Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Then lets them all touch his skin and, to further prove he is not a ghost, he takes a piece of fish and eats it in front of them all. Soon afterward, he is gone out of sight, again.
Following the trail of Jesus through history is complicated. In the first few centuries a vigorous argument broke out. Was Jesus a flesh and blood human? Or, was Jesus a divine sort of phantom, appearing like a human, but really more angelic in nature? The early Jesus debate was fossilized in a phrase the church put in their creed saying Jesus was “truly God and truly man.”
Late one afternoon I heard a fierce rapping on our front door. It was our neighbor Brian. As he stood in our doorway his face, before his words, told me something was wrong. “Pop just died! Can you come?” I said, “I’ll be right over.” Pop was our neighbor next door. His body racked with cancer had finally caved in.
As pastoral experience goes I was terribly green. The mood inside their house was somber as one might expect. I exchanged muffled greetings with the gathering family, shook a few hands, nodded my neighborly assent to each of them. “Would you like to see Pop,” a son-in-law offered. “He’s right in there,” he said pointing toward a bedroom. Pop was difficult to view at that moment. His sunken flesh had been exhausted by the cancer and by life. I stayed but a few moments and escaped back into the family room just as the coroner and hearse came driving in.
As quickly as I came to their house, I left. The family obviously had their work, their decisions to make. With a gurney unfolding in the driveway and with the sound of shuffling papers begging for information, I decided it best to leave. So without prayers, without much of anything pastoral being said and done, I walked back home across our yard.
The next morning Brian was back at my front door. His face was relieved. His mood was relaxed, almost jovial. He thrust his hand in mine and vigorously thanked me once and thanked me again and again for being present in their emergency…that it had been extremely helpful and a comfort to them all.
Now I have inherited a farmer’s view of what good work is and of what constitutes a job well done. To a farmer work is measured in sweat and long hours of toil. The perfectionist voice in my head does not help either. Any perfectionist knows that a job well done means all the details fall neatly and timely into their proper place, perfectly. To me, the five minutes of a short mostly silent visit at Pop’s house did not come close to fitting the reward Brian’s hand-shaking suggested. I did not get it. I was stumped.
Months later this discrepancy was still bugging me enough to ask my former overseer Walter Sawatzky about it. He did not miss a beat. After telling my bumbled story Walter simply smiled and quietly said, “You were Jesus to them.” I still did not get it. He nodded, “They were frightened and shaky and had little faith of their own to go on. You supplied it for them. You were Jesus to them for five minutes. It was enough.” All of which sounded to me a bit like Cleopas’ encounter with Jesus. First you do not see Him, then you do. And somehow lives burn brighter because of Him.
In our latest working of Mennonite beliefs we say that Jesus is the Son of God. I find this statement easy to get along with and really quite heavenly. When he was on the earth Jesus referred to himself as the “son of man” and the results were mixed. Some could see it, many did not.
The big word used to describe what I learned from Walter is incarnation, which roghly means the love of God comes wearing skin. All I can say firsthand is that when the peace of Jesus fills a room, when a person begins to think less of them self and more of another, when the tentacles of hatred begin to loosen and when a broken life is healed I begin to believe. Again.
Franconia Conference Moderator Blaine Detwiler is annotating these Seven Core Convictions in Intersections over the next months.
photo by Timoyer