Day 36: You are Gods
Illustration: Juliana Crownover
Christ then is our righteousness by dwelling in us by the Spirit: He justifies us by entering into us, He continues to justify us by remaining in us. This is really and truly our justification, not faith, not holiness, not (much less) a mere imputation; but through God’s mercy, the very presence of Christ…What is common to all Christians, as distinguished from good men under other Dispensations is that, however the latter were justified in God’s inscrutable resources, Christians are justified by the communication of an inward, most sacred and most mysterious gift. From the very time of Baptism they are temples of the Holy Ghost. This, I say, is what is common to all; yet it is certain too, that over and above what all have, a still further communication of God’s glory is promised to the obedient.[i]
John Henry Newman (d. 1890), Leader of the Oxford Movement
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we ask you, as you would, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.[ii]
Old Testament Lesson
It is rare to hear Leviticus cited as anyone’s “favorite” book of the Bible. Leviticus seems to possess a random sampling of ancient laws that have little relevance for contemporary life. Yet this passage is central for faithfully living out a covenant relationship with God. In short, this is what it looks like to be holy.[iii] It is little wonder that this passage (especially v. 18) became the basis for Jesus’ moral teaching. The so-called “greatest commandment” to love God with our whole heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves is a good summary of what covenant faithfulness entails. The way Christians maintain their covenant relationship is by loving God and by serving those around us. We accomplish this not by abstract thoughts but in concrete actions that draw upon key behavioral traits such as honesty, integrity, justice, charity and love, all of which form the basis of the instruction in this passage.[iv]
11You shall not steal; you shall not tell lies nor deal falsely with one another. 12You shall not swear to deceive by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. 13You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of an employee shall not remain with you until morning. 14You shall not curse the deaf, nor place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall reverence your God. I am the LORD. 15You must not execute injustice in judgment. You must not show partiality to the poor or give preference to the great. You must deal righteously with your neighbor. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people. You shall not stand aside while your neighbor bleeds. I am the LORD. 17You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You certainly must reprove your neighbor so as not to bring sin upon yourself. 18You must not take vengeance, nor retain anger against the sons of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. 19You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with another kind from your field. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. You shall not wear a garment with mixed fabric.
New Testament Lesson
Hanukkah, which commemorates the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid King Antiochus IV, is a winter festival held in December. Jesus is once again in the Temple. The Jewish leaders, tired of His obfuscations, demand that Jesus tell them plainly if He’s the Messiah or not. His response that “I and the Father are one” becomes one of the key Christological statements of the New Testament. Over centuries of reflection, the Church comes to understand that Jesus claims to be equal to the Father in being, but distinct in Person. Rather than leading the Jewish leaders in a technical theological discussion, however, Jesus encourages them to focus on His deeds because they authenticate His claims to Messiahship. In so doing, Jesus presents a model for His followers. They will be known by the works that they do on behalf of others, out of love for God. Notice the Jewish leaders, however, are not all convinced by this. Only those in a covenant relationship with God (his sheep) will recognize the sound of His voice and become disciples.[v]
22Now Hanukkah was happening in Jerusalem. It was winter. 23And Jesus walked into the Temple at Solomon’s Porch. 24And the Jewish leaders surrounded Him and said, “How long are you going to annoy us? If you’re the Christ, tell us plainly!” 25Jesus answered them, “I already told you and you don’t believe. The works which I do in the name of my Father testify about me, 26but you don’t believe since you’re not of my sheepfold. 27My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. 28And I give them eternal life and they will by no means perish eternally and no one will seize them from my hand. 29My Father who has given me all things is greater than all and no one can snatch them from the hand of the Father. 30I and the Father are one.”
31The Jewish leaders again picked up stones to stone Him. 32Jesus answered them, “Many good works have I shown you from the Father. For which of them do you stone me?” 33The Jewish leaders answered Him, “We don’t stone you for a good work, but for blasphemy, since you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I have said, you are gods?’ 35If God said it to them, to whom the word of God came, (and the Scripture cannot be annulled), 36do you say to the one the Father set apart and sent into the world ‘You are blaspheming,’ since I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37So if I don’t perform the works then don’t believe me; but believe the works so that you might know and understand that the Father is in me and I also am in the Father.”
- As Christians who are saved by grace, why is Leviticus, a book of law, included in the Bible? What are we supposed to be able to learn from reading the OT Law?
- How are you doing with honesty? Are you required to tell the truth in all situations? Is it even wise always to tell the truth? How do you decide how to apply the command not to lie?
- For such a small nation, Israel makes it into the news remarkably often. Are you a supporter of the Jewish people? Do we have obligations as Christians to care for our Jewish neighbors? When should we be critical of Israel’s actions against her neighbors?
- Jesus tells the religious leaders that His sheep can hear His voice. How do you discern Jesus’ voice speaking into your life? Can you hear His voice, perhaps not in an audible way, but nevertheless as something distinct and real?
Reflection by Kevin Dodge (email)
In our NT lesson, Jesus has been accused by the Jewish leadership of blasphemy for claiming to be God. His defense likely sounds strange to our ears. Jesus quotes Psalm 82.6 which says, ‘You are gods, sons of the most high, all of you.’ What is Jesus really saying? Is he really claiming that human beings can somehow become gods?
As he frequently does, Jesus is employing a classical rabbinic teaching strategy. He starts with something lesser and uses it as an analogy to demonstrate something greater. In this case, if the Psalms say that the Jewish people can somehow be “gods,” then how much more should the Jewish leaders accept Jesus as being the true God?[vi] Jesus’ miracles authenticate his claims to a higher status.
Although Jesus only quotes the first part of the verse, He could expect His hearers to know the rest – “sons of the most high, all of you.” In its original context, Ps 82 was a polemic against unjust judges who were oppressing the people.[vii] They were acting like gods in their exalted position but their injustice was ruining their credibility and the lives of those under their authority.
This just happens to be what the religious leaders were doing in Jesus’ day. They were judging Jesus unfairly and using the wrong standards. Unlike them, Jesus was not there to aggrandize himself. He came to save sinners (1 Tim 1.15). Thus the Jewish leadership was wrong to condemn Jesus.
Now we can see how our OT lesson fits this context. One of the standards for being faithful to the covenant in Leviticus was judging rightly and not oppressing one’s neighbor. As our lesson put it, “You must not execute injustice in judgment…You must deal righteously with your neighbor” (Lev 19.15). Because of the burdens the religious leaders were placing on the people, Jesus is essentially charging them with being poor interpreters of the Scriptures and thus poor spiritual guides. The Law was supposed to lead to greater righteousness – a deeper, more abiding relationship with God. Instead, it was weighing the people down with religious duty and obligation.
In other words, the religious leaders had diverged so widely from a true covenant relationship that they could not lead the people effectively, much less condemn Jesus. They were so caught up in a faulty interpretation of the word passed down to them in the Law that they couldn’t even recognize the greater Word, the Son of God, was standing right in front of them.[viii]
This leads to the idea, prevalent particularly in the Eastern part of the Church that the point of the Incarnation – Jesus’ action of taking on human flesh – had a specific goal in mind. Just as God became a human being in the Incarnation, Jesus did this so that human beings might become “gods” as a result of their close personal relationship with Jesus. This idea is called “theosis” and simply implies that by becoming united to Christ, we start to share in the Divine life in an intimate way. Like any close relationship, the closer we get, the more like the other person we become. This should be our goal in the spiritual life.
Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria in the fourth century, says it like this:
Then, if a man should wish to see God, who is invisible by nature and not seen at all, he may know and apprehend Him from His works: so let him who fails to see Christ with his understanding at least apprehend Him by the works of His body, and test whether they are human works or God’s works. And if they are human, let him scoff, but if they are not human but of God, let him recognize it and not laugh at what is no matter for scoffing, but rather let him marvel that by so ordinary a means things divine have been manifested to us and that by death immortality has reached [us] all and that by the Word becoming man, the universal providence has been known and its Giver and Artificer the very Word of God. For he was made man that we might be made God.[ix]
According to Athanasius, Jesus is so close to the Father, that Jesus is a complete partaker with the Father in the Divine nature. This, too, is what we should be striving for in our spiritual lives. We do not lose our humanity. Our humanity becomes transformed – even divinized – because we are so close to Christ.
For most, this goal can’t be achieved in this lifetime. But, make no mistake, this is undoubtedly the goal. We only gets hints of it in this life. But this is the transformation we are striving for.
This is yet another reason why Lent is so important. By denying ourselves and drawing closer to God, we start to sense God’s presence all around us through his Spirit. Our characters become transformed; our selfishness starts to melt away; our penchant for gratifying our flesh starts to become unappealing. We make progress in the spiritual life by drawing closer to Christ and recognizing that what He has to offer us makes anything the world has to offer pale by comparison.
Can humans become gods? Yes, by analogy. We become god-like when we slowly but surely allow ourselves to be transformed by participation in the Divine life. We slowly but surely become something that sticks out like a sore thumb in a narcissistic culture. By grace, we are enabled truly to love God with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves. We cease to be satisfied with anything less.
Have you ever read the Creed of St. Athanasius (BCP, p. 864)? It is later and longer than the Nicene Creed we usually confess on Sundays. Read it, especially the second half which deals with the detailed language about who Christ is. Do you believe the assertions of this Creed? Why or why not?
Traditionally, Christians fast from meat and heavy foods on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent. Consider following this practice.
Find a friend who will agree to hold you accountable for doing what you have resolved to do during Lent. Be honest about your struggles and let the person help you make progress in your spiritual life.
[i] John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification, 3rd ed. (London: Rivingtons, 1874), 6.2–3, pp. 150–151.
[ii] Adapted from The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing, 1979), 833.
[iii] Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 351.
[iv] Ibid., 352.
[v] Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, Anchor Bible (New Haven, CT: Yale Press, 1966), 406.
[vi] D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 465.
[vii] Frank-Lothar Hossfeld, Psalms 2: A Commentary on Psalms 51-100, ed. Erich Zenger, Klaus Balzer, and Linda Maloney, 2nd ed., Hermeneia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2005), 335.
[viii] Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, 410.
[ix] Athanasius, “On the Incarnation of the Word,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, vol. 5, 2 (Peabody, MA: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2009), 55, P. 66.