Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 14:5-31) transports me to a fog-shrouded Transylvania train station where the esteemed Dr. Frederich Frankenstein, pronounced “Fronk-en-steen,” is met by the hooded hunch-backed servant Igor, pronouced “Eye-gore,” who is there to lead Dr. Frankenstein to the estate he has recently inherited. Mel Brooks uses this movie scene to introduce a classic vaudeville bit, as Marty Feldman’s Igor takes the good Dr.’s suitcase and leads him toward his destination with a simple, walk this way. Gene Wilder’s Frankenstein follows the instruction quite literally, and starts walking in the same hunchbacked manner. Cue the rim shot. The original vaudeville sketch has an overweight woman coming into a pharmacy for some talcom powder. The bow-legged pharmacist heads to an aisle and says, walk this way, to which the woman replies, If I could walk that way I wouldn’t need the talcom powder. Cue another rim shot.
Jesus is hardly employing a Mel Brooks comedy bit when he instructs his disciples to obey all his commands, to walk this way. He has spent three years walking the Kingdom Way, modeling the abundant life, and he doesn’t want it to have fallen on deaf ears. He gives some clear marching orders: if his followers really love him, they will keep all his commands. Pure and simple. Four times in this short passage he equates love with obeying his commands, walking his way. Some folks out there in Christendom have done us the favor of counting up Jesus’ commands, and it turns out there are fifty of them. Some are spiritual in nature, difficult to establish a standard rubric or metric for measuring and seeing if we are indeed walking that way or not. The greatest command, love God, is an example. Others are quite practical in nature, fairly simple to measure and determine if we’re following them or not, such as wash each others’ feet and do not store up treasures here on earth. Still others are measurable but quite difficult to follow, no matter how hard we might try, such as love your enemies and don’t worry about the future. Given the reality that some of those easily measured and practical mandates, such as wash one another’s feet are carried out only by a tiny minority of believers, we also have to deal with the sticky matter of interpretation, gleaning the underlying principles and timeless truths behind culturally specific practices. I don’t personally know of a single purveyor of God said I believe it that settles it who washes other believers’ feet on a regular basis, or who has not got some earthly treasure stored up in a bank somewhere. The reality is more like, God said it, we all interpret it, and hardly any of it is settled. But this does not let us off the hook; we in the believing community, we who claim to love Jesus, still do our best to walk this way and follow his commands, with the light and aid of the Holy Spirit as best we can. It’s a tough set of marching orders, especially when we are walking with shoes muddied by 1700 years of imperial church history that has given us the idea that loving Christ means following the way of worldly power, concentrated wealth, violent conquest of enemies, and discrimination against all whose difference threatens our sense of identity in some way. No wonder Jesus knew that we wouldn’t be able to do it on our own, without divine intervention. The Spirit has its work cut out for it, given the hatchet job our culture has done on the commands.
A few months after the movie Young Frankenstein hit the theaters in the mid 70s, another classic of American culture arrived on the scene – Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic. One of the hit songs from the album, Walk This Way, was actually inspired by the Marty Feldman and Gene Wilder gag, as the band watched a late-night showing of the movie while they were in the midst of recording the album. I was listening to the car radio today when Walk This Way came on. It was another opportunity for the muse to strike and fill my head with a rock-hymn mash-up. I replaced Steven Tyler’s lyrical homage to schoolyard sexual adventures with John Sammis’ old school hymn lyrics: When we walk with the Lord, by the Light of His word, what a glory He sheds on our way, While we do His good will, He abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey. As often happens with these mashups, the hymn melody works perfectly across the Joe Perry guitar riffs, and ends just in time for the screaming chorus of walk this way! to take over. If that sounds crazy and a bit warped to you, it is. It’s that level of warped craziness we are dealing with every day when we try to create mashups of Jesus’ commands to create a beloved community with the cultural riffs of violence and screaming solos of rugged individualism that make up the soundtracks of our daily lives in America.
How 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.