Rev. Jim Ryan, Ph.D.
Today’s Gospel passage (Luke 13:22-30) contains a familiar story Jesus tells about the head of household who welcomes many and refuses some into the safety of the enclosed home. To those who are refused this owner says, “I do not know who you are.”
Here are my two issues with making too much of this rejection by the head of household. First, as scholars tell us, is the fact that Luke’s Gospel has no overall theological theme or framework; not like John, for example, who plays off the themes of Light and Darkness in his Gospel. Luke, we are informed, was written to the widening geographical spread of the Christian community, in particular to the Gentile Christians. The aim here, evidently, was to tell the story of Jesus and respond in a narrowly targeted fashion to questions and situations that had already arisen among Jesus’ first followers. It appears that Luke’s Gospel was written around the years 48-50 CE, likely after the Council of Jerusalem where it was decided that people did not have to become Jewish to become a full follower of Jesus. This had the unfortunate effect, as reflected in this passage from Luke, of narrowly and prejudiciously focusing on the Jews as a recalcitrant people who rejected Jesus.
Today’s gospel story lines up with that context and is the basis of my first issue with this story. We see the owner of the house say that people from all over are coming in to the house except “you locals” who are those people to whom, for the most part, Jesus went out to teach. As a consequence this message of rejection, this “I do not know who you are, you evildoers” (13:27), became the justification throughout history for anti-semitism among Christians generally.
My second issue is the irony of this statement in that the owner – in this case a very thinly veiled pointing to Jesus – knows exactly who these people are. And this gives me a good reason this morning to turn the phrase around from “I do not know you,” to “I know you.”
This weekend Jean and I have been spending time with friends. We go way back together. Let’s face it we are very old friends of more than 55 years. But, you know, the greatest thing about friends spending time together after so long a tme is that you get to be 20 years old again. Another thing is you get to say to each other “I know you” with all the care and affection which that phrase positively entails.
Today the head of the household, by dismissing his neighbors with the phrase, “I do not know you,” is, I think we can all agree, actually saying the opposite which is, “I know you.” Would you agree that it is true that we can know each other through disappointment and disagreement? Would you also agree that we can know each other by the gifts we give and share? Did I mention that we friends have gathered to celebrate the Birthday, a little belatedly, of our dear friend and brother, Deacon Jim? He can tell you the number – but it’s one of those that ends with a zero.
We have extended to him and to each other gifts of support, interest, care, listening, wishing we were geographically closer; gifts that build friendship and celebrate love; gifts that allow us to say to each other, “I know you.” Such gifts are true treasures of life.
We do all this because we are human beings who attempt to find peaceful and exemplary ways that put into practice the best of ourselves. Even though time, necessity, and life decisions have created distance we have memories that form our thanksgiving for the friends of youth. When any one of us takes time to appreciate the endearing and enduring paths we share, I think we make real the physical, intellectual, and spiritual depths of a very intentional level of community. The long game of friendship, of saying, “I know you,” is being there. Let me repeat for those who find philosophy a daunting challenge, “The long game of friendship is being there.”
So, why are we here? To celebrate the gifts we are to each other? Certainly. To say to one another, “I know you” and see the depths where such knowledge takes us? Absolutely. To acknowledge the mutual care and sharing of friends? No question.
But let me encourage us all to look further and deeper into this knowledge we share. Because of all the gifts we share and recognizing the shared knowledge that accompanies this sharing, we come to the further and deeper knowledge that there is one thing with which we are not equipped. We do not give each other the gift of ultimate faith. The source of this gift is the One who knows us totally. All our friendships and all our knowledge serve as metaphors of this relationship in which we are known totally.
“To know as I am known” is an insight shared among the followers of Jesus Christ from their beginning. In Galatians 4:9 St. Paul writes, “Now that you have come to know God – or rather, have been known by God…” And in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “My knowledge is imperfect now; then I shall know even as I am known.” Let’s be clear. To be known by God is the ultimate gift of faith that awaits our discovery, a discovery that occurs every day when we acknowledge the “God who comes.” In its light this knowledge which friends have of each other is a mere pointer to the One by whom I am known. This Creator is the source of faith. We gather here as friends celebrating the love of the One who gathers us together in the here and now as well as, say, 57 years ago.
While it is clearly evident that we build up faith in each other, especially in life-long friendships, by the gifts we share, I hope it is just as clear this morning that the Source of the ultimate gift is the One whose knowledge transcends this life. For while you and I may be the source of the gift of friendship and while we celebrate the mutuality of care which is friendship’s hallmark, we look beyond ourselves for Revelation’s gift of faith.
Just as St. Paul taught clearly on the limits of our knowledge, so have Christian philosophers and theologians acknowledged that we do not gift each other with ultimate faith. In his book, “Act and Being,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer explores ways of knowing God and of God knowing us particularly in the case of faith and knowledge. He wrote, “Revelation cannot be extracted from speculation about human existence as such.” In other words, even as we grow deeper in our friendships, building faith and trust in each other, in the end these merely point to the One in whom “I am known.” Who needs speculation when the experience of God who comes into our lives reveals knowledge that sustains each one’s gift of faith.
I conclude with praise to God for life-long friends who know us and whom we know. With thanks to the One in whom we are known we celebrate this unending faith. And in the everyday, I will be satisfied with “being there” for friends.
A Prayer (Prayers for an Inclusive Church)
God of restless fire, and urgent river’s flow;
unsettle the false peace which hides the divisions of your people.
You know us only too well.
Unfold our hearts to sense your presence; unloose your reign and
make us one in Jesus Christ the first of many sisters and brothers.