Spiritual algebra

I am not God. (I’m really quite sure about this.)

Neither are you. (I’m pretty convinced about that, too.)

Even if we’re not fully aware of all our faults and foibles, we know we’re far from the perfection of God. And yet flawed as we are, we’re intended to be living representatives of Jesus, and by extension, of God the Father.

At least Jesus himself seems to think so.

Let’s start with a quick math quiz to see how much you remember of your basic algebra. (Yes, algebra. You know, that confusing part of your life when you were just getting comfortable with letters and numbers, and then someone decided to mix them all up. Rude.)

Complete the following sentence:

  • “If a = b, and b = c, then ____________.”

If you said “a = c,” congratulations (and don’t forget to thank a math teacher). It’s known as the “transitive property of equality,” an axiom so basic that you already know it even if you don’t know what to call it.

On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus seemed to engage in a stunning little bit of spiritual algebra with his disciples. He had just washed their feet; he had hinted at Judas’ coming betrayal. Then he said: “I assure you that whoever receives someone I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me (John 13:20, NRSV).”


Over and over in the gospel of John, Jesus insisted that he had been sent by his Father; he identified himself so completely and so intimately with God that people wanted to stone him for blasphemy. And as he had been sent, so too did he send his disciples.

As believers, we may nearly take for granted Jesus’ identification with the Father: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (John 12:44-45). But do we understand and accept our identification with him as readily? Whoever receives us receives Jesus; whoever receives Jesus receives the Father. Therefore, if a = b, and b = c…

Wow. And…you’ve got to be kidding. (Lord, are you sure this is a good idea?)

Strictly speaking, of course, Jesus is not speaking of equality; he is not making us equal to God. Nor is this a declaration of our spiritual merit. He’s not saying, “People will think of God when they see you, because you’re already so wonderfully godly.” Moreover, I think it’s fair to assume that the truth of the statement assumes the giving of the Holy Spirit; we are empowered to represent Jesus by being endowed with his Spirit.

But quite simply, it’s worth contemplating this fact: God the Father revealed himself to the world in the man called Jesus, and in turn, Jesus has chosen us to represent him.

He’s staked his reputation on his followers, on their willingness to serve others in humility and love.

That may be hard to believe when you look in the mirror each morning. But if you’re a disciple of Jesus, it’s the truth of who you are.