The Gospel of John is very strange. And there's a very good reason for that.
told by Deborah
Jesus prayed, ”Father, I ask not only for these disciples, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in me and I in You, that they might be in us, so that the world may believe that You sent me.
“The glory You have given me I have given them, that they may be one just as we are one: I in them and You in me, that they may be completely one, so that the world might know that You sent me, and loved them just as You have loved me.
“Father, I wish that they too, those You have given me, might be with me where I am, that they might see my glory, which You have given me, because You loved me from before the world began.
"Righteous Father, the world did not know You, but I knew You; and these know You have sent me forth; and Your name I have made known, and will make known to them, so that the love with which You loved me may be in them, and I in them, also.”
In this Gospel passage we are told that Jesus prayed,
“… that they may all be one,
just as You, Father, are in me
and I in You,
that they may be in us…”
Whew! That’s a dense sentence — in grammar and ideology: No more us or them, you or me, but all in one, together in a sort of cosmic blend. Perhaps because I am [ahem] “of a certain age,” whenever I hear it I am reminded of the lyrics:
“I am he
as you are he
as you are me
and we are all together…”
~ John Lennon, I am the Walrus, 1967
And I wonder if comparing these lines commemorating an LSD trip with that scripture passage may be closer to the mark than it might at first appear. There does seem to be a sort of hallucinogenic quality to much of the Johannine gospel; a kind of topsy-turvy, illogical, confusing worldview: Jesus anticipates his death as his “glory” — not a suffering to be avoided, but anticipated, even embraced; his crucifixion is treated as a coronation, his crown a wreath of thorns, his title emblazoned atop the cross. Crushed but victorious, he is dead and yet alive, ascended and yet present. He is One with God, One with his disciples, all are One together; individuals are a single body: joined and yet separate, apart yet together….
It does sound downright psychedelic!
And perhaps that’s a helpful mindset to adopt if we hope to comprehend what the author wants us to understand: the Christ event is exceedingly, extravagantly, beyond the norm. What happened was Utterly Different from anything that went before: it cannot be described in ordinary terms, it cannot be conceived of in ordinary images; it was and is an experience Absolutely Other Than what the world believes.
In short: God has genuinely, unequivocally done A New Thing in Jesus Christ.
“In the world but not of it,” is the classic description of those who go through life without being tainted or tarnished by cultural influences: the artists, the philosophers, the lovers, the dreamers — those who think freely, imagine uniquely, behave differently. It’s the sort of character Christians are supposed to possess: “otherworldly.” We are subjects of the King of Kings, followers of His teachings; gracious and compassionate, unwilling to worship earthly rulers or riches, refusing to succumb to worldly cynicism and divisiveness: non-conforming. Free.
In short: Christians are called to be Utterly Different.
But it isn’t easy. We are in the world: surrounded by worldly values, powers, and propaganda, confronted by constant pressures to conform; to follow the herd, to admire what they admire, desire what they desire, and scorn what they scorn. Daily our faith is demeaned and mocked, denied and dissected, derided as superstition, madness, mind-control, ignorance, stupidity. We are lumped together with bigots and bullies. The bright and the beautiful make a point of denouncing Christianity as a lot of nonsense.
But I wonder….
If our faith is just so much foolishness, of no account, readily dismissed — why is so much energy devoted to refuting it?
Why is there such eagerness to deflect our loyalty, such determination to distract our attention, such persistent efforts to turn us away from Christ? Perhaps there is something to this Way of His; perhaps it is more powerful than we imagine; perhaps it poses a threat to the ways of the world. Perhaps thinking — believing — “differently” is the path to salvation: to freedom from lies and deception, freedom from serving the deadly and death-dealing powers that seek to define, control, and absorb us.
If we are mindful followers of the Lord Jesus, we cannot become mindless slaves to the status quo. We will see things from a different viewpoint: situated in love and compassion, we will not mistake passing fads for eternal truths. Loyal to Christ, we will not bind ourselves to false prophets or be misled by “saviors” who promise to redeem the world — tempting as it is to yearn for a leader who will “make all things new again.”
“If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.”
~ Matthew 24:23
It has often happened that Christians’ professed desire to “overcome the world,” has been misinterpreted as a plan to take over the world. I think that’s purest projection: when a culprit accuses others of plotting an evil deed that they, themselves dream of. In fact, our “overcoming” is a personal challenge: the only control we seek is self-control. It is resisting cultural programming, refusing to buy in to the worldly doctrine that success can be measured by money or materials; it is learning to listen and evaluate, to discuss and not condemn — to freely, fully, graciously “think and let think.”
To overcome the world is to form our own ideas within the framework of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shaped by love and compassion — not in obedience to what our culture or community demands. It is not to take over the world, but to take back our integrity; it is to (re)claim our allegiance to the Lord’s authority. It is to think for ourselves, to listen to our hearts, to choose kindness over conformity. It is freeing and empowering and supremely counter-cultural.
hmmmm. That does sound a bit scary, doesn’t it? Exciting. Risky. Challenging. Even alarming.
Imagine how much more alarming that sounds to those who seek to control our thinking, our desires, our dreams, our behavior, our world. Imagine how disruptive such beliefs and actions are to the plans of those who have determined that they know what’s best for others; those whose hubris entices them to extend their authority into every aspect of our lives — even to deciding to end them when they see fit. Now imagine what recourse these god-wannabes might take against such a threat to their power: that may help to explain why there is such determined opposition to the Way of Christ.
Imagine living fully, fearlessly, kindly, compassionately. Imagine overcoming the world. What a trip!
Religion is not, as is so often claimed, an opium for the people — but the antidote to the stream of digital opiates that obscure reality and confuse our thinking.
Christ’s Way does not seek to entertain, but to enlighten, to illuminate the realities of our world. The Lord’s earthly life and ministry did not conclude like a fairy tale: there was no “and they all lived happily ever after” — that’s not how the world works. Nobody gets out of here alive. There is suffering and grief, disappointments and regret, hunger and hatred…. but that’s not all that there is. Above/ beyond/ ultimately/ absolutely there IS — the extraordinary I AM: the magnificent, inexpressible Utterly Other that encircles us, embraces us, and absorbs us into what we might understand as Light, but is so much more.
In simple terms: God is a trip. That’s part of what the John Gospel seeks to communicate to us: what we think we know about life, the universe, and everything is feeble and faulty, limited and constrained by narrow, superficial “information.” Reality — the Truth that will set us free — is utterly different from what we are trained to believe; God really is love, and truly does care for all of creation, not least of all for us human beings.
May Christ’s grace and healing love abound,
Imagine being absorbed into God: gently, tenderly enlivened; infused with a radiance that expands your heart into a perfect love for all that is. Rest in that place, know that peace, carry it with you.