Jesus Is Like Chocolate

kid eating chocolate
Photo credit: <a href="">Claudio Núñez</a>

John 20:19-31

That same Sunday evening the students had locked themselves inside the house and barred the doors. They were afraid of the Jews. Nevertheless, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, “Peace!” Then Jesus showed them his hands and his side, and his students were elated to see him. Jesus said, “Peace! As God sent me, I’m sending you.” Then he blew on them and told them, “Be the wind of God.” If you forgive anyone’s wrongdoing, they will be forgiven. If you don’t they won’t.”

Tom, however, (he’s the one of the twelve everyone called the double) wasn’t there when Jesus came, and when the others told him about it, he said, “I don’t believe you. Not unless I see the nail marks on his hands with my own fingers, and feel his side with my own hand.”

The next week, the students were in the house again, and this time Tom was there. And again, in spite of the doors being shut, Jesus appeared among them and said, “Peace!” Then he said to Tom, Put your fingers here. See my hands. And put your hand here. Feel my side. Don’t remain skeptical. Believe it!”

Tom said, “My God, it is you!”

Then Jesus said, “Seeing is believing indeed! But those who haven’t seen and who still embrace me have it even better.”

Jesus did a lot of other things, too. His students saw it all. But they’re not written down here. What’s included here ought to be enough to convince you that Jesus is the Chosen One. And if you by him, you’ll really be living.

There are two ways to believe something.

First, there is the way we typically think of believing. We believe that a proposition is true. It’s a matter of saying yes or no about something. That it corresponds to a particular sequence of events that is empirically verifiable. It’s a mind thing. That’s the “seeing is believing” part. Tom won’t affirm the fact until he can see it for himself. And why should we blame him? Most rational people would say the same.

But there is a second kind of believing, which has nothing to do with propositions. It’s not about a mental acknowledgment of fact. It’s about orientation. Believing in this second sense, is orienting one’s life toward something that may or may not be a present reality, but which is nevertheless compelling.

An example. Chocolate. In the first sense, I can say yes or no, that chocolate is or isn’t the most delicious flavor on earth. I can base my opinion on the empirical evidence of having myself tasted thousands of different things. In the second sense, though, I can believe in chocolate by orienting my life around it, making everything I do about chocolate. Strive for chocolate. Look forward to savoring chocolate at every opportunity. You can’t argue with me about this kind of believing. It’s the way I live. Ask a kid eating a chocolate bar if she believes in chocolate. The question makes no sense. It’s not something to be believed. It’s something to be eaten.

In this scene, Jesus says that to believe in him in the first sense, to mentally assent to his existence in whatever way your mind is able to come to a favorable conclusion – that’s fine as far as it goes. What’s even better is to reorient your life by him. And for that, you don’t need to have seen anything.

Are You Standing on Ceremony?

mass baptism
Photo credit: <a href="">Simon Helle Nielsen</a>

Acts 19:1-7

While Apollos stayed in Corinth, Paul went inland until he reached Ephesus. When he arrived, he found some followers and asked them, “Did you receive the divine spirit when you believed?”

They said, “We’ve got no idea what you’re talking about – this divine spirit.”

So Paul asked, “What kind of baptism did you receive?”

They said, “John baptized us.”

Paul said, “John’s baptism was about people’s changing their lives, and to teach people to believe in the one coming after John, namely Jesus.”

When they heard this, they agreed to be re-baptized in Jesus’ name. And then, when Paul prayed over them, the divine spirit came over them and they began to speak in strange languages and to speak of the future.

In all there were about 12 of them.

This story has its roots in the need, early on after Jesus, to distinguish Jesus followers from those of John the Baptist. It’s entire aim is to clarify that Christianity is the “Johnanity 2.0,” the replacement to which everyone must immediately upgrade. The new version comes with a “divine spirit” that enables instant foreign language ability and soothsaying.

Jesus himself never says anything about baptism, except to acknowledge that many people went to John for it (for example, Mat 11:7 and parallels). He never implied that John’s baptism was insufficient. In fact, the gospels are unanimous in representing Jesus as having received the divine spirit at John’s baptism.

Nevertheless, as the Acts story has it, Paul deputizes these 12 other disciples to become the authorized agents of Jesus to the old school, the isolated, and the laggards who haven’t yet got the new official version of the story.

As problematic as it is, there may in fact be a case that “someone’s religion isn’t good enough.” But it’s not likely what everyone usually thinks of when such accusations fly.

Because as problematic as it is, historically, institutionally, and ethically, this story does have one hugely important take-away. It implies that standing on ceremony as one’s intention to change your life isn’t enough. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The difference between Jesus’ baptism at John’s hands and the same symbolic action undertaken by these 12, is that Jesus did something about it. These other 12 just went back home to resume life as it always had been. The ceremony hadn’t changed anything. And, if you will extend Paul the benefit of the doubt, it may have been their unchanged-ness that caused Paul to question whether they really believed anything substantial at all.

In this regard, there are certainly any number of modern examples of “disciples” who have been baptized, but who nobody would ever know for all the difference it’s made in their character.