Posted by: HAT | January 11, 2015

Baptism of Jesus

The Baptism of Our Lord icon at Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent

The Baptism of Our Lord icon at Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent

Hi, Gang!

The Uniform Series International Bible Lesson for Christian Teaching lesson for this morning is John 17:6-21, in which Jesus says “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (v. 11) and “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” (v. 20-21)

The commentaries for the day for Sunday school teachers are all about Christian unity. Like, should we have denominations, and should the denominations split over things like marriage equality or is this against the explicit command of Jesus Christ. (This was one of the commentaries I know someone in the class will have read.)

It seems to me we (at least, the folks in my class; ok, I) have no clue what the speech in these verses means. I am one of those people who is supposed to know things, and mainly what I know is that I am completely baffled, as I am most of the time when I read the Gospel of John beyond the little snippets that get into the Revised Common Lectionary. This text is mysterious and obscure, and I wish more people would just admit it.

Assuming for the moment that Jesus actually said this or something like it, I really doubt that what “we” mean by “unity” is what Jesus was talking about here, and it’s not clear to me we have the adequate language to get a whole lot closer. I don’t think he is talking about agreement on doctrinal issues; I don’t think he is talking about organizational boundaries and policies; I don’t think he is talking about living arrangements or labels or church attendance or worship practices. Maybe he is talking about something like “the harmonious agreement of parts or elements into one united whole” or “the arrangement of parts into a homogeneous whole exhibiting oneness of purpose, thought, spirit, and style; the subordination of all parts to the general effect” that is aesthetic unity; or maybe he is talking about something like “singleness or constancy of purpose, action, etc.” that is dynamic, functional unity.

But honestly, I suspect that he is talking about something that is more mystical than that, less congenial to our everyday rational mode of thinking, and is more like whatever the reality is that from time to time produces the sense that, in one’s or the group’s thought, feeling and action a kind of acting-out of a larger self or narrative is taking place. (OK, so maybe I lied when I said we don’t have adequate language to get closer … since this enterprise of getting closer is almost the whole point of language … but I still don’t think this is really that close …)

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