April 16, 2023
I may be dating myself if I tell you that the Princess Bride is one of my all-time favorite movies. And one of my favorite lines in that movie [watch the clip] is when Fezzik, Ingio Montoya, and Vizzini are looking down the cliff, watching “the man in black” climb up the side. Vizzini says, “He didn’t fall? Inconceivable!” And Inigo responds, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Such a useful line.
When I see billboards or T-shirts proclaiming “Jesus is Lord;” when I read religious tracts that want me to “accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior;” when I hear politicians invoke the lordship of Jesus as they pass bills that harm some of the most vulnerable people in our communities; when I hear the rhetoric of Jesus as Lord come from those who promote violence and racism—that is exactly what I want to tell the people touting this phrase: You keep using those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean.
This idea of Jesus as Lord is often invoked by people trying to assert power and authority; by people claiming that their way is the one and only true way. “Jesus is Lord” is often used as a weapon to batter political and religious opponents. And because of all of these problematic ways this phrase gets used, I will admit that I’m not a fan. Even as a Christian pastor, I would not want to wear a shirt or hold a sign that says “Jesus is Lord.” It would feel . . . weird. It would just seem . . . wrong.
And I hate that, because “Jesus is Lord” is a faithful, biblical proclamation. In the passage we heard this morning, Thomas’ statement of Jesus’ identity is, arguably, the climax of John’s Gospel. Upon seeing the risen Christ, Thomas proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” That’s what the writer of John is trying to communicate throughout the entire Gospel: that Jesus is Lord and God.
The problem isn’t the claim itself of Jesus as Lord—the problem is how people use these words—that the words do not mean what they think they mean.
And so rather than throwing out the words altogether, I wonder if we can think about how to make this claim most faithfully. What does it really mean to say “Jesus is Lord”? What did Thomas mean when he said it?
As we turn our attention to Thomas, we should remember that, just like with real estate, in interpreting scripture, there are three key things to keep in mind: location, location, location. Considering the context in which Thomas makes this proclamation is essential for us to understand what he means in calling Jesus “my Lord and my God.”
Thomas makes this ultimate claim about Jesus’ identity as he looks at Jesus’ wounded body: the nail marks in his palms, the spear gash in his side. Yes, Jesus has risen victorious from the grave. And he still bears the marks of his humiliation and defeat.
To say Jesus is Lord is to shift our trust from worldly powers of force and violence to the One who was subject to that force, who bears the wounds of that violence, but who was not defeated by it. Thomas’ statement recognizes the power in love and vulnerability.
Thomas cries out “my Lord and my God” as Jesus humbly offers the evidence Thomas has asked for to affirm the resurrection. In the face of Thomas’ doubts, Jesus offers a gentle invitation, not a scolding.
To say Jesus is Lord is not to claim our superiority over other people who may make different claims; it is to humble ourselves and acknowledge that there is a force greater than, a force beyond our own human efforts and understanding.
Thomas makes his proclamation after Jesus has said, “Peace be with you.” The “peace” Jesus offers here is shalom—a word that suggests much more than the absence of conflict; shalom is health and wholeness, fullness of life.
To say Jesus is Lord is to long for—and work for—that shalom in our own lives and in our world.
While plenty of people today claim “Jesus is Lord”—they hold the signs, wear the t-shirts, pray the prayers, sing the songs—I would say there aren’t many (myself included) that really live like Jesus is, in fact, in charge of things. It takes a lot of commitment and courage—and imagination—to live like that.
When I stopped to consider what it might look like to really live into the statement Thomas makes here, the people of Community Peacemaker Teams came to mind.
This group—formerly Christian Peacemaker Teams—started in the mid-1980’s with a challenging question: What if those of us who say we believe in Jesus’ way of peace were willing to risk as much as people in the military risk to follow that way of violence?
To me, this question sounds a lot like: Do we really believe Jesus is Lord? Do we trust in the power of Jesus’ love and the way of Jesus’ peace enough to put our lives on the line?
And, over the years, some people have answered “yes.” CPT originally sent delegations to address violence happening in Haiti, Iraq, and the West Bank. Their creative nonviolent work has spread. Small groups of CPT members enter areas of conflict and provide documentation, accompaniment, and other forms of support. There are people right now supporting the rights of immigrants in Lesvos, Greece, and accompanying Palestinian children to school and working for justice with indigenous communities in North America.
And there are, of course, less dramatic and equally faithful ways that people choose to live as if Jesus is, in fact, Lord. Our church’s participation in Justice Matters is one way we try to live that out—to join with people of any faith (or no faith) as we step out in the power of love and justice to work toward greater justice—greater shalom—in our city.
Our lives of faith will take many forms. We proclaim with Thomas, “my Lord and my God” whenever we honor people’s wounds—and our own; whenever we live out of love and not fear; whenever we breathe in the peace of Christ and live out the way of peace in even the smallest ways.
“Jesus is Lord” is a true and biblical and necessary statement for those who claim the Christian faith. But it does not mean what so very many people think it means. To say “my Lord and my God” to the Resurrected Christ who still bears the wounds of crucifixion is to turn worldly notions of lordship—or power—on their head.
When Thomas says, “My Lord and my God,” he recognizes the extent of Jesus’ love for him—for us. Thomas sees his own struggles and woundedness reflected in the very being of God. He acknowledges the paradox of our faith—that the all-powerful God of life bears the scars of execution.
When we claim the power of this love, this struggle, this vulnerability, we free ourselves from false worldly notions of power so that we can set aside our fear and receive God’s shalom.