As I sit with family and we share memories of our recently deceased Dad I am struck by the paradox things that make up life, Most of us know what a paradox is. It is the ability to hold two seemingly contradictory impulses together. The Christian faith and life is full of paradoxes. Jesus is, we confess in the Nicene Creed, both fully human and fully divine. How can he be two different things fully? It is a paradox— we don’t understand how, quite frankly, but we know both statements are true. This week’s readings are animated by a similar paradox. Peter describes his Jewish audience as those who “handed over” and “rejected” Jesus, in language that makes us uncomfortable given the long history of prejudice Christians have shown Jews.
At the same time, the one offering this sermon and indictment himself denied and deserted Jesus. How is it that the one who deserted his Lord now accuses others of handing him over? Similarly, John says that no one who abides in Jesus sins, and that those who sin do not know Jesus. Yet all of us sin, including the one who wrote this letter. At Emmaus, the disciples are at one and the same time frightened by Jesus’ sudden appearance, overjoyed to see him, and filled with wonder and disbelief. How does all that happen at once?
Across these readings, we are invited to behold a paradox. God is holy, righteous, and pure and cannot tolerate those who are sinful who turn away from him. Yet although we manifestly are not holy, righteous, or pure— including Jesus’ own disciples— we are nevertheless called children of God and used by God to share the news of God’s love with all people. How can this be? We do not know. It is a paradox. We may not understand it, but we know both statements are true.
Added to that from the Luke 24 reading we can see what happened to Jesus was not a random act of ugliness, not simply another in a long series of cruelties and indignities that powerful and corrupt people have foisted upon the weak, the innocent, and the good. Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection were a part of God’s long-term effort to deal with the very human problems of sin, evil, hatred, discord, and death. The history of the world is one long litany of bad things people as individuals and as communities and as nations have done to one another.
The only way forward is the way of the Christ, the way of the cross. Jesus came and lived among us and showed us that the one who had the most right to revenge, the best claim to satisfaction, chose to go another way. God, in Christ, turned away from revenge and embraced justice; turned away from our death and through his own death gave us life. “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” This is the world’s only hope, our only way out of the continual cycle of offense and revenge, of wrong piled upon wrong in a deadly game of king of the hill.
The only way to bring an end is the gospel call for repentance and forgiveness— not simply in a private and individual way but also in a communal and corporate manner. What if we heard it and witnessed to it in this way: “We— as a people— are called to turn together from ways that lead to death, and we— as a people— are called to turn together to follow ways that lead to newness of life.”