February 4, 2007 - Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
The Son of God
When we come to the second person of the Trinity it’s hard to know where to start. Christian doctrine about the Son of God is nearly all of Christian doctrine. Jesus Christ is the center of our faith. Everything we believe springs from who He is and what He did.
Jesus described Himself as God’s Son. In Luke 2:49, at twelve years of age, He spoke of being in His “Father’s house,” meaning the house of God. We’ve seen how Jesus called God Abba, “Daddy.” In Matthew 11:27, Jesus speaks of God as “my Father” and goes on to describe His unique relationship as Son of the Father.
There are several places where Jesus is called Son of God by others. The most important is Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16, where Jesus is identified both as the “son of the living God,” and as “the Christ” (Messiah). From the wrong side of the street, but with truth, come Satan’s words tempting Jesus in Matthew 4, “If you are the Son of God…” In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist (1:34), Nathanael (1:49) and Martha (whose confession in 11:27 rivals Peter’s) all state clearly that Jesus is the Son of God.
Christian believers wrestled with what it means for Jesus to be God’s Son. A child of a god was a common idea, and the church struggled to distinguish its understanding of Jesus from pagan conceptions. On one hand, being the Son implied inferiority. If He is the Son of God, then Christ must be less than God, subordinate to the Father.
On the other hand, if Jesus is God’s Son, then He is divine. Which seems to imply that He cannot be fully or truly human. The Son of God cannot really be the son of a human parent, and His humanity must be merely an illusion or costume assumed for our benefit.
Nonetheless, Christian faith through the centuries held tightly to the conviction that the Son of God is both fully and completely God, equal with the Father in glory and majesty, and fully and completely human, equal with us in vulnerability, weakness and suffering.
Scripture contains clear statements that the Son of God is wholly God. In John 10:30, He says, “I and the Father are one.” Asked by Philip to show the disciples the Father, Jesus in John 14:9 says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” At the same time, there are also clear indications of Jesus’ humanity. He has a human mother. He is tempted. He gets tired. He sleeps. He eats and drinks. He weeps and gets angry. He rejoices. Most of all, He suffers pain and dies.
So, as in Matthew 8:20, the Son of God also frequently called Himself, “the Son of Man.” Which brings us to that great mystery we call the Incarnation. The eternal Son, forever God, became at a particular moment in history, the Son of Mary, and our brother.
As he stepped into the shower, Scott felt once again that tight little pull in his side. He ran his hand over the scar and memory came flooding back.
When they brought her home, he was eight years old. “Meet your new sister, Scotty. This is Julie,” said Dad, as Mom cradled a squalling, red-faced little creature. She didn’t even look quite human to Scott. For several months, he did his best to ignore her. When she cried to be fed at night, he just covered his head with his pillow, turned over and tried to go back to sleep.
Gradually, however, as Julie learned to stand and then began to toddle around the house, sometimes following him, she grew on him. Though he never admitted then, especially not to his friends, he kind of liked his little sister. When she would crawl up beside him on the couch where he was hunched over in front of the television, clicking intensely at his game pad, it was nice to have her there, leaning her head on his arm and watching all the action with her bright brown eyes.
All too soon, it seemed, Julie lost her fascination with Scott’s games, and everything else about Scott. She began to have her own friends. Overnight, she changed from a cute little kid who squealed when he picked her up and swung her through the air, into a sullen, reclusive, pain-in-the-butt adolescent, who gave him endless grief when he left the toilet seat up, then just hid in her room yapping on her cell phone for hours. Most of the time he was just relieved when she left the house.
Scott lived at home, though he wasn’t there much anymore. He was in college and working part-time to pay for it. He would pound on the bathroom door for ten minutes to get Julie to end one of her eternal showers. Then he would squeeze by her in the doorway so he could take a leak and get to school. That was about all he saw of Julie, but he still knew when things began to go wrong for her.
He realized she was hanging with the sort of crowd he knew all too well. She dressed like those same edgy girls who used to get him wound when he was that age. As she walked in the door, he would catch a whiff of cigarettes and even another scent he recognized. He had a pretty good idea what sort of friends she had and what they did together.
Scott barely escaped that crowd himself. He too had been smoking, had done a joint or two, and was working up nerve for a little shot of crack, when it happened. They were all hanging downtown one evening when Larry Collins whipped out a pocket mirror and shook some powder on it. Scott had seen it before. The straw in the nose, the little white lines vanishing up Larry’s nostril, the girls all giggling and wide-eyed. But this time it went all wrong. Larry went berserk. He screamed that demons were after him, that the street lights were burning him. Before any of them could react, he had rushed out into traffic, right in front of one the new express buses that raced through town. He was dead before the ambulance even got there.
It was horrible for Larry’s parents and for Larry’s little brother. Strangely though, it may have been the best thing that ever happened to Scott. He ditched those friends. He threw away the plastic vial of crack he had been going to try. He started going to class and paying attention. Whatever happened, he didn’t want to end up like Larry, out of his mind and splattered across the front of a bus.
So Scott knew what Julie’s new friends were like. He had hung with kids just like them. And his heart ached as he saw her slipping further and further into their scene. He tried to talk to her, but she just laughed, brushed him off and said he didn’t understand. What did her big brother know?
Dad was gone, of course. Who knows where he had disappeared to after he ran off with that little tart from the shipping dock at work? Mom was working hard just to pay the mortgage and keep the lights turned on. She knew what was happening. Julie was breaking her heart, but every time Mom tried to lay down rules, to turn the tide, the result was only an ear-splitting scream-fest between mother and daughter. Julie would cry out obscenities that embarrassed even Scott, slam the door to her room, and crank some loser rap star up to nine, making the whole house vibrate with the bass.
So it was it was no surprise in his senior year of college, which had taken him six years to arrive at, that Julie disappeared. She was only fifteen, but there had been lots of nights already when she hadn’t come home till the morning or even the following afternoon. So neither he nor Mom got too worked that first night. Then a day came and went and the sun went down for a second time. She still wasn’t back. Scott got up the next morning and went to school, but couldn’t keep his mind on economics and investment banking. He ditched his last class of the day and came home to find Julie still gone.
He had an idea where to look. Back before Larry, he had hung out in places where he guessed Julie and her loser friends would still go. He got in his crummy old brown Ford Escort and aimed it downtown..
Tight little knots of teenagers clustered on the corners. He cruised, looking among them for a glimpse of the blood-red leather vest Julie wore over her black t-shirts. She wasn’t there. Finally, he parked and began to walk. First up the streets, looking in doorways. Then down the dark alleys, trying to stay out of the way of winos urinating in corners and dealers exchanging baggies for wads of cash. He was about to give it up when he spotted a little dash of crimson that looked familiar.
He crouched behind a dumpster and pulled away a flattened box. There curled up lay a form that bore little resemblance to the brown-eyed little girl who used to call him “Scotty.” He looked at the purple tint in her hair, at the rings in ears, nose and navel and God-knows where else. He saw the ugly tattoo creeping up her hip, beginning somewhere under her jeans. She smelled of vomit and urine. But worst of all, her face and arms and stomach and back were a patchwork of ugly bruises.
“Oh my God, little sister,” he breathed, “someone did it to you.” Some boyfriend, or maybe even a “john,” had beaten the hell out of her, tossed her here, and left her covered with a filthy bit of cardboard. Holding his own breath, he held out his hand in front of her nose and mouth. Tears came as he felt a little puff of her breath. She was still alive.
Gently, he picked her up. He was blocks from his car, so he simply began to walk, carrying her limp in his arms. He left the alley and made his way down the street past the other street rats who turned to stare. Another block and a half and he was standing in front of the Emergency Room. “They brought Larry here,” he recalled. He walked forward and the automatic doors parted. Someone looked up and then a nurse came round the counter. He laid Julie down on the floor, then sat down beside her and cried.
Hot water poured down his back as Scott remembered the haze of the next few days. They saved her. Julie was alive, but she was badly injured. He remembered how he sat with Mom as doctors explained how her assailant must have pounded her over and over with both fists hammering her sides. The short story was that her kidneys were ruined. She would be on dialysis the rest of her life. Unless…
He remembered the prick of the needle as they drew his blood. One in four. That was the chance it would even work, that his blood would match Julie’s. A long-shot, but the phone rang a few days later and a voice asked if he was still willing. He shook all over as he held the phone to his ear, but he had said, “Yes.”
Scott was still weak himself when they wheeled him down to Julie’s room after the operation. She was awake and her eyes had a little of their old brightness when she looked at him. She stared. Scott saw her eyes flick up behind him, then back to his face. He turned to see what she was looking at. Was she watching television when the brother who just risked his life for her was visiting? But high up on wall he saw only a little wood carving, a crucifix, just like the one he noticed hanging in his own hospital room. He turned to her. Julie looked up at the wooden figure again, then back to him. And she nodded.
That was last year. Scott shut the water off and ran his hand over the scar again. He toweled off and pulled on pants and a shirt. He went downstairs to find Julie at the table picking at a bagel. “Here,” he said, as he poured her a class of dark red juice, “it will go down better with this. You know the nutritionist said this juice is good for that kidney of mine.”
They finished breakfast and went out to the car. On the way to the high school, they passed the church. Scott didn’t quite remember how it happened, but one Sunday morning a few months ago the two of them had walked down the street and snuck in the back to listen as people sang funky songs and some guy talked about the Bible. Now they went there almost every week.
Scott sighed as Julie began her usual round of complaining before she even got to school. The other girls stared at her, talked behind her back. The boys she used to hang with winked at her and made ugly gestures. The teachers were stupid and dull and there was too much homework. What good was it all anyway? She was so far behind, she would never graduate. It was pointless. “I don’t want to go, Scott. I can’t do it anymore. I just can’t. Just take me home.”
He pulled up and stopped in the loop in front of the school. He sighed again, as he turned to look her in the eye and said, “Yes, you can. You can do it.” As he leaned over to kiss her on the cheek, she saw the silver chain fall out of his t-shirt. He wore it all the time now, molded in bright metal, that same figure she’d seen on the hospital wall. A man, with his legs contorted and arms outstretched across a wooden beam. He saw her eyes move to it and he fingered it a moment. She got out of the car. “You can do it,” he said again, half to himself. “You can do it. I know you can. He knows you can.”
So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters… Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death… For this reason he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way… Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj