By Barry Casey … In the London Underground, there are signs cautioning us to “Mind the Gap,” calling us to attention when getting on and off the Tube. It’s a sign that should be posted in a lot of other places in our lives.
There is the gap between our public aspirations to equality and the stark realities of systemic racism, the deconstruction of voting access for millions of people, and the constant inequity between the top one percent in this country and almost everyone else.
There’s the gap between what corporations claim are their highest values of equality, service, and diversity, and the reality of discrimination, indifferent service, and a whiter shade of pale in corporate boardrooms.
There’s the gap between our personal best intentions and what we actually display to the world. And there’s the gap between what we, the church, claim as the kingdom and what we substitute in its place.
Show us the Father, the disciples challenged Jesus. And he replied, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” The disciples, like us, saw only that which fit the scope of their vision. The Father was too sovereign, too remote, too terrifying to be anything less than thunder in the mountains or a mighty wind rolling back the waves of the Red Sea.
Jesus brought the Father across that gap between the human and divine, slipping the invisible footprints of the eternal God into his own along the roads of Galilee. He called his Father by an endearing name. But old habits are hard to break: we can be sure not many prayed to God as “Abba,” or “Daddy.” There was an unbridgeable gap there, fixed and immovable in their eyes—and ours.
How often do we think of Jesus as divine? Most of the time. How often do we see him as fully human? Far less. There is a gap. Yet, as human, he suffered all the temptations we do and more. To whom much is given, much is required.
If we really saw Jesus as human, we would not be surprised when his anger flares up, when he weeps over Jerusalem or when he pounces on the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. These are not weaknesses; they are evidence of an impassioned soul completely immersed in this world, yet constantly breathing the air of transcendence.
Within the spectrum of the visible, Jesus’ divinity ripples, fades, reappears and vanishes. “I and the Father are one,” Jesus claimed, infuriating the keepers of the sanctuary and bewildering the disciples. “Divinity flashed through humanity,” said Ellen White, in a metaphor as visceral as it is inadequate.
We keep trying to summarize Jesus in a thirty-second elevator pitch. It can’t be done. We want something we can carry with us, an amulet for the fingers when we are tempted or grieving. We have the images we’ve gathered from the Gospels: Jesus making his way across the waves to the terrified disciples, rubbing his thumbs across a blind man’s eyes, and enveloped in a brilliant cloud as the voice of God reverberates across the dry hills. These are part of our inner art galleries, companions to the work of artists who have stretched his likeness across their canvasses.
The senses need touch, though. Body yearns for body. We would take the Emmaus Road in the late afternoon, our hearts broken, if we thought there was the slightest chance, we could relive that moment with the mysterious stranger who innocently asked what happened in Jerusalem that weekend.
We are not within the same chronological trajectory as Jesus. There is a gap. He burns across the skies at light speed. When we read his story in the Gospel of Mark, the prose itself is breathless. The narrative runs to keep up with him. He emerges from the wilderness, the habitation of demons, and immediately turns his hometown synagogue upside down. Full of the Spirit, he announces the breaking in of the kingdom. “The time is ripe,” he says, “and God’s kingdom has come close. Change your purpose and trust in the good news.”
A man tortured by possession is in the synagogue screaming in pain. Jesus reaches deep and drags the demon out, leaving the man shaken, but grateful, the onlookers stunned by the authority of Jesus’ word. Across the gap between the stiff sanctity of the sacred service and the raw clawing out of the demon from its midst, the word of Jesus sizzles through the air: “Put on a muzzle and come out of him!”
We come up against a mystery: Jesus and his mission are one and the same. To have some inkling of Jesus as a living, breathing person is to take tentative steps across the gap between this world and the kingdom. He shows us the way to God, not through a formula for successful salvation, but by being the person in whom God was most fully seen. At the risk of cliche, the way God acts in the world is through Jesus as the Way.
We get this not through a painstakingly logical progression of thought, but by a leap of trust across the gap. In Jesus we see God as God wants to be seen and known.
Even so, there is still a gap between Jesus and us—a gap that cradles history and human nature. Over the course of a lifetime, we are drawn to Jesus in a multitude of ways. We may see him in art, sense him in music and poetry, revel in the gospel stories, interpret his words for our situation.
There is always the situation and the story. A gap stretches between the two.
The situation is this moment in history, the events, and structures we find ourselves within. Language, myth, and symbol are how our story creates us in this situation. Our situation and Jesus’ situation differ, not in nature but in degree.
The whole of human life consumed and transformed him in ways that we will likely not experience this side of death. We get glimpses of it, we hear the music occasionally, but the heavens will not part for us as they did for him. The gap remains. Therein lies our glory and our salvation. He has done what we cannot do that we might live through his life.
–Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, and communication for 37 years in Maryland and Washington, D.C. He is now retired and writing in Burtonsville, Maryland. More of his writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods. His first collection of essays, “Wandering, Not Lost,” was recently published by Wipf and Stock. Email him at: [email protected]