The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.
Psalms 145 :13 ESV
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
John 5:19 ESV
I’ve been trying to read the gospel passage in Greek again. The construction, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you’ helps immensely: the repetition of ‘amen’ makes it pretty easy to spot. Not so with the rest (something about the Father and the Son…), and I didn’t really quite see where I was until I read the English. But in the midst of my back-and-forth, I noticed something. The word for ‘do’ in the passage is poeisis. A New Testament scholar might tell me that there is nothing special about the use of that particular word here, but I am just a simple lay theologian with very rusty Greek. And that little word reminds me of two (to me) remarkable things.
The word poeisis would not have caught my eye without John Milbank having called it to my attention in an essay called ‘A Christological Poetics‘. But, thanks to his challenging theological proposal, I read this passage of the Gospel according to John with different eyes. What Milbank says about poeisis in his essay is complex and brilliant, and bears reading. My two things are simple and not at all brilliant.
The first is that the ‘doing’ isn’t a factory-line kind of task. English doesn’t have the catch all word for doing and making like one finds in Spanish, for example. Hacer means ‘to do, to make’; translating it into English requires that we make a choice. There seems to me to be a sort of creativity here, to the work of the Father and the Son, that ‘doing’ doesn’t quite capture. (Again, Milbank says this sort of thing much better than I do.)
The second thing is that following Jesus means being caught up in this creative work of God. Even as the Son does only that which he sees the Father doing, so we imitate the Son as far as we are able to do. We participate in the divine poetry, the creative and redemptive work of God in and with the world. Being a Christian isn’t just about turning up on Sunday and trying to live a ‘moral’ life. It is about learning a craft, being apprenticed to a master craftsman. And we learn, through our clumsy and feeble attempts to copy the master, that it isn’t just about copying: this craft isn’t about perfecting our own skill, but allowing his skill to be perfected in us.
It isn’t about us. It’s always about Him. Deo gratias.