Heavenly Peace Has No Patriarchy
A sermon based on John 14:23-29
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on May 1, 2016
by Rev. Scott Elliott
A few weeks ago the Adult Forum class watched a lecture on the creation story and discussed Adam and Eve for quite a bit. There is a lot of meaning in that story. Men have long pointed out that one meaning of the creation story is that since God saved the creation of the best ‘til last, that means mankind is the pinnacle of creation. I may have mentioned this before, but I always like to point out that if we follow that line of thinking to its logical conclusion, since Eve was created last in that story, women are the pinnacle of creation.
I point that out for more than a chuckle. The Bible and Christianity have these patriarchal threads that have served for millennia to boost patriarchies, males above females, and justify some pretty awful sexist oppression a good deal of which continues today. I understand a part of my ministry is to counter that when I can.
We may not like to think about it, talk about it, or admit it but our daughters, wives, mothers, sisters and female neighbors and friends are not yet treated fairly or equal in our culture, and in most other Christian based cultures. Females from the start have been equal images of God, but by and large they have not been treated like it. It’s a sad truth, and it is sad too that the Bible has been used to help bring it about and maintain that inequality.
It is long past time for that to stop. As we heard a few weeks ago, Paul declared that in Christ there is no longer male and female. So the battle against inequality is something Christians should have been fighting for two thousand years, however, much of the time Christian leaders have been promoting it.
By now many of you may have noticed that I like to look at Biblical texts that appear to justify considering women as lesser than men, and see what the Bible might really teach, and where we can find God and love and Jesus’s teachings in it. I also like to point out the numerous texts that indicate in Christ we are to seek justice and provide equality for all humanity, women as well as men, girls as well as boys. What else does the Golden Rule teaches, if not that? “Do to others as we want done to us” means make the playing field as level for everyone as we want it for ourselves. Loving God and our neighbors as our self, the pinnacle commandment of Jesus, necessarily requires that too.
If the Bible is right, that male and females are made in the image of God, then we have to treat both as if they are OF God . . . both as we want to be treated . . . both as beloved equals.
There’s no place for patriarchy in the teachings of Jesus, except the discard pile. So when we come across what sounds like a patriarchal preference in a Biblical text we need to seriously consider whether it goes in the discard pile, or if we can hear it as a call to create a level playing field.
Today is one of those days when I’m holding up such a text. I am doing this today because Jesus, as our Lectionary text indicates, leaves and gives us a peace not of this world.
I’ve also talked about other-worldly peace, heavenly peace, God’s shalom, in a general fashion a few weeks ago as meaning everyone has well being. Peace is the time when all have enough, all have well being. That is what shalom means. To accomplish such a universal state of well being it ought to be pretty obvious that men and women need to be treated equally. And it is not like this is some new agey spin on Christianity. The Apostle Paul wrote in Christ there is no longer male and female, that they are one.
I have long appreciated today’s reading for many reasons. It is really quite astonishing to consider and think about. If we were to actually comply with it’s explicit and implicit meanings, the world would have peace. It says if we keep Jesus’ word, that is follow what God gave him to teach to us, we get peace. And not the world peace typically achieved though violence and threats of violence and oppression, but other worldly peace . . . that is heavenly peace, God’s shalom.
In our story today Jesus is about to leave and gives what is called his Farewell Discourse. He notes that we are to follow his word– and that when we do God and Christ will dwell with us. He says these things while he is still physically with His followers, and then gives the happy, hopeful news that when He leaves God will send the Holy Spirit to teach what Jesus taught and remind them of all Jesus said to them.
The idea of the Trinity does not come about until well-after this text from John was written, but we can hear in it how Tertullian’s three personas idea, what we call, the Trinity came about. John reports that the Father’s teachings came to us through Jesus and those teachings continue to come to us through the Holy Spirit. Father . . . Son . . . Holy Ghost . . . acting in the world. In this text Jesus, who was sent by the Father, is leaving; and after he leaves the Father will send the Holy Spirit; who will teach and remind us of the Way Jesus taught, the Way Jesus learned from the Father. One follows the other with lessons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
The New Interpreters Bible Commentary on this text points out that it is important to note that the Holy Spirit “does not teach new things, but keeps Jesus’ teachings alive in post resurrection community.” 1.
I mentioned that when we come across what sounds like a patriarchal preference in a Biblical text we need to seriously consider whether it goes in the discard pile or can be heard to create a level playing field. And I pointed out that this is one of those texts we need to look at because Jesus repeatedly refers to God as “The Father.” In our short reading he uses that proper noun for God five times.
At first glance it sure seems like Jesus is buying into the patriarchal way of running the world, making God a patriarchal God and a model for patriarchies. But here’s the cool thing, it’s not! Calling God “Father” is one of Jesus’ ways of taking down the patriarchy.
In the vast multitude of references in the Old Testament to God, there are only fifteen times “Father” is used. But Jesus changes all that, in the much shorter New Testament, God is referred to as “Father” two hundred and forty-five times. 2
In Aramaic Jesus calls God “Abba,” a familiar and endearing term more like Papa or Daddy, than Father. I’ve mentioned this before, what Jesus is doing is undermining the patriarchy by calling God, Father.
See in the patriarchy and patron system Caesar was at the top of a pyramid of power that trickled down so that each person in the empire was below him and had to look up to him as a father figure, the patron, the dominating ruling macho male parent. The terms “patron” and patriarchy are derived from the Latin word for father.
The movie the Godfather has a type of this patriarchal system. The Don, the Godfather, is the Boss and he has an under-boss who has capo, (captains below him), who have soldiers, who have associates. On that pyramid of power it all trickles up to the Godfather and down from the Godfather.
Rome was like that on a much larger scale. Each person in the empire had father figures over them, the patrons, the dominating ruling macho male parents who by and large oppressed those below them. I’ve addressed this a number of times too, because it helps put what Jesus was doing in context: in the Roman Empire Caesar was everyone’s patron . . . everyone’s father.
One theological title Caesar had was “Pater Patriae” (Paw-ter Pa-tree-aa) which means Father of the Fatherland. Caesar was the country’s father, the head of the entire empire “family, like a Godfather only on an empire wide scale. Caesar was the ultimate dominating father figure to whom all owed allegiance, respect and obedience. This was secularly and religiously true throughout Rome. Jesus’ teaching is that God is to be the dominating figure in everyone’s life.
Jesus wants God to be the one to whom allegiance is owed, not worldly power, but heavenly power is to rule our lives. God’s throne, not thrones of emperors, is to be the sole place of power in our lives. So we hear Jesus pounding the idea home, coopting Caesar’s claim and at the same time chipping away at the oppressive patriarchal structure of the empire every time he does it. His claim that God is Father is revolutionary, in the rebellious sense of the word.
In fact, Jesus even makes the word a version of “Father” that is endearing, loving parent-like. His father is not the feared and oppressive Caesar, his father is God alone – and a beloved Abba at that. Jesus’ restructuring of power is decidedly not promoting the oppressive patriarchy with a pyramid of male figures to cow-tow to. His structure has but one Father, “Abba” the beloved God who cares for everyone, who loves everyone, who gives us a peace not of this world. It’s a structure where love is the Way and “shalom” well being of all is the aim.
Jesus calls God “Father” not to name God as male so men can lord it over women. He does it to take the title of “Father” away from Caesar to superimpose a new structure upon the world. In doing so– God replaces Caesar as the head of all power. Roman patrons are no longer the Jesus Followers’ head of family and life, God is.
There is no longer a pyramid of power that trickles down. There’s simply one loving parent – GOD– that everyone has direct access to– equal access to, women as well as men, girls as well as boys. By “placing each person in the community under the authority and patronage of God alone. There is no patriarch who stands above others in the empire of God; all stand equally under God’s immediate care” 3 This disrupts the entire patriarchy to its very core. It creates a level playing field.
And WE must keep in mind that according to today’s scripture the Holy Spirit only teaches what Jesus taught, which means if others teach differently or create doctrine not in line with Jesus’ teachings – like in support of patriarchy– it’s not Jesus’ Way. It’s not from God. It’s not the path to heavenly peace. It’s not the work of the Holy Spirit or any member of the Holy Trinity, but the work of men. That’s plain and simple.
You gotta love what Jesus is doing. The patriarchy needed to be dismantled and a new structure put in place in order for us to take the long march to other-worldly peace, the peace Jesus gives us by first beginning the dismantling of the patriarchy; and second, by replacing the family head of Jesus Followers with God, in whose image both males and females are made equally.
We are all of us –male, female, boys and girls, images of God– all of us. And we deserve the respect and care and love such Divine images are entitled to. And when that respect and care and love is finally provided to all we will indeed have the gift of otherworldly, heavenly peace, that Jesus gives to us. That’s the radical teaching in our lesson today.
What Jesus says rules, what he taught the Holy Spirit still teaches us and helps us remember. Right here. Right now. Three simple sentences sum up that teaching:
Everything unloving is unGodly.
Everything loving is Godly.
Jesus Followers are to go and do loving things.
1. New Interpreters Bible Commentary, p 751.
2. See, Keathy, Hampton, The Names of God at www.bible.org/page.php?/page_id=220, page 7, subsection (7).
3. Patterson, Stephen, The God of Jesus,
COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2016 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED