There’s a lot of talk about glory in the first two verses of our short gospel passage for today: “Jesus said,
‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and will glorify him at once.”
The Greek word rendered ‘glory’ is doxa. This root word ‘doxa’ is a familiar one to us because we sing a doxology every week, which is a short hymn of praises to God. Glory: praise, renown, exaltation, honor, esteem. But in Greek, the work ‘doxa’ which we translate as glory, really speaks to the perception of something as being good, more than its inherent goodness. It is “distinction accorded by common consent.” That word “glorify” we see repeated by John so many times in this passage, literally means “that which evokes good opinion.” So basically, glory means a stellar reputation.
And reputations are important. A reputation is how you are thought of by others who may not know you, based on what they hear from those who do know you. In our daily lives, reputation is everything, right? From restaurants to ebay sellers to schools and churches, realtors, contractors, politicians, from stockbrokers to babysitters—all can track their success or failure by what kind of reputation they have in the community.
On the web, there are whole websites devoted to disseminating information about the reputations of good and services, and those who provide them: Consumer Reports, Yelp.com, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, etc. Not only that, a good reputation is so important that there are now online companies who specialize in cleaning up your reputation (business or personal) in every little corner of the internet. Whether it is a bad review of their business or an incriminating photo from their wild-child days, people pay big bucks to have their reputations repaired, to have their glory restored. Reputations are important, because whether deserved or not, a good reputation gives people confidence to engage with you, and a bad reputation puts you in danger of being shut out or dismissed.
So if we think about glory as a good reputation, what is the meaning of all this glorification business in John’s gospel lesson for today? Up ‘til this point, Jesus has a very mixed reputation. With the disciples and the crowds, he has made a very positive impression so far. He has a very good reputation among society’s most marginalized, the lost, the lepers, the prostitutes… they have experienced him as someone who cares. They watched him feed five thousand hungry people with 5 loves of bread and two fish. They have heard him teach forgiveness and preach peace. They have seen him heal the sick and even raise the dead.
Not to mention that water to wine bit. That was pretty darn cool. And to top it all off, they have just seen him like a servant, kneeling down to wash the feet of his followers. In the eyes of the least of these, Jesus’ reputation is indeed stellar. He has been glorified.
But he also has a not-so-great reputation with others—the religious leaders have concerns about his shameless rule-breaking. Performing a healing on the Sabbath, for example. Like wearing white after Labor Day or dating your best friend’s ex, healing someone on the Sabbath was just. not. done. And to the Roman authorities, he was getting a reputation as a troublemaker…claiming to have the same authority as God, for example. In these cases, he has been vilified rather than glorified.
So he has acquired both good and bad reputations throughout his ministry. But now he is saying goodbye to his inner circle. And he speaks of full glorification. When he speaks of being glorified, he uses all three tenses—past, future, and present. “has been glorified, will also glorify him, and will glorify him at once.”
For John, the use of all three tenses signifies the divinity of Jesus, and thus his glory. He who “was, and is, and is to come” cannot be separated from the Creator, the first person of the trinity. They are one and the same. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. For John, Jesus’s good reputation, his glory, his ‘doxa’ comes from his divinity, which is being revealed in anticipation of his death. Now before all of this takes place, his good reputation will temporarily plummet. When the crowds fall prey to mob mentality and decide to turn against him. But he will be fully glorified on the cross. His vulnerable, humiliating, crucifixion is the means by which we learn of the vastness of his love for us, And is therefore the point at which his reputation becomes perfect: Five stars, 100% positive approval ratings. His glory begins with his birth, grows with his life, but is ultimately accomplished in his death and resurrection.
I’ve had the good fortune to do some international traveling over the course of my 31 and a half years. As an American citizen, I’m always very curious about how I will be received by the locals in the places I have visited. At all times, I try to avoid ignorance and embrace respect. I try to be polite, to be familiar with local traditions and customs…I basically try to be an ambassador for the United States in the hopes that if someone meets me and has a favorable impression of me as a person, that that favorable impression would extend to my home country. American tourists do not always have the best reputations. How I act when traveling may either help or hurt the overall reputation of the United States in the eyes of the international community. But whether I’m in Haiti, or Ireland, or South Africa, or most recently, Cuba, my hope is that a pleasant encounter with a respectful American might contribute in some small way to our country’s overall reputation abroad.
This is also how being a Christian works. Those of us who claim to follow Christ must not ignore the fact that the world is watching us. Our behavior, our generosity or lack thereof–it’s all on display. And it has major implications for how God is perceived by those who do not yet know God. If we are leading lives of prayer, of study, and of service, then we are helping to keep Jesus’s good reputation alive. Before Jesus died on that cross, he commanded his disciples to love one another. Just as he loved us. That means sacrificial love, a love that puts others’ needs before our own. And after he commanded that we love one another sacrificially, he then went on to entrust his perfect reputation, his glory, to us. He said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Now it is up to us to help Jesus remain glorified. We are the defenders of his reputation. Are we who call ourselves Christians giving Christ a good reputation through our words and actions? If we are truly loving one another, then our lives are beautiful doxologies, songs of praise that glorify God. But if Jesus does not have a good reputation, it is not him, but likely we who are to blame. If Jesus has a reputation for being hateful, judgmental, or materialistic…it is only because we Christians have been those things. Mahatma Ghandi is thought to have said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” When we decide some people are outsiders because of their skin color, their gender, or who they love, when we hoard wealth while others starve, when we coast on cheap grace, we damage not only our own reputations, but also Christ’s. Last week, Randy challenged all of us
to ask ourselves if we really walk the walk. Together we pondered whether someone would be able to tell whether or not we were a person of faith if they never saw us walk into a church building on Sunday morning. If the answer is “maybe not”, then we have work to do. If in fact we are living lives of greed,
violence, hatred, and unchecked selfishness, then it is not just our own reputation that is harmed. Jesus’s reputation suffers as well. When we fail to love one another, we fail to glorify Jesus. Of course, we all will fall short at times. But Jesus would not have given us this new commandment if it was not possible to achieve, in God’s time. So when we stumble, let’s confess it and vow to do better next time. Because there is a new generation watching. They are deciding whether or not they want to even bother with religion and they’re making those decisions by observing you and me. If they see us living lives of authentic love,then I truly believe that the Church will grow and flourish. Our Lord’s reputation, our Savior’s glory is in our hands. May we not let him down.
“Love one another.
By this everyone will know
that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”