We like to imagine Jesus as a nice, relaxed hipster spreading love, but an extremely quick read of the red letters in your New Testament Gideon pocket Bible betrays otherwise. Jesus gets real nasty real quick with a certain audience of fellas who think no one can see their toupee.
In chapter 8 of the Gospel according to John, Jesus follows John the Baptizer’s lead and tells the Pharisees questioning him that their father is the devil. Both Jesus and John knew that these guys relied on their genetic pedigree as sons of Abraham. They assumed the Messiah would naturally like them and hang with them because of their blood. It didn’t matter how they behaved. Although, on that note, they definitely were crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s.
“You are doing the works of your own father,” said Jesus. “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me.“
Jesus wasn’t just trying to make them feel bad. Jesus only has forgiveness to hand out. He doesn’t have any pats on the head or kitties hanging from a clothing line “keep trying” poster. You only access the Kingdom of God through forgiveness. You only walk out of your grave through forgiveness. You can only be in the presence of God through forgiveness. Neither good works nor pedigree will get you VIP passes to the Lord. So if you don’t think you need forgiveness, then you will be stuck in the lawn seats outside the pavilion at the Vampire Weekend concert.
A few of those guys got it, though they cowardly snuck to see Jesus in the night. The rest killed Him because He made them feel terrible about themselves. Someone had to die for sins, and it wasn’t going to be them!
Sometimes I feel bad for those Pharisees who had some real father-son issues. They say that can really mess with your brain. How a boy gets along with His dad, or whether he even has a dad, can determine his success in life. These poor lost sons had come to believe their father loved them because of what they did. His love was tied to a performance review, like the office.
This past week, we celebrated Father’s Day. Unfortunately, many people in our communities aren’t so happy on Father’s Day. Their dad might have been like the Pharisees’ concept of God: a boss. Many men and women are out there still trying to please their dad, trying to fill that damn hole of disappointment. Others are sitting in our congregation who have stopped caring altogether. “Screw him, I’ll do what I want! I don’t need his approval or his love!”
People’s concept of God, like their concept of their fathers, subconsciously drives their behaviors and beliefs in themselves and the world.
God sent His Son to all of us who have daddy issues, who think we are judged by our deeds, who believe deep in our hearts that our father’s love is dependent on our performance. God sent His Son, His only Son, whom He loves, to save other sons and daughters whom He loves. Why does He love them? Because He does. He doesn’t accept us for who we are. He loves us despite who we are. He does something far greater than accepts us. He loves us. He forgives us.
The only Son that can claim a perfect performance for His dad destroyed the world of Karma, tit for tat, survival of the fittest and all that. It’s now OK to look at ourselves in the mirror and point out the failures. We don’t have to pretend. We don’t have to claim we deserve a seat at the table and don’t have to find loopholes to wiggle out of the law. We can stop trying to please our Father so that He will love us! If you don’t believe that, just look at His Son on the cross!