Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…(1 Peter 1:3-4, NRSV)
When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to [Jesus], ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them (Luke 2:48-50).
‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done’ (Luke 22:42).
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:45-46)
I stumbled upon some old files in my sermon archive, only to find a reflection I’d offered during the Lenten season some years ago on Luke 2: 48-50, and Matthew. 27:45-46. Interestingly enough, many of those themes relate to the scriptures and concepts explored in Lesson Two: Fatherhood (especially with regard to the questions surrounding God as "Paterfamilias"). Therefore, I offer here excerpts from that sermon, My Father’s Child:
Ever sit and wonder, I mean really wonder, what Jesus looked like? This is a particularly fascinating question if you’re a believer in the Immaculate Conception. How would God’s DNA contribute to the physical appearance of Jesus (and how the heck can God have DNA, anyway)? If God the Father’s features can’t register on a human face, then did Jesus grow up to look just like Mary with facial hair and an Adam’s apple? Could Jesus look at his reflection in a pool of water, point to his nose or his teeth, and marvel, “Whew—thank God I got my Dad’s genes!?”
What we know (and, from the Gospels, hints of what Jesus knew) about the marks of God present in Jesus are his miraculous works, his vast knowledge of scripture, his wise teachings, and the ponderous burden of a death sentence granted, or at least endorsed, by his own parent.… I’m convinced that the true essence of our faith journey this [Lenten] season, and every season, is not simply to aspire to reverence but also, in a spirit of humility, to find points of connection between Jesus’ earthly experiences and our own. My connecting points lie in the elements of pain and absence as parts of my relationship to my father.
I received from my father: his eyebrows, his cheekbones, my last name, the possibility of dual citizenship—oh yeah, and on my fifth birthday, after playing outside with my newly-unwrapped “Whoopsie Daisy” doll and Homer harmonica, his telephone greeting of “Happy Birthday, Nancy Jean.” That’s about it. His absence was his greatest presence (and, for my mother’s sake, his greatest present).
The knowledge I have about Louis “Joko” Benson-Nicol Jr. is scanty. A few details: the youngest of four children, he immigrated to the U.S. from Liberia in his early 20’s. Louis himself had a brilliant mind for engineering and great potential, but didn’t have the capacity to develop it. Instead, he distracted himself with drugs and abused my mother, who thankfully had the sense of self and spiritual reserve to divorce him hastily.
Though I’ve become a productive member of society even as a survivor of abandonment, I’m reluctant to qualify being estranged from half of my identity as “good.” It has haunted me, at times in my life, to wonder if Louis’ personal dysfunction might appear in me as inevitably as his cheekbones—that the aura of his personal demons might intrude upon me like some sad-sack spirit from [the movie] “The Sixth Sense.”
The aura of Jesus’ imminent death not only haunted him—it came to pass. Being “about his Father’s business” meant, among other things, being about his own annihilation. Possibly, he hoped that the divinity within him would spare his body the pain of a violent death, but it didn’t—it hurt. It was excruciating pain. And it took some time for the pain to end. I wonder what aspect of Jesus’ pain penetrated more deeply—the physical torture countenanced during the Crucifixion, or the emotional anguish of feeling abandoned by God the Father. Into the hands of the same One who willed, (or allowed) his death, Jesus committed his spirit. No matter what the cost of being the Son, he clung to the claims that his Father held on him when he hung on a cross. I’m suspended in a state of wonder as to the relationship between Jesus’ punishment and the gift of salvation. Is Jesus the Christian conduit of salvation because of his suffering or in spite of it? Or both?
Think, for just a moment, about the kaliedescope of experiences you’ve undergone. Think particularly about moments of suffering or pain. Would you trade them in, or retain them? Can you image yourself as the person you are now without them? As for me, I am my father’s child, unclaimed, and that will never change (were this not the case, I may not have become a person as driven to overcome obstacles as I am today...). But I am my Father’s (capital F) child, claimed, because Jesus mustered the courage to fulfill his Father’s will. And, in the end, he triumphed. That such gross dysfunction could serve the greatest ultimate function is a paradox too vast for me to contain; but, in my own small, small way, I can relate to notion of promise in the midst of pain. And maybe that’s the point for me. Wherein might lie “the point” for you?
My earthly father was not God, and I am not my father. I draw strength from Jesus’ victory over death through the resurrection as a testament to his Godliness, his ability to bear resemblance to his Father as the Giver of life, and therefore cradle myself in the knowledge that I am not inevitably doomed to replicate the failings of my very human, very flawed father. The pain of death God allowed Jesus to undergo resulted in the celebration of life for all. God has a claim on life that supersedes surnames and surface features. I can relate to Jesus because of the pain inherent in his connection to, and even distance from, his Father. I can worship Jesus because of his glorious triumph in the face of this pain, and receive his triumph as my own. That is,in fact, the gift of life that God intends for all God’s children. God the Father’s infinite plan resides not in pain but in life everlasting—Thanks be to God!