Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 12:37-50) transports me to a boat crossing the sea from Florin to Guilder with four passengers: the Spanish swordsman Inigo, the hippopotamic giant Fezzick, the captive Buttercup, and the lisping ringleader of the group, the short, bald Sicilian, Vizzini. Vizzini mistakenly thinks he has masterminded the perfect crime, but finds that someone is swimming in the sea, pursuing the boat. This he finds inconceivable, a word that he keeps spitting out throughout the scene. The prospect of anyone being anywhere near them is, in his words, absolutely, totally, and in all other ways, inconceivable. As the Dread Pirate Roberts gets closer and closer, all Vizzini can say is inconceivable. Finally, Inigo says to him, You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Much like Vizzini from Princess Bride, the ringleaders of the faith community in early first century Palestine, the Pharisees, found the prospects of Jesus being the Messiah absolutely, totally, and in all other ways, inconceivable. It didn’t matter what Jesus did, all they could say was inconceivable. No matter how many miracles he performed, they simply could not believe it. Unbelievable. In-credible. It came as no surprise to Jesus; he had read the script and knew what to expect. Isaiah had laid it all out – the good news not only lacked credibility among those who were captivated by the dreams of a restored imperial power – the good news of a Suffering Servant had a deafening and blinding effect on them. As long as they maintained an ideology based on their exceptionality, on the power of their goodness, on the differences between them and the rest of the world, these ringleaders could expect their hearts to be hardened by none other than God. It is the height of spiritual irony, that those who had the strongest and deepest belief in God, the Pharisees, were plagued by disbelief when the embodiment of God actually entered their midst.
Perhaps Inigo’s words to Vizzini would have been appropriate to those hard-hearted incredulous Pharisees who found Jesus to be unbelievable. Perhaps we need a Spanish swordsman to say to those righteous Pharisees of our time, who so strongly claim belief but find the Way of Jesus unbelievable, You keep using that word, “believe.” I do not think it means what you think it means. My experience is that many of the professing believers of our time have confused belief with credal adherence. Just believe the right words: Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae, et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius unicum, Dominum nostrum, qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine, passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus, descendit ad inferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis, ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Patris omnipotentis. . . I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. . . Is that belief, to memorize and recite and understand credal statements such as these to be true? Or does the word belief signify something different, something more? Could it possibly mean adhering not to a set of words, a vocabulary, but adhering to a Way? Perhaps, as Jesus inferred in this passage, it is about following the Lighted Path toward life in a world darkened by discrimination, greed, and violence. It means trusting a path of grace and all-inclusive love enough to actually take it, to follow it, to risk your life for it. So believing in Jesus isn’t demonstrated by a recitation of words, but by adherence to a Way. That’s why a died-in-the-wool evangelist like Billy Graham can say there will be people of other faiths in heaven. Even though these who reject the religion of Christianity recite a different creed and use a different vocabulary of faith, they are trusting the Way of grace and love; they are following the Light of Christ. The ringleaders of religious exclusivity in our day and time continue to spit at such a prospect – inconceivable. But like the Dread Pirate Roberts, Jesus does not allow their inability to conceive of his presence outside their boxes to slow him down or prevent him from showing up in the least expected places. Thanks be to God.
What about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.