Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
In the various movies of recent decades in which God has made an on-screen appearance–I’m thinking here of George Burns in Oh God and Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty–we discover among the rather commonplace morality that Hollywood can espouse the inevitable oddities of language that would naturally follow when God himself speaks. When George Burns is sworn in to court, he finishes the oath by saying, “So help me me.” You have to wonder if God, in their mind, would text “OMM.” But then how can an omniscient God be sufficiently surprised to want to text such a thing?
Obviously, those who write such scripts either never read or didn’t pay close attention to Job. Somehow the smug Morgan-Freeman God doesn’t quite seem like the one who asked, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” If those writers were creating a scene surrounding Jesus in today’s verse, they’d have something like this:
Peter: Hey Jesus, what are you doing out here?
Jesus: Just talking to myself.
Peter: Whoa! That sounds crazy. Next thing you know you’ll claim to be God!
Happily, they haven’t written that script, but the question does arise: If Jesus is, as we claim, God Incarnate, then why does he need to go out and pray to himself? Like the trivial oddities of language that the oh-so-clever Hollywood writers deploy in their comedies, the oddities that come when you suggest a character as fully man and fully God simply demand attention.
In reality, I can’t understand the behavior or plumb the thoughts of my own wife after 30 years of marriage. How could I ever hope to understand the God-Man in all his complexity. Answer? I can’t. But I do observe that Jesus, “being in very nature God,” did roll out of bed early in the morning and head out to pray. Perhaps he need the prayer time to keep him from simply obliterating the petty and self-serving people who claimed to be his biggest fans!
This morning, I rolled out of bed with the alarm, went immediately to the bathroom and performed my morning routine. What I did not do was brave the chill to spend a few minutes in prayer. You’d think, needing it so much more than Jesus did, I would follow his lead more carefully, but I didn’t. How about you?
And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” (Hebrews 2:13)
As I write this, I am entering the end-of-semester grading version of the Bataan Death March. Papers have accumulated on my desk and in my email inbox. I run a very real risk of having a pile of term papers topple over and pin me to the floor. A week from now, though, this ordeal will be nearly ended. I will have tamed the paper beast to a reasonable nuisance. By the end of next week, I’ll be dealing with a few whining, stumbling stragglers.
When it all ends, I will have brought 50 people through Composition I, 25 through Composition II, 1 through World Literature, 25 through Drama, 25 through Bible as Literature, and 10 through American Literature. Yes, it’s been a full semester. In a sense, these students are my intellectual or at least academic children. Some of them, like some normal children, don’t much appreciate my efforts at scholastic parentage. Others, happily, do.
Yesterday, I saw a former student–I’m pretty sure he was a former student–at Burger King. I couldn’t put a name to him and he showed no sign of recognizing me. That’s pretty poor parenthood, wouldn’t you say.
Jesus, it seems, is not simply our brother, the firstborn of God’s family, but is a parent as well. Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor, but no metaphor can contain the fullness of God’s being. As such a parent, he brings uncounted sons and daughters to holiness and glory. He will not forget us, nor will he think the labor too much. In fact, the labor–the “paper grading”–has been finished for centuries.
But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)
Have you ever watched Undercover Boss? In this show, CEOs from big corporations disguise themselves and work in low-level jobs for a period of time, all the while being followed by a camera crew. You’d think that after the first couple of episodes of this show had been aired, the jig would be up and nobody would be able to maintain the charade. Still, week after week CEOs manage to work in convenience stores, garbage trucks, or manufacturing plants, apparently unrecognized by anyone.
This is what happened when Jesus came into this world. The ultimate CEO came into the rabble and lived his life. Of course, Jesus wasn’t followed around by video cameras, so it’s understandable that people didn’t catch on to his identity. On the TV show, the CEO reveals himself at the end, doling out rewards to his good employees and humbly sharing what he learned. It’s amazing that these people never seem to discover slacker, antisocial employees in their organizations. Jesus, of course, returned to his “executive office.” He doesn’t share any things that he learned during his undercover stint, but he certainly has some goodies for even the less-than-stellar followers.
I don’t think we can overemphasize the role change that Jesus underwent, going from Heaven to here, putting off the trappings of Deity to take on human flesh. TV’s undercover bosses do their role reversal for a week or so. Presumably they go home at night. Jesus did his reversal for 33 years, spending 24 hours a day in the land of smelly humans. While the undercover boss does his thing to boost stock prices and his own performance, Jesus did his for us: worthless, ungrateful wretches living in open defiance of the creator of the universe.
That’s a difference that will echo long, long after Undercover Boss has long since been replaced by some sappy sitcom.
We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. (Hebrews 2:1)
I’ve quit a lot of things in my life. In high school, I quit the wrestling team. Piano lessons bit the dust somewhere along the line. I quit my first real job, working for the Boy Scouts. At present, I’ve quit working as a volunteer for the Boy Scouts. I’ve quit drinking Diet Coke about a thousand times. Many people have much more experience quitting things than do I, but I am no amateur in that pursuit.
There’s nothing wrong with quitting things. After all, if we never quit anything, our lives would be utterly jammed. The problem is when we quit the important things. I’ve known of people who walked away from marriage, got out of the habit of parenting, drifted away from prayer, and quit other vital things.
The author of Hebrews spent the entire first chapter of his letter establishing the importance of Jesus Christ, establishing Jesus as something that we cannot afford to simply have fade from our lives. Justin Bieber can be forgotten, but not Christ. American Idol can fade from view, but not Jesus.
Christ should be like the air we breathe–there’s a song to that effect, isn’t there? When we withdraw from him, we should almost immediately notice the loss. Our lungs should ache, needing the nourishment that comes with each breath. That’s how it ought to be, but the presence of this verse in Hebrews suggests that since the very dawn of the Christian age, the drift away danger has been a very real and present one.
That we’re reading (and writing) these words, suggests that we’re attending to the things we’ve heard and endeavoring not to drift away. May that always be the case.