“If you had known. . . , you would not have condemned the innocent.” The words jump off the page at me.
“The innocent?” I want to object.
It’s uncomfortable to find myself standing with the Pharisees who are calling Jesus’ attention to the disciples’ misdemeanor and feel my finger pointing too. I’m not sure I like this company, and I’m quite sure I don’t want to be seen to be part of it. But I’m also not ready to let the dispute go.
“But. . .but. . .” I stammer, taken aback, not wanting to let Jesus get away with this distortion of truth. “But they’re wrong! Scripture says so!”
Apparently Jesus has a different view than I of what it means to be innocent.
And a different view of who gets to make that call.
“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:7)
With that statement and two brief stories, Jesus critiques the Pharisees’ lovelessness, defends his disciples, and shows himself to be the gentle Savior who frees his people from fear of getting it wrong.
And with that statement, Jesus critiques my lovelessness, and my fear, and the legalism which can spring from fear. Because as I hear his words—“if you had known. . . you would not have condemned the innocent”—I’m not looking at his disciples who are daring to pick grain on the Sabbath but at other lovers of Jesus who are wrestling to offer almost-impossible-to-articulate, life-giving mystery, and, in their attempt, are rubbing up against my fears.
Jesus is busy blowing open my boxes these days. He seems to be particularly good at doing that—letting light and air in, and then, eventually, me, others, and Himself out of the boxes in which I keep trying to stuff us to keep us all safe. He’s encouraging me to ask hard questions about what the truth is and why it matters.
One of those questions is what it means that Christ is in us. The question is pressing up against me in blog posts and facebook posts, books and sermons, conversations and presentations and paintings, and I am realizing again that “All good theology is done on the cliff-edge—one step too far and you tumble into idolatry, one step back and the view is never so good.”1.
How do we fully embrace the truth that Christ is in us without subtly slipping into new age philosophy—or sounding like we are? A few years ago, the question would have surprised me. The two are so vastly different—how could they be confused? They are immeasurably different. But is it also possible that I haven’t seen either the edge or the full wonder of the truth because fear has kept me standing a mile or two away from the cliff? And is it possible that Jesus is reaching out his hand to take mine and saying, “Come, child of mine. Let’s go a little closer to the truth so I can show you what I’ve been talking about”? Maybe sometimes the only way to see clearly is to go, with Jesus, right up to the edge. Right into mystery.
The question of Christ is in us is not a minor one. We daren’t just stay away from the cliff. Paul calls this “glorious mystery” of Christ in us “the word of God in its fullness.” This, he says, is where our hope lies. (Colossians 1:25-27)
Jesus, too, situates this truth at the center of the gospel and our life as His followers in the world.
“On that day, you will realize that I am in the Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)
It is, Jesus says, the only way to a fruitful Christian life.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. . .” (John 15:4)
It’s the only way into a Christian life at all. Anything less than living in Christ and Christ in us is something other than Christianity.
It matters enough that Jesus’ longing for us to know and live the truth of our in-Christ-ness filled his final conversation and prayer before he headed to the cross where he would take the next step of making our in-Christ-ness possible (John 14-17).
It matters enough to study and pray to articulate such mysteries as truly as we can.
But the apostle who made famous the phrase “in Christ” and, I suspect, understood its mysteries better than any human who has ever lived (except, of course, for Jesus) also wrote this: “If I . . . can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, . . . but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:2)
Actually living in Christ is a lot more important than being able to talk about it, and that looks a lot like love.
I take the hand Jesus is offering and let him lead me out of the finger-pointing crowd and toward the cliff. I’m glad of his hand; I want to see, but I’m not so fond of heights.
By this time next week, we’ll be into Advent, that season in which we prepare to welcome again God’s coming not just to live with us, but in us. What better time to take another peek at the mystery of in? We won’t “solve” the mystery—Christian mysteries can’t be solved, only lived—but we’ll ask Jesus to point out some markers that will help us recognize the cliff edge, and to free us to live a little more deeply into the mystery that, as Christ’s people, we really are in Him and He in us.
1.Jeremy Begbie, Theology, Music and Time (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 279.