John 7:16, 25-36 People who lived in Jerusalem started to ask each other, “How could Jesus be the Messiah? For we know where this man comes from. When the Messiah comes, he will simply appear; no one will know where he comes from. While Jesus was teaching in the Temple, he called out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I come from. But I’m not here on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him. But I know him because I come from him, and he sent me to you.” … The leading priests sent Temple guards to arrest Jesus. But Jesus told them, “I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me.”
Colossians 1:15 NCV No one can see God, but Jesus Christ is exactly like him.
When I met my husband Dave in college, I was appalled at his Spanish. I thought but didn’t say, “How could someone who grew up in Latin America speak Spanish so badly?”
Then Bolivian friends came to visit him. And they spoke exactly like he did.
I didn’t tell Dave what I had thought until years later. I was embarrassed because I hadn’t realized Spanish is spoken differently in different countries. My standard was what I knew, the Spanish of Guatemala—which, it turns out, is not considered “standard” by anyone except Guatemalans.
And I was embarrassed because I had made assumptions about Dave and his family based on my learned prejudices connected to language. Both my parents were linguists. It was a point of pride for them to speak both Spanish and Ixil (the language of the Mayan-descended people among whom we lived) correctly. My parents were quick to be critical of missionaries who “didn’t care enough” about the people whom they were there to serve to overcome their horrendous accents and mangled grammar. I had judged Dave to be one of “those” people.
Where are you from? What are the standards and prejudices you’ve been taught or absorbed from your culture, and by which you make judgments? I’ve been asking myself those questions as part of my desire to understand people who think and believe and behave differently than I do right here in Pittsburgh. It’s no use telling myself I don’t have prejudices. We all have them, most of them as unconscious and unchallenged as my opinion about Dave’s Spanish. Usually, we don’t even notice when we’re making judgments. It’s as automatic as breathing. Yet our assumptions affect our relationships.
Jesus, John tells us, is the one to look to if we want to understand God the Father, because they are exactly alike. The compassion we see in Jesus is the Father’s compassion; his power is the Father’s power. (This conversation started because Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath.) To understand God in the Old Testament, we must start with Jesus. At the same time, the Gospel writers show us from the Old Testament who Jesus is, the fulfillment of all the ancient prophecies. You and I are one, Jesus said to his Father in John 17. You are in me, Father, and I am in you.
There’s a lovely word in Portuguese, saudades, that doesn’t have a single-word translation into English. I hear saudades in Jesus’ statement in verse 33, I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. Saudades is longing for what is familiar and dear and highly esteemed. It’s like homesickness. It’s what washes over me when I interact with one of my beloved Brazilian friends. It evokes place and culture and memories of a zillion events and the nuances of relationships.
For Jesus, home was not Nazareth; it was Heaven. As Jesus told Nicodemus in their secret meeting at night, and now declares publicly, “If you want to know my Father, listen to me.”