What is glory?

2 June 2019
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Easter 7C (RCL)

Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, , 20-21
John 17:20-26

I’m sure Luke included this little story as a way of showing that Jesus’s name continues to have power over the spiritual powers of the world, even in the age of the apostles. When things like the theater and the arena were considered the realm of demons, and practitioners thereof who became Christian had to extract themselves from such employment, one could speak of that process in terms of exorcism. I suppose we could use such language today (and I’m sure there are some who do) when speaking of leaving a life of drugs or the sex trade. Jesus’ name continues to have power.

However, the part of the story that intrigues me is Paul and Silas having a late supper with their jailer and his family. In Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus sends out the seventy, he tells them to proclaim the kingdom, cast out demons, raise the dead, heal the sick, and eat whatever is set before them. The kingdom happens in the restoration of people to table fellowship. And in this instance, it is a Roman jailer — not very high on the list of prestigious jobs. And when he thinks his prisoners have escaped, he knows that suicide would be a better option than the shame and other consequences he would face from his superiors.

Paul and Silas, of course, and the other prisoners are still in the prison. When he brings them out, he says to them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The irony here is that he has already been saved, and he didn’t do a thing. Of course, his question concerns a deeper salvation than just not dying by suicide. After an incredibly short sermon (Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household), he is baptized. Of course, that sermon has some power. Caesar had the title Lord. Paul and Silas are inviting the man to overturn his loyalties, and risk even worse consequences than thought he had already faced. And so, he washed their wounds (just as the Samaritan had washed the wounds of the man at the side of the road), and served them food. There is the kingdom, right there.

Likewise, Jesus is at table with his disciples as he prays the prayer we hear in John’s Gospel reading. If you can read this passage without getting confused over pronouns and prepositions (who is in whom?), you’re doing well. I think that is the point. The mutual indwelling blurs the distinctions of identity between Jesus, his Father, and the community of believers. All indwell one another. And Jesus has given his glory to his disciples and to those who believe through their word.

What John means by glory has always confused me a little. He uses it in a number of different contexts, and it’s meaning seems a bit slippery. At it’s root, the word means light or brilliance, or weight. Those who possessed glory were typically those who stood out in the affairs of the world, Caesar being the prime example. Glory was an attribute of gods and heroes. They possessed it in their persons: influence, praise might be synonyms.

Persons like Roman jailers and radical rabbis who get themselves beaten for interfering with someone else’s slave would not possess glory, as typically imagined. The rag-tag group of people sitting there with Jesus on that last night would not have possessed glory.

In our day and age, wealth and influence may substitute for glory. Like the Roman world, we tend to think of those things as individual possessions. What Jesus is saying is that the glory comes from the mutual indwelling. It is the self-gift of the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father, and both to the community of believers, and the believers to one another that makes up the brilliance of the glory Jesus is talking about. It’s completely upside down, from our way of thinking, and requires surrendering any idea of individual possession.

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