Thursday, April 12, 2012

Simmer Down, Sons of Zebedee

(Originally posted on the WordPress blog by Prizm Tungsten on March 24, 2011)

Finding myself unable to sleep, despite all out exhaustion, I thought I would allay the concerns of Caoilin and Mason and see once and for all whether or not I am able to post on the St. Matthew’s blog.  And, lo, it appears I can!
Let us hope this does not lead to ruinous disaster.  After all, a little bit of power…
Speaking of, the particular thing on my mind at the moment is one of my favorite Bible stories.  It’s one of the shortest possible Bible stories.  Indeed, I can cut and paste it in its entirety with as little as four verses from Luke, chapter 9:
53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them[b]?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.
Many thanks to BibleGateway.com for quick and easy passage lookup, by the way.  I used the NIV because that is what came up.  I know, I should have probably chosen something more PC like the NRSV, but for our purposes here, let us not split hairs overly much on such matters.
It may be puzzling to some what could possibly be compelling in such a tiny slice of the Gospels.  Indeed, why include this bit in the Gospels?  Contextually there is an enormity of background to this scene.  Indeed, this is the beginning of the grand climax of the Gospels, of Jesus’ ministry and of his very life (in the earthbound realm).  A mere two verses before we are told, in fact:
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
So, why, in the midst of all that has come before, and of all that is to unfold from this point, would any Gospel writer or any Gospel reader stop to consider that, of all the (decidedly limited, most likely) details culled from Jesus’ life it should be remotely noteworthy that at this moment, Jesus rebukes two of his disciples.  We do not even know what the substance of the rebuke might have been, except inasmuch as we might experience through reading and prayer time.
Still yet, even now, in this Season of Lent, as we ourselves turn to head into Jerusalem, standing at the precipice of the most arduous time for Jesus, for his disciples then, and for his disciples now….  this tiny sliver of the Gospel, without fail makes me pause….  and smile.
Smile?
Jesus is turning towards Jerusalem.  The context of this passage is the foreshadowing of his ultimate rejection by the masses, and even of his closest disciples.  What on Earth is there to smile about here?
That, though, is precisely the point.  What, indeed, on Earth — “on Earth as in Heaven” — is there to smile about?
Consider for a moment what the Christ might have done, the Messiah, the Salvation of God’s people Israel, and the Light unto the Nations, the Alpha, the Omega, the Son of God might have done.
This passage in the Gospel could have read:
And then the Son of God in Majestic Glory turned and offered an insightful and profound parable about the nature of compassion for those who scorn us.
Or…
Christ, Messiah, heading into Jerusalem to face his death on the Cross for our Salvation stopped to preach to his disciples…
But it says neither of these things, nor many other things that the Gospel might have said.  It says only “he turned and rebuked them.”
And this, for me, is the most tender and poignant of matters, the revelation of Christ’s ultimate humanity.  For here stands Jesus, in this moment, on this Earth, not as the Son of God, not as Christ the King, etc., etc., but as Jesus, a man rather like a frazzled parent, or harried schoolteacher in any age understanding as a parent or schoolteacher might what is actually happening with his disciples and responding in the most human of ways.
Jesus knows at this moment that his disciples do not understand where they are headed or where they are going.  Not really do they understand.  They are rather like boisterous, anxious children on a road trip.  James, John and the others are in this moment a bit anxious, a bit excited, and more than a little rowdy.  They have no real notion of what lies ahead.  All they know is that they have some vague understanding that they are with someone who is the Christ and the Son of God, whatever that might mean, and they want to help, they want to participate, and they want to do something really nifty like calling down fire.
This Jesus understands.  And so, in a way that only his humanity can permit, responds in the most human of ways:
“Shush!  Settle down!  No, we’re not calling down fire.  Now be quiet, and don’t say another word until we get to Jerusalem.  And if you make me have to pull this procession over you’ll be sorry because I’m gonna make you *think* rain down fire, all right!”
A Christ cannot understand this and respond in this manner.
A Messiah cannot understand this and respond in this manner.
Only a compassionate, loving, human man named Jesus trying to get his disciples corralled and down the road can respond in this manner.  Except…
They are the same.
This Christ.  This Messiah.  This harried traveler named Jesus with unruly Boanerges boisterous boys in tow…
…are one and the same.
And so as we continue our journey through the Lenten season, on the road to Jerusalem, I ask of you what has really changed among the disciples of Christ, the followers of this man named Jesus with much on his mind?
Do we understand any better than did James and John what it truly means to be in the presence of the Son of God?  Do we truly understand what is about to unfold?  And in our own way, do we, in our zeal, want to be helpful, to participate, to do some nifty trick like calling down fire without really thinking through what we’re saying or understanding what we mean?
More importantly, when Jesus, in full humanity turns and rebukes us, then continues on his way to Jerusalem… will we sulk and feel a bit stung?  Or will we understand and accept that within that rebuke is the compassion of a deep humanity without which we would never have found ourselves here in the first place?
These are the questions placed before us in Lent.
So, now I leave you with these thoughts.  Go in peace and reflect.  Go in quiet and meditate.  Go in silence and contemplate.  Because…
…if you make me have to pull this blog over…

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