Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Full Measure of Joy - Lent 28

One of my friends has a well-used caution he likes to roll out, pretty much every other week or so in my Sunday-morning "Practical Christianity" adult Christian-Ed class. "But we weren't there, were we?" he'll remind us. "We have no way of knowing exactly what Jesus (or Paul, or Mark, or John) meant when he said those words - other than the words themselves. We must respond to the text without inserting our own thoughts or motivations and ascribing them to people who are not our contemporaries."

I'm paraphrasing, of course, but that is - essentially - the gist of his position: We must be careful not to make the Bible say what we want it to say, without regard to context or historicity or what we actually do know via thoughtful scholarship.

And so we arrive at day 28 of Lent, and we are confronted by another saying of Jesus; one that is rich and instructive on so many levels. Let's read with my friend's caution in mind, and in light of this companion truth: The Word is a living document, provided by a Living God, and this living document is often quickened in our minds and hearts by the Living Holy Spirit.

  • "I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them... They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth...." - Jesus - (John 17: 13 and 16-17)
Joy is one of those words that is thrown around easily and often at Christmas (read "In My Heart I Carry A Star" for more). Yet joy does not command that much attention the rest of the year - and most especially Lent, the season of self-examination. The word is just too exuberant for most of us, more robust and intrusive than the terms we're ordinarily comfortable using to describe the subdued lives of faith we tend to lead.

I'm also thinking that we actually misunderstand what Jesus is saying when he speaks of his "full measure of joy," and in particular when we consider the way our society uses the word. We're likely to limit ourselves to images of uproarious laughter, backslapping, playtime, and the extravagances of our affluent American life.

Jesus was nowhere near that definition - although I'm convinced the Savior was not only capable but well practiced when it came to parties and laughter and fun. However, that was not the context from which he spoke about joy. Jesus spoke often and genuinely about joy and here, in the final tense hours before facing a horrible death - one he knew was coming, Christ refers to this "full measure of joy". What in the world was he talking about?

Fact is, the kind of joy Jesus talked about had very little to do with the inconsequential elements that confuse our orientation so much of the time - things like possessions, power, excess and amusing diversions. But joy did have - and does have - everything to do with understanding and experiencing the possibility of an authentic relationship with the Living God.
  • "I have given them your word," Jesus says, "and the world has hated them."
I detect here in Jesus a hint of inevitability, as if Christ is not at all surprised that the world hates his disciples because of the truth resident on God's Word.
  • "Sanctify them by the truth," he continues; "your word is truth."
And there we have the crux of the problem. It is truth that is often too much for people. The devil, Satan, is defined as much by the word "lie" as anything else; and God's word is truth. The most insidious work of evil is the presentation of the lie - or the misrepresentation of the truth - to confuse people so that God's Word is rejected even as they believe that they are being honest.

Our joy, then, is found in the truth; God's Word. There is only sorrow and futility outside of the truth. It follows that the full measure of our joy is in knowing the truth more completely, in knowing God, and in allowing ourselves to be known by the truth.

PRAYER: Teach us your way, dear Lord, that we might walk in the joy of your truth. Amen

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Deaek,

I just read your thoughts on the measure of joy. I found them to be thought provoking and insightful. Thank you for sharing them.