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Thought for the week - 25 February 2024

It’s not very easy to have a mental picture of the Disciples, or the Gospel stories. I suppose I would set them in the only hot, dusty place I know well, which is Cyprus in October, when the harvests have been taken in and the land is barren, maybe just some olive groves yet to harvest and turn those black, bitter pearls into rich, golden olive oil. Maybe I can picture Jesus and His disciples there, by the ‘Coca Cola’ sign advertising the Steni Taverna, the view from which is like nothing other than the opening scenes of the original Star Wars film, and you half expect Han Solo to come walking in, ordering a round of drinks. I can picture them in the Taverna as well, ordering food, eating and drinking – because they surely must have done – and the looks from the other customers – I wonder if as many wanted to sit near them as wanted to sit away form them? It would be easy to extend this mental fantasy to the time after the Ascension, before they went their own way, excitedly but reluctantly maybe breaking up the followship to take the Good News of what they had heard and seen all over the world, Thomas to quite different landscapes in India, Luke to Cyprus, John to his prison in Patmos. They may have laughed, teased each other, remembering the old days and by their words, beginning the long and complex process of the Gospels being written, woven from fragments of conversations, and lived shared experiences into these words that mean so much to us.

Then, after the lamb and flatbreads are eaten, one of them looks at Peter and says, “So Peter, tell us about the day you rebuked Jesus!” Another joins in, “I wonder how did that work out for you?” Another, “What were you thinking about, Peter?” Peter begins to speak, “I just didn’t like the whole suffering and dying conversation. I didn’t get it. That’s not what I signed up for. That’s not who I thought the Messiah would be.” The others become quiet. They recall that day like it was yesterday. They begin to realize that Peter didn’t say anything they weren’t thinking and maybe Peter didn’t say anything we haven’t thought or even wanted to say. Jesus has a very different understanding of discipleship than what most of us probably want. If we are really honest haven’t we, at some point, disagreed with Jesus, asking why he doesn’t do what we want? Why won’t he see the world our way? It all seems so clear to us, with the sight that we have of the world that we live in and help to create.

If he can cast out the demons surely he could silence the voices that drive people so deep into themselves that they cannot find the way back. If he can heal Peter’s mother-in-law why not those we love? If he can cleanse the leper why does our life sometimes leave us feeling unclean and isolated? If he can make the paralytic walk why are so many crippled by fear, dementia, or addiction? Yet they rage on, violence, war, poverty. If he can feed 5000 with a few fish and pieces of bread why does much of the world to go to bed hungry, crying at the end of the day?

I have wondered about these things. I have been asked these kinds of questions. I know some who have lost faith and left the Church over these things. These are our rebukes of Jesus. Our echoes of Peter. He is not being or acting like we want either – and nor do we act like Him. Peter has an image of what the Messiah is supposed to do and who the Messiah is supposed to be and we like that image because it gives us what we want.

Jesus will not, however, conform to our images of who we think he is or who we want him to be. We either choose ourselves and deny Jesus or we deny ourselves and choose Jesus. “If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I suspect that is not what Peter had in mind when Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” The Messiah is supposed to offer security, protection, and put Israel back on top. Faith in Jesus, Peter is learning, is not about the elimination of risks, and the ability to control. Instead, Jesus asks us to risk it all and relinquish control to God. That is what Jesus is doing and it’s slightly terrifying.

As long as we believe our life is about us, we will continue to exercise power over others, try to save ourselves, control our circumstances, and maybe even rebuke Jesus. Jesus rarely exercised power over others or tried to control circumstances. He simply made different choices. Discipleship is not about being out of control or powerless. It is about choosing a different, greater power.

Jesus chose to give in a world that takes, to love in a world that hates, to heal in a world that injures, to give life in a world that kills. He offered mercy when others sought vengeance, forgiveness when others condemned, and compassion when others were indifferent. At some point those kinds of choices will catch the attention of and offend those who live and profit by power, control, and self-preservation They will not deny themselves. They will respond. Jesus said they would. He knew that he would be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes. It happens in every age for those who choose the path of self-denial. When it happened for Jesus, he made one last choice. He chose resurrection over survival. It’s a brave, difficult path we tread, and we tread it together because not one of us can manage it on our own.


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