Easter 4C: I Am Because You Are
By: Jerrod McCormack
Consider for a moment, what might it feel like to be a stranger in a foreign land? What if you knew no one? What if you didn’t speak the language? Just a couple days ago, Canada welcomed it’s 25,000th Syrian Refugee. The government had pledged to open its borders to 25,000 Syrians fleeing from that war torn country. While I might not understand what it is like to flee a country that is war torn, I do understand what it means to be a stranger in a foreign land. I immigrated to Canada just a short ten months ago. To say it was culture shock for this southern boy to be sat down in the midst of the Great White North would be an understatement. I wish that I could tell you that everyone in Canada was ready to welcome the refugees with open arms, but that was certainly not the case. Facilitating diversity in any nation is a challenging task.
In my experience, Canada is a remarkably welcoming and diverse country. The image that
is used to talk about the multi-cultural nature of this country is that of a mosaic. The mosaic image is one where each person and each group of people retain their own identity, but they are integrated into the larger image of the whole. The work of constructing a mosaic is intense and requires painstaking hours in planning and construction. Most of all, it requires us to open our hearts to relationship. It is in genuine relationship with those we previously thought of as “other” that we learn to see the soul.
One of the most beautiful experiences that I’ve had living and working in Canada was chatting with a lovely Muslim woman who described to me the beauty of her faith. It was simultaneously simple and yet so profound. Her confession of a God who was infinitely merciful and loving was a transformation for me. I won’t soon forget my own experience as my blinders were taken away. I realized that she was not that different from me. She had hopes and dreams and fears and longings and, at the core of our souls, we speak the same language. We are divided by culture and by faith and by gender and so many other labels, but there I was, confronted with an essential oneness in the soul of the human experience.
Our Gospel story begins with a very human experience: confusion. Just before this passage, the people gathered around Jesus are divided. Some say Jesus has a demon and others say that he couldn’t possibly have a demon and do the good deeds he is doing. They don’t understand how to categorize Jesus and his works. They come and beg of Jesus, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus responds to the people gathered around him in what is one of seven times in the Gospel that Jesus uses the phrase “I have told you” or a close variation. John loves the number seven. There are seven miracles, seven “I am” statements and apparently, seven “I have told you’s.”
Here Jesus says, “I have told you, but you do not believe.” He explains how all the miracles that he does bear witness to God’s working in him, but more than that, they bear witness to the truth that Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus says is verses 29 and 30, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” This essential oneness of Father and Son is described in the Nicene Creed as Jesus being “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”
How can we understand this essential oneness of the creator of the universe and the incarnate Christ? Maybe if we look at the essential oneness that we share with all humanity, we can better understand the essential oneness of the Godhead. If we can see beyond the color, race, gender, ethnicity, political party, or any of the thousands of labels we use every day to divide ourselves one from another, maybe then we can glimpse some of the oneness that exists in humanity as an image of the oneness and unity of God.
I can’t help but wonder what it would look like to live out this type of soulful life. Maybe we would venture to places and engage in conversations we wouldn’t otherwise. Maybe we would see the soul pain of our neighbors and respond to them with kindness and forgiveness and generosity. Jesus and the Father are one, and you and I are one. Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks of this type of soulful life in the concept of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is the concept that “I am because you are.” It is reflective of a deep interconnectedness. Tutu is quoted saying, “One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
We are not that different, you and me. Though we may be separated by many ideas and many kilometers, we are a part of this oneness and we share with each other a common life together. Our lives are contingent upon one another.
Jerrod McCormack is a Multi-faith Chaplain Student at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is also the Youth Minister at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Calgary. He is convinced that the cross is the greatest expression of God’s love for all people and that God’s love calls us to a life of hospitality, acceptance, and gives peace. When in search of fun, he can be found with a camera in his hand on some random mountain pass in the Rockies. He is married to Ali McCormack, and they live in Calgary, Alberta.