“And the word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” (MSG)
Growing up one of my favorite shows to watch was Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Not so much because I was encapsulated by the moral of the story, but because of the melodious song rendered at the beginning of each episode. Mr. Rogers began by singing, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine? Could you be mine? It's a neighborly day in this beauty wood, a neighborly day for a beauty. Would you be mine? Could you be mine? I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you. So let's make the most of this beautiful day. Since we're together, we might as well say, Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” At the end of the song Mr. Rogers would pose a question that simply asked, “won’t you be my neighbor?”
As Mr. Rogers speaks from eternity to time begging this question, I ask him: “have you seen our neighborhoods?” Have you seen the neighborhoods in Connecticut where citizens are wrestling with questions of theodicy, searching for answers about their loved ones’ deaths and some religious officials egregiously state that God did not protect the twenty children and six adults because the government removed prayer from public schools? Have you seen our neighborhood in Washington where Congress seemingly could not come to a middle ground on the fiscal cliff–causing everyone’s taxes to go up and consequently effecting Medicare and the Department of Defense’s budget tremendously? Have you seen the neighborhoods where young children are being molested by pastors and politicians alike? Have you seen middle class neighborhoods where the Trayvon Martins of the world are gunned down for looking suspicious? Have you seen the poor neighborhoods where life is not valued so plight persists and poverty is pervasive?
But in his response, Mr. Rogers says, “There is hope for the hood because there is a new neighbor in town.” Thus, he pointed me to John’s supplemental gospel. John, who has an affinity with divinity, the son of Zebedee, surmises there is a replica of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood before us today.
John, who in this context has a high Christology and low anthropology, gives an obscure observation on the ontological understanding of Christ. Unlike Matthew and Luke, this narrative does not deal with the nativity of Jesus as the synoptic gospels do; rather, it focuses on the divinity of Jesus’ humanity. John’s gospel is one of a theophany, meaning that it deals with physical appearance and manifestation of God in a non-traditional sense. Yet the Johannine literature, esoteric in its nature, fails to humanize Jesus in this account. And perhaps that’s where we’ve gone wrong in the universal church; we deify Jesus so much that we have dehumanized Jesus all the while making him our exception and not our example. Mr. Rogers says there is one who would like to be your neighbor, but his own received him not.
I beckon Mr. Rogers, “Tell me a little bit about this neighbor,” and John says, “The word is qualified to become your neighbor because it has experienced transformation.” The Bible declares in verse fourteen that, “the word became flesh . . .” There’s change, there’s a metamorphosis, there’s a transformation. Upon further studies of linguistic anthropology and etymology, one will find that the word logos had rich cultural meaning in the background of the early Christian church. Given great significance by Greek philosopher Heraclitus, the logos created unity and a pattern for existence in our cosmology. Thus, the word logos gives order and clarity to life. Otherwise, there is chaos during creation as the deity wrestled in darkness.
Then check that word became, because in Greek it comes from the word ginomai, which means "to signify a change of condition, state or place." Philosopher John Dewey put forth a theory known as “the metaphysics of becoming” in which he suggests humanity is constantly in a state of evolving and that the point of evolution is to become God.
There are biological implications and social ramifications that arise from this text because “the word became flesh,” which suggests that our flesh is inherently good–thereby antithetical to Orthodox Christianity’s position of flesh and humanity being sinful by nature and Augustine’s notion of Original Sin. Consequently, we note this radical sanctioning of humanity as Jesus becomes the expressed image of God through humanity. Perhaps this text has been tailored to teach us that God reveres human personality enough to become incarnate and live among us. This notion further purports that there is good in our flesh and our best is better than filthy rags.
A more succinct interpretation of this text would suggest the pattern for our existence changed through something that historically was looked down. It suggests that Jesus– the one who taught us about God’s humanity and humanity’s divinity–established a new world order through something that has been demonized throughout antiquity. This is what the Word ought to do–not condemn people but change patterns, confront policies, challenge politics, and correct procedures. It ought never hurt nor hinder but always help and heal.
Not only must our word be transformed, it must also be transformative! If it does not posses the peculiar power to transform, then we have no Word at all.We must move from our embedded theology to a more deliberative, liberating theology to push back the frontiers of ignorance and become pioneers of social change and renaissance. We must reconsider the way we engage biblical hermeneutics for the twenty–first century and become transformed non-conformists. Our “Word” or source of truth must have the profundity, proclivity, and potency to transform the global village and society in which we live and interact.
Secondly, John tells Mr. Rogers, “it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” because the word also had a means of transportation. “The word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” Once it morphed, it moved. The energy and consciousness of the Word moved as it changed its address from the cosmic corridors of the celestial to the troubling terrains of the terrestrial. But I am convinced that the Word was moving long before John put pen to paper.
Look with me on the YouTube screen of your imagination and see that the canon is replete with illustrations of the Word moving. In the beginning, during the story of creation, the author paints the picture that the Word moved over the face of the waters as it put the sun on day shift and the moon on night shift, and they never missed a day at work. The Word moved as it took its finger and sprinkled the stars of dust across the black canvass of the night. But it didn’t stop moving there because every time we move, the Word moves.
The text says the word became flesh “and moved into the neighborhood . . .” It does not say that it was lifted above the people, crowned as king and paraded around a pulpit, but the text says it dwelt among men–as recorded in the King James Version. The text does not say the word became flesh and opened up one synagogue in two locations, it says it dwelt among men (and women). It felt what the people felt, it cried like the people cried, it lived where the people lived. The Word walked the streets of Jericho, it cruised the cobblestone roads of Caperneum, it sauntered the sidewalks of Caesarea Philippi, and perused the provinces of Palestine. It dealt with jealously of Jerusalem, it felt the burdens of Bethsaida, and at times, the Word felt the numbness of Nazareth.
Hence, this passage is indicative that God is not some distant deity to be worshipped or that operates as a cosmic bellhop, rather It is an intrinsic force that empowers us, enables us, equips us, encourages us, energizes us, equalizes us, enlightens us and that exist among us. It means that God is Emmanuel–with us!
And in an age of religious pluralism and diversity, our word must be transportable! If our Word does not transcend the trivial and trifling affairs, then our word is merely a testimony withveridical truth but not transportable. Let us never forget that we are the transportation! We are responsible for upholding the bloodstained banner. We are called to be the agents of change! And once the Word moves, the world moves.The word, once transformed, ought to move people. Those that are impoverished, it moves to prosperity. Those that are weak, it moves to say, “I am strong.”
Lastly John tells Mr. Rogers, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” because the Word causes transfiguration,” which means for one to appear in radiant glory. The latter portion of the text says, “ . . . and we have seen the glory with our own eyes.” I remember in Dr. King’s last speech he said, “ I may not get to the promised land with you, but I’ve looked over yonder’s hill and I’ve seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” Truthfully, I do not know what Dr. King saw, but perhaps Dr. King saw something in this neighborhood that eyes have not seen nor ears have heard. Perhaps he saw heterosexuals and homosexuals, blacks and whites, rich and poor living in a society where deference was the denominator for living–not difference. Perhaps he saw a neighborhood where teachers wouldn’t be given guns to protect themselves and their pupils as suggested by the National Rifle Association, but an equal educational system that makes our children competitive in a global economy.
John says, “I can only tell you about what I’ve seen.” It’s beautiful when you see what the Word has done. When you’ve seen the Word make a way time after time. When you’ve seen the word make a ministry out of misery. When you’ve seen the Word turn mountains into valleys and make every crooked place straight. When you see the Word take your scars and make them into sacred symphonies, then it is a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Maybe that’s why David declared, “I once was young and now I’m old but I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken nor seed begging bread.” My grandmother said it best as she echoed the sentiments of that song writer who said, “I’ve seen the lightening flashing. I’ve heard the thunder roaring. I’ve felt sin breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus bidding me still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, no never alone.” Amen.
1 Harris, Stephen L. The New Testament: A Student’s Introduction, 7th Edition. (Chapter 11–
John’s Portrait of Jesus: Divine Wisdom Made Flesh.) McGraw-Hill, New York, New York. 2009. pp. 249-252.
2 Lemke, Steve W. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Eds. Chad Owen Brand, Ph.D., Charles W. Draper, Ph.D., Archie W. England, Ph.D. Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. 2003. pp.1044-1045.
3 Hill, Jason D. Becoming a Cosmopolitan: What it Means to be a Human Being in the New Millennium. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, Maryland. 2000. pp. 15.
4 1 Corinthians 2:9; King James Version.
5 Psalm 37:25; King James Version.
6 Pickett, Ludie D. No Never Alone. arr. 1897.