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Lectionary reading: John 8:12-20
“The Father who sent me is with me…”
“And where is this father of yours?” they asked.
“You do not know my Father,” returned Jesus, “any more than you know me: if you had known me, you would have known him.” (John 8:16b and 19, J. B. Phillips)
If you know Jesus, you know God. Jesus’ words, not mine.
Most theological reflection on Jesus moves in obedience to the question, How is Jesus like God?
(We assume we know what God is like from reading Moses and the Prophets through the enlightened eyes of Plato and Aristotle.)
Theological arguments more often begin by asking, Is Jesus like God? Is he revealing, reflecting, relating as God would?
In Anabaptism I find the questions reversed. We begin from the bottom and move upward, not from the top and look down. We start from Jesus and look through him to see the Father, not from our ideas of divine omni-perfect, omni-hidden, omni-transcendent, omni-mysterious first cause of all things but from a Galilean prophet of love and justice-righteousness. See him and you see God.
Is God like Jesus?
Can God really be this good, this loving, this kind, this self-giving, this forgiving, this generous, this urgent for a justice that redeems, reconciles and transforms?
What if God is really like Jesus and like the God whom Jesus taught, obeyed and worshipped? Is that why Jesus used the intimate Abba Father language to show his solidarity, continuity, common identity with God? Then I must move:
- From Is Jesus somehow, in some way, Godlike? to Is God like Jesus?
- From Is Jesus divine as we understand divinity? to Is Jesus our window to divinity that shows us definitively what God is like?
- From If I can discover the God of Jesus will I then know what God is like? to So do not ask, Is Jesus like God? We know what God is like—God is like Jesus.
“Christ is not only God-like, but God is Christ-like,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in Strength to Love (1963). The Christian gospel proclaims a God who is very different from “the Almighty,” the historic God among all the gods who is, by trusted definition, an omnipotent paragon of ultimate invincible irresistible power. The God of Jesus Christ, in Leonardo Boff’s phrase, is “weak in power but strong in love” (Cry of the Earth; Cry of the Poor, 1978).
God is like this gentle good gracious guest at Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ home, at Zacheus’ table, at Simon’s banquet, at Cleophas and spouse’s supper.
God is like this beaten man bleeding out of the corner of the mouth when slapped, stripped down the stripped bareback when flogged, blinded by running blood from a thorny crown, nailed fast hand and foot by brutal soldiers. God is this kind of fellow sufferer with all who undergo abuse and torment.
God is like the caring hand of the healer anointing blind eyes, touching untouchable lepers, noticing the lightest touch of the seeker who grasps a corner of the robe.
God is like the herder shooing the cattle from the temple while talking about the meaning of prayer, like the man on the back of the satirical donkey riding into the Jerusalem gate like the Roman conquerer mounted on the finest of stallions, dripping with irony and truth.
God is like this Jesus. Look and see. See Jesus, see God.
David Augsburger is a senior professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and attends Peace Mennonite Church in Claremont, California.
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