“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8 NRSV
A few nights ago, I attended a small group discussion of Plato’s Meno in an effort to explore the depths of virtue and what Plato’s text had to teach us about it. The beginning of the text begins with Meno asking Socrates if virtue can be taught or is a result of practice or if it is possessed by men by nature or some other way. As the text goes, the reader is left wondering what the overarching nature of virtue is and if there is a single way of defining virtue that would also be true of all things which we would label as virtuous. The text itself provides the reader no direct answer but leads the reader to think about the nature of virtue itself. The exercise of reading the text can be a frustrating one because it does not take you from point A to point B in a way that you are able to point back to the text for an operating definition of virtue. Instead, you finish the text without any clear answers and many more questions about the nature of virtue than perhaps you thought you had in the beginning.
The exercise of discussing the text with a small group is also a circuitous route as you attempt to define virtue by way of the dialogue between Meno and Socrates. Just as the text left you with no concrete answers, the discussion between friends may not leave you with any concrete answers; indeed, it may only bring additional questions to the surface that deserve their own explorations in order to come back to the original question of the nature of virtue.
The circuitous route of the conversation – and the diversions presented within the conversation – can also become an exercise of frustration if you lack the patience to make the journey. It is a journey that starts with a claim that you seek to prove by way of logic and knowledge, and you might hope that the journey is of a linear nature by which you proceed from point A to point B to point C and so forth. Yet, a journey seldom plays itself out so neatly. Journeys are embedded with surprises and turns and break downs that cannot be predicted at the beginning. A journey does not have the helpful voice of Google Maps telling you where to turn right and where to turn left. The journey may take you far from home before depositing you right back where you began in your search for truth.
In tonight’s gospel reading, we find an enigmatic Jesus that refuses to give Pilate a straight answer about who he is. At each question that Pilate asks, Jesus responds in a way that waits for Pilate to stake his own claim about who Jesus is. For Pilate to give a true answer, however, is a trap for Pilate. If he gives a true answer about who Jesus is, Pilate would put himself in danger of being accused of treason and suffering the same fate that awaits Jesus at the end of the Passion narrative. The first question – “Are you king of the Jews?” gets an unexpected answer from Jesus – “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Jesus is attempting to lead Pilate on a journey to get him to confess to who he says Jesus is. The moment is a moment that could lead to conversion in the sense that Pilate would be able to clearly state who Jesus is in his own words or a moment in which Pilate can decide to refuse to make such a claim. As the narrative continues, Pilate comes back to his question – “So you are a king?” Predictably, Jesus frustrates Pilates examination and says, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
If we shift to the reading from Revelation, the author reminds us of the truth of Jesus Christ and writes, “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Jesus testifies to the truth through his faithful witness of God’s love and invites us to do the same. Through his faithfulness to God, Christ goes to the cross and grants us faith, hope, and love – the greatest of which is love. We are called to live not in fear of the day in which He comes with the clouds but to live in hope of that day. We are called to live with the knowledge of God’s love and of the knowledge that God is our beginning and our end – our alpha and omega.
The radical hospitality that God issues forth in sending the Word to become incarnate becomes our call to discipleship as we attempt to mirror that radical hospitality in our own lives as we proclaim Christ as king. The king we follow is from a kingdom that is not of this world and does not follow the ways of this world. Instead, God’s kingdom is a kingdom that is open to all, and we can share that kingdom with others by caring for our sisters and brothers in this life in hopeful expectation of the life to come. As a body of witnesses that are called to share God’s radical hospitality, we are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and to welcome the stranger.
We are called to recognize that by calling Christ our king we are to follow the ways of God as we understand them through the witness of the Word incarnate and the power of the Advocate, which we now call the Holy Spirit. We do not live in fear and hopelessness because Christ no longer walks the Earth. Instead, we know that Christ is always with us, walking beside us, and urging us to live ever more fully into Christ’s example of faithful witnessing of the alpha and the omega through the power of the Spirit. Through our attempts to live into Christ’s faithful witnessing and by witnessing to Christ’s example, we can strive to live by the commandments of our Savior, and as such, we are reminded that Jesus tells us “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you (John 14:15-17 NRSV).”
As we practice walking our faith lives, our journey takes us to our end. We are called to echo the prologue of John through our own faithful witness of God’s love, and we are called to speak the truth to the ways of the world as we proclaim Christ as our king. The circuitous journey that we make in our faith lives brings us to our omega. Finally, we discover that our omega is our alpha; the beginning is the end. We discover that our final proclamation sounds a little something like:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:1-5; 14, 16 NRSV). ”