I nearly gave up on this week’s gospel Lectionary passage. <Why, Fran? Why did you nearly give up?> Because sometimes Jesus frustrates the hell out of me. I have been following Jesus, with various fits and starts, for something like 26 years. Obviously, something about him compels me. Yes, he does. He is the most compelling character in history, the most pivotal person ever to walk the earth. His coming initiated changes even the secular world admits have profoundly affected the course of history. Not only that, but I really do believe he was/is God in human flesh, walking among us.
Yes I find him compelling, but actually engaging with him can sometimes be a little crazy-making. How can I simultaneously want to worship at someone’s feet and wring his neck? (1) (I am not the only person who occasionally wants to wring his neck, seeing as how an entire group of people did a whole lot worse than that, killing him for no real reason except they found him frustrating. I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here but not too much.)
My journey through reading the gospels is, every single time I go to them, heavy with questions. Why did you curse that fig tree, Jesus? Why did you write in the dirt? Why did you say you didn't come to bring peace, when a few chapters later all you seem to say is "Peace be with you" (*pulls hair out and emits swear-words*)? And this passage is no different for me. Frustrating and compelling in equal measure.
But what I find very comforting here is that Jesus seems to acknowledge my frustration. He just comes right out and validates it: yep, the good news I have to tell you is going to disrupt you, and go against your grain and be counter-cultural and antagonize the powers that be and make you feel uncomfortable feelings and puzzle you and confront all the darkness in you and it’s going to be great so come on let’s go; oh and by the way I’m shifting the entire paradigm of the universe and all your ideas about economy and power and justice are going to need to go out the window.
Thanks, Jesus. Thanks for that. And I don’t mean that sarcastically at all. I’m actually trusting you more because you’re not pulling any punches here.
What he said has proved, in the two millennia since, to be true. What Jesus has to say has been divisive. If you don’t feel like admitting it, just look at the sheer number of denominations of Christianity in the world: it’s estimated to be somewhere around 33,000! (Phyllis Tickle also told me that.) Nobody can agree on how to do faith. But even that is beautiful. We have this beautiful diversity of thought and expression and culture and language and art; all because we disagree.
Still, the times are changing, then as now. And we must interpret them. Some of us will get the paradigm shift, or parts of it. Some of us will recognize that what is breaking in is the Kingdom of God, but some of us will think it’s a burglar. Some of us are going to wage war in Jesus name even though he told us that peacemakers are God’s people. Some of us are going to see grace and choose rule-following anyway. Some of us are going to lock the doors of the church against people we don’t approve of and who make us uncomfortable, even though Jesus actively sought those people out. Some of us are going to fall down and worship Jesus, and some of us are going to want to wring his neck.
God, things are changing.
The world is changing.
We feel uncertain and shaky.
We feel anxious.
Questions have arisen that we’ve never had to deal with before.
Give us wisdom.
Shifts in culture and technology have brought problems we’ve never had to face before.
Give us discernment.
We are divided in our opinions of how to move forward.
We want unity.
We disagree on policy.
We want compassion.
We know that the Kingdom that Christ began on earth
The good news
The momentum of your will being done on earth as it is in heaven
Even as all around us changes
Your love endures forever.
Even in war, and climate change, and social media, and cultural shifts
Your love endures forever.
Even in theological and political disagreement
Your love endures forever.
Help us to love one another as never before;
Better than before.
Help us to not be defensive or closed-minded,
But open to the Kingdom coming in unexpected ways.
(1) Some are taking good-natured issue with my irreverence in suggesting (or admitting) that I might sometimes want to "wring the neck" of Jesus Christ. I assure you I mean this in the most affectionate way. Kind of like how I sometimes want to wring the neck of my fitness coach when she invites me to do yet another set of burpees. It's an invitation; one that will benefit me if I commit to it -- I will be stronger, fitter, more apt to live a longer, more vibrant life. But there, in the moment, I have some strong feelings about those burpees, and a strong initial resistance to overcome in order to get them done. (YOU MUST BE CRAZY I CAN'T POSSIBLY DO MORE THAN I HAVE ALREADY DONE YOU ALREADY MADE ME DO A GAZILLION SQUATS AND 700 V-UPS AND YOU THINK I CAN POSSIBLY DO MORE BURPEES NOW OK I'LL DO IT.)
This is what I mean. When Jesus digs in to my points of resistance and it's infuriating and I hate him for half a second for challenging me on them but in the end I am committed and if I can just surrender one more inch to his goodness I will get a priceless treasure, even if it is only simple joy. At least this is what happens to me when I go to the gospels. I don't know what happens to you.
A for-instance on points of resistance: the whole sell-your-possessions thing. I have a boatload of resistance to that one and I'm guessing I'm not the only one because several people have told me they hated that post. Don't wring the messenger's neck, folks; Jesus said it, not me.