Does Jesus Get What He Wants?
I want to tell you about a story I just heard this past week on one of the cable news networks (on Al Jazera/English).
The story takes place in southern India and starts with a man named Krishnan who comes from a wealthy family. According to the ancient caste system, Krishnan is a Brahmin – the highest caste. Krishnan was well educated; he studied to be a master-chef, graduated from a prestigious school, and had an excellent job all lined up in a Five star hotel in Switzerland.
But before he left India, one day he saw a sight that horrified him and changed his life: an elderly man, abandoned, mentally ill, was at the brink of starvation, right there on the public street. I wish I could tell you the whole story, but for brevity’s sake I will only say this: Krishnan abandoned his career and started cooking food and delivering it, every day, 365 days a year to his city’s abandoned, mentally ill homeless people.
He cooks food in the morning then goes out in a little van to the alleys and ditches where they live, hands them food and bottled water, speaks with them and touches them. This is completely radical. Many of these people come from the untouchable caste – Brahmin caste people literally do not touch them. So, understandably, his family was originally upset by what he was doing. It was a shame for a Brahmin to touch those people or work in such a menial way.
Honoring the “Shameful”
But Krishnan helped them to see that it was not a shame to help people live, but an honor. His family did come around, and now is proud of him. His mother says that normally a mother teaches her son, but in this case, her son has been her teacher.
Krishnan’s story is amazingly like the Christian story. Not just that Christians do things like feeding the hungry, ministering to the weak and abandoned, but something deeper. We celebrate as most honorable something that had been considered the ultimate shame.
Honor in Jesus’ Prayer
In the text we read, Jesus is in the upper room where he has just shared the last supper with his disciples. This is his prayer. Right after the
“amen” they will all go out the door, down across the small valley, and up the other side, to Jerusalem, where Jesus will be betrayed and arrested. Jesus knows this is coming and how it will go: he knows a crucifixion awaits him. His hour has come.
So he begins his prayer, saying it out loud:
“1After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come;”
His next words are remarkable. Facing the shame and humiliation, the suffering and agony he is about to experience, how does he characterize it? Listen to his prayer:
“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,”
In other words, Jesus prays, “Father, honor your Son so that the Son may honor you,”
How in the world could a shameful crucifixion be honoring to anyone, ever? The answer is that it is the final, ultimate, climactic act that sums up what Jesus has been teaching all along. That God loves the world and every human being who ever lived so much, that he is willing to do the utterly unthinkable for them: to die for them in the worst way.
Jesus’ death on the cross is not a single sacrifice – one among many, even the most significant one – it is the last sacrifice! It ends forever the notion that God wants people to think of him as a hungry, sacrifice-consuming divine carnivore. Just the opposite – God is family; he is Father. He is God, yes, fully so, but also, father.
“Holy” + “Father”
This is so amazing – that when Jesus prays, he can keep these two truths about God together. God is both glorious – completely God-like,
un-seeable, powerful, awesome, fearful, who, as the bible says, “lives in unapproachable light;” and at the same time in the same breath Jesus keeps calling God “father.”
This is the huge, world-changing, game-changing truth that Jesus came to reveal. The God of glorious holiness is our source of life. In fact, coming to understand and embrace God as “father” instead of distant, angry, out-for-blood avenger, is life itself, as Jesus prays to his father, (with some word-clarifications):
“2you (father) have given [me] the right and the power, on behalf of all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given [me]. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only genuine God, and Jesus the Anointed one whom you have sent.”
So, instead of being the greatest humiliation and shame a person could suffer, the cross becomes the greatest act of loving self-giving, and so finishes Jesus work of showing who God is, as he says in prayer:
“4I honored you (father) on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.”
Now that the last hour, the last scene in the drama has begun, Jesus can think of it as complete. He continues his prayer, turning his attention to the future for him, when he returns to his father.
“5So now, Father, honor me in your own presence with the honor that I had in your presence before the world existed.”
When I watched the story of Krishnan’s work with the mentally ill homeless people of India, I saw so much suffering. The poverty there is so intense. The suffering is so brutal. And of course the way these poor mentally ill people are treated by others makes their suffering even worse. They are abandoned, or they are chained up like animals. There is a world of evil; we live in it; it lives in us.
But Jesus’ prayer shows us that he is not disgusted or repulsed by the evil world we inhabit, rather, like Krishnan, it honors him to come and touch us, to break bread with us to give life to us. Jesus expects God the Father to honor him for his work.
Prayers for Us
Jesus will leave, physically, but the disciples will stay in this world of dangerous evil. For that reason, Jesus continues his prayer, turning his attention to us saying,
“11I am coming to you, Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
Why would we need to be protected? Perhaps because Jesus expects that his disciples – you and I – will be out there in the same world of evil that
he lived in, getting close enough to touch people like he did, breaking bread with people of all sorts, like he did.
It is out there with the people who others want to keep a safe distance away from that we are vulnerable and need God’s protection.
But perhaps the protection we need is not only against external threats, but also against internal ones. Maybe we need God’s protection against the kind of misplaced pride that would seduce us to look at anybody as beneath us in dignity or value. Perhaps we need God’s protection from the evil of feeling superior.
Notice that Jesus prays for our unity as well, “that they may be one, as we are one”. Nothing would kill our ability to be effective in ministry to the world of evil than disunity among ourselves. Imagine how powerful our ministry in Jesus’ name against the evils of our day would be if we worked together. This is clearly what Jesus wants for us, what he prays for us.
Barriers to Involvement
I have been thinking about that powerful story of Krishnan. I find it amazing that a Hindu person, not a Christian, felt compelled by human compassion to reach out to those abandoned mentally ill homeless people.
But it leaves me with a sobering question: why were they there? Why are they still there? Why are the streets of India home to abandoned mentally ill people? Are there no Christians there? Well, it is India; so perhaps not.
But then I think of the homeless people in our own country – many of whom are there because of serious mental illness. Why are they abandoned to the streets? Is it shameful or honorable to touch them, to feed them, to get them medication that can help them, to treat them with dignity?
In India the caste system is a huge ideological barrier that keeps people from feeling compassion for others. Can we claim the excuse of any ideological barriers between us and the people whom Jesus called, “the least of these brothers of mine”? Krishnan, for reasons of his own, was able to transcend that barrier. We Christians, on the other hand, have powerful incentives right in the heart of our faith to find honor in ministry to those in need.
We know this is what Jesus wants: this is what he prays for.
Does he get what he wants?
Who would stop him?
The video story of Krishna Narayanan comes from the program: “India: Eat, pray, give” from the “101 East” series on AlJazera.net