Father and son

Over the years, many people have told me that my son looks just like me. There’s some truth to that. He has a similar complexion. He wears glasses. His facial hair is of a similar style.

And he has my nose.

But it wasn’t that long ago that I realized how much he resembles my father-in-law. My wife and I were at her parents’ house; we were in town for my father-in-law’s memorial service. A collage of old photographs was standing the living room. And there, near the center of the display, was a picture of my father-in-law that looked so much like my son that it made me gasp. I had to show it to my wife and make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Can a son so resemble his father that to see one is to see the other?

As we have seen in recent posts, Jesus ran afoul of the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem by healing a man on the Sabbath and telling him to carry his mat. In his own defense, Jesus told them that his Father was working on the Sabbath too. This riled them up even more, for they took him to be making the blasphemous claim of having a unique relationship with God.

They were right. And what Jesus said next surely made them even madder:

I assure you that the Son can’t do anything by himself except what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does. He will show him greater works than these so that you will marvel. As the Father raises the dead and gives life, so too does the Son give life to whomever he wishes. The Father doesn’t judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son so that everyone will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him. (John 5:19-23, CEB)

Some commentators see here an image of apprenticeship. One might imagine, for example, Jesus learning the carpentry trade from Joseph, his adoptive father. Apprentice see, apprentice do. But there’s much more than apprenticeship going on here. The unity of the Father and Son is so strong that the Father shows everything he does to the Son, and the Son does it.

That includes two things that Jews considered to be the prerogative of God alone: giving life and sitting in judgment. The two go together. The Jews already believed in a resurrection to judgment. God would raise the dead, then separate those who had been faithful from those who had not. The former would be blessed and given eternal life; the latter would be condemned. That idea would not be new to Jesus’ opponents.

What would be new — astonishingly so — is the claim that the right to judge and to give life accordingly now belonged to the Son. And so close is the relationship between Father and Son that to honor one is to honor the other. Jesus connects the dots for them: If you don’t honor me, you can’t claim to honor my Father, the one who sent me. That bold claim puts the lie to any idea that they were honoring God by rejecting Jesus.

A skeptic might read Jesus’ words as a self-centered demand for proper respect. But a believer should hear something else: the invitation to honor God truly. It’s what the scribes and Pharisees should want. In honoring the Son they would find their blessing.

And that is where we find our blessing as well.