We distinguish Reno Nevada for several things. Among these are the casinos, which look up at the valleys and which people from all over the cosmos flock to. The other are the beautiful sunrises, which people look up to when they are not working the punch presses in the casinos, punching their precious coins into profits for those casinos. Sunrises are important. Before the sun rises we are not able to distinguish items in the dark as well as we do at night. At night, when we are dressed in dark clothes, we are invisible to traffic as it rushes down the road.
The reading at our Cathedral in Reno Nevada for the Fifth Sunday of Lent focuses upon the morning twilight, when we start being able to distinguish things. Some asked what color the light was when God created the light and the darkness. Light itself has no color, but only reflects the color of the object it comes from. Light allows us to distinguish things. Jesus, as the light of the world, is the light allowing us to distinguish the humanity in each other, as people equal to ourselves before God.
Our Gospel reading reads:
Father, distinguish your name…” “I have distinguished it and will distinguish it again.” The crowd heard it and said it was thunder; others said, “A messenger spoke to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. Now is crisis on this cosmos. Now the first of this cosmos will be driven out. When I am lifted up, I will draw all (people and planet) to myself.” (Own translation.)
The Greek word, “crisis,” means time of distinguishing. A time of crisis is when we distinguish ourselves as either heroes or cowards.
When God speaks of distinguishing the word is δόξα, from, doxology. It means to think, imagine, suppose, or to fancy. The root idea is “expectation.” It means one we distinguish as apart from everyone else.
The Hebrew for “The first” is “Russia.” It means those who think themselves first. “ἄρχον” has the root idea of being first and meaning those who are made to be the first, therefore the leaders. In God’s cosmos there is room for one first; He chooses not to delegate the position.
The Hebrew word the Greeks translated as δόξα was “Calve Ode,” meaning weighty or important. The first think they are the weighty or the important people. As we come upon Easter and with it the Last Supper, Jesus argues, Luke 22:26-27, “Let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. Who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? It is not the one seated at table! I am among you as the one who serves.” Greek does not have punctuation and therefore no way to distinguish statements from questions. The weighty person is the one who serves.
How do we distinguish ourselves? Jesus answers. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke also give us the story of Jesus Bar Abbas, Jesus Son of the Father, the villain the crowd chooses instead of Jesus. He would rise up in rebellion against Rome. Jesus rises up in death. Jesus Bar Abbas is a cold-hearted terrorist who would sacrifice his own for his cause. Jesus Bar Abba, Jesus Son of the Father, sacrifices himself.
Our first reading tells how to distinguish ourselves, “This is the Social Contract I make
with the Beth Israel, says the Personal Name. I will place my Torah within them. I will write it upon their hearts; I will be their God; they will be my people.” The thunder in our Gospel reading reminds us of the thunder of Mt. Horeb, where God gave the Ten Commandments. This is how to be Israel, one community brought together by prior suffering, much as we have our New Colossus on the Statue of Liberty, reminding us of our suffering over there, wherever we came from.
Torah is soft. Torah is all of us, animal, mineral, vegetable, human, together, one community, caring for each other, using our skills for the common good. In the parable of the sower, what separates the beautiful ground from the rotten ground the seeds fall upon? The hard ground is path, trampled upon and therefore hard, rock, hard, weeds, hard from their roots. The beautiful ground is soft, caring aerated, nurturing.
As we look up at the Nevada sunrises and sunsets let them remind us to distinguish properly.