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GOSPELS

tomb-2

I spent the past couple of days reading through the four gospels again. Every once in a while, I do that: read them straight through. It’s easier to see the similarities and differences that way. Obviously, I don’t read the gospels just to see the similarities and differences, but there they are anyway. And things pop out at you that you hadn’t noticed before, like that one of the original 12 disciples was called “Lebbaeus” (how’d I miss that?) and that the sermon on the mount was preached just to the disciples, not to the multitudes. Jesus was actually trying to get away from the multitudes by going up the mountain, and the disciples went up the mountain after him. This is according to Matthew. And yet I’d always thought that the ‘sermon on the mount’ was preached to the multitudes. That’s usually how you see it in pictures – Jesus standing on the mountain, lording it over the adoring masses below. But that’s not how it was, according to Matthew. It was just Jesus sitting down and talking to the disciples. Funny how things get taken out of context, like a game of gossip; you say “tomato”, I say “cat food”.

Something else that jumped out at me is how Peter and Andrew and James and John IMMEDIATELY left their jobs to follow Jesus. Matthew, too, and a blind guy who’d been healed. “STRAIGHTWAY”, the King James Version puts it. There was no hesitation, no “let me think about it and get back to you”. They just dropped everything and followed Jesus. They weren’t fishermen and tax collectors by day, disciples by night. No. They were full-time disciples from the second they heard their names called. It was like someone had fired a starting pistol, and off they went. Jesus tells a parable about people who hear God’s call and don’t go, using every excuse in the book as to why they can’t. Don’t be those people. Things didn’t end well for them.

I love Jesus (not in a mushy way [he’s my brother, after all]), and I especially love how he kept it real. Here were all these puffed up, snobby, holier-than-thou Jewish powers-that-be, sashaying around in their little daycare groups, snubbing Jesus (the actual Messiah they’ve been waiting and praying for since Abraham’s day) just because he’s an average-looking guy from a modest background. They’re so wrapped up in their own importance, they can’t accept that this average-looking guy from a modest background is not only their king, but the king of kings, and the lord of all creation. He just doesn’t fit the image they had of who and what the Messiah should be. So they hound him, and then reject him, and then kill him, thinking he’s of no consequence. They were so ridiculously and profoundly blind and deaf from their pride, you almost (almost) feel sorry for them. The same proud types lord it over us today, demanding we bow down to them from cradle to grave.

Never bow down to anyone except God and Jesus.

Another thing I noticed when I was reading through the gospels the other day was how Jesus seemed to be creating a new role for women in his kingdom. Out with the Martha types, and in with the Mary Magdalenes. He didn’t see women as simply supporting players in the kingdom, but as equals, and he was constantly correcting the males who were trying to keep them down. He did this as a way to teach men that it was time to give up their traditional spiritual “man-spreading” and make room for women spiritually. It was the women, after all, who were the first to know of Jesus’ resurrection and to believe it, whereas the men scoffed at them and said they were ‘telling tales’. Mary Magdalene in particular held a special position in Jesus’ hierarchy of followers. No, they weren’t married, and no, they weren’t lovers, but I’m pretty sure that Mary was closer to Jesus than any of the other disciples. She listened to him, she loved him, and she understood him better (I’m betting) than even John. All of her actions directly ministered to Jesus, which in turn helped him do his job better. Martha, on the other hand, represented the old order, where women bustled around the household and were ‘careful in many things’ but not in the things that really mattered (learning about the kingdom and living in it). Most men don’t like it when I talk like this, and you’d be surprised at how many women don’t like it, either. I’m not talking about women supplanting men in God’s kingdom; I’m talking about women having equal authority with men in God’s kingdom. That’s what Jesus was showing us in his constant and consistent defense of Mary Magdalene and other women like her. It’s up to you whether or not you want to see that.

The last thing I’ll mention is about the crucifixion scenes. I hate that part of the gospels, where the power of darkness briefly triumphs, but we have to pay attention to it (even with half-shielded eyes) because we’re all going to have to go through it someday. Jesus was teaching us how to do it, ministering to us right up to his last agonized breath. He showed us by quoting from the Bible, by forgiving his tormentors, and by praying to God. This is how we’ll get through what’s coming for us. Jesus said those who endure to the end will be saved. The key here is “endure”, and the way to do it is through God, by choosing God’s way and God’s words. Jesus wasn’t relying on his own strength; he was relying 100% on God’s strength, and God didn’t let him down. Jesus always relied 100% on God. That’s what made him so powerful and his teaching so authoritative: It was God’s power and God’s teachings.

>>>POSTSCRIPT<<<

If we look hard, we can see ourselves in the gospels. On the day I was converted and read the New Testament for the first time, God told me that what had happened to me was like when Mary Magdalene had seven devils driven out of her (only God mentioned by-the-by that I had a lot more than seven, and then we laughed). I think each one of us can find our own conversion story somewhere in the Bible. In John (17:20-22), Jesus asks his Dad to help us. He mentions us specifically as the ones who’ll believe in him through the work of the disciples:

Neither pray I for these [the disciples] alone,

but for them [that’s us!]

also which shall believe on me

through their word;

that they [that’s us again!] all may be one;

as thou, Father, art in me,

and I in thee,

that they [he’s talking about us here again too!]

also may be one in us:

that the world may believe

that thou hast sent me.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s pretty cool that we get a mention in the gospels. Jesus knew we’d be reading about him some day, and he wanted to include us in his story. It was his shout-out to us down the ages, letting us know we’re part of the family and that he loves us and he’s thinking about us. Of course, we know and love him now like a big brother, and we don’t need a book to tell us that he loves us, but still… it’s nice to see us get a mention there in print as part of the family tree. We get a few other mentions, too, in both the Old and New Testaments.

We’re in there, we’re out here, and we’re living the promise, just like Jesus prayed we would.

Amen.

MISTEAKS

OOPS

One thing I especially love about the gospels is how Jesus and his followers are portrayed as normal everyday people. No royalty there (not in earthly terms, anyway), and not even any trained ministers among them. Jesus was a carpenter from a poor hick town and his followers came from the lowly ranks of fishermen, tax collectors, administrators, and even party girls. And, being normal everyday people, they all occasionally screwed up (sometimes royally), and we get to read about it and learn from it.

 

This is a huge blessing for us and a further testimony to God’s love for us, how we can read about the everyday ‘normalness’ of Jesus and his early followers. We can screw up, just like they occasionally did, and God won’t give up on us. Just as we keep forgiving people (seventy-times-seven times, if necessary), God keeps forgiving us. We fall down; he picks us up. And he’ll keep on doing that as long as we’re sincere in wanting to follow Jesus.

 

The best-known royal screw-up is, of course, Peter denying knowing Jesus three times. Think about it – Jesus spells out to Peter that he’ll betray him three times before the cock crows (meaning, within less than a day), but Peter swears he’d never betray Jesus and he’d even die for him if necessary. All of the disciples swear the same thing. Let me repeat that – Jesus tells Peter precisely when and precisely how he’s going to screw up, but Peter refuses to see it as a possibility. And then, within only a few short hours, Peter does exactly what Jesus says he’d do.

 

(OOPS!)

 

This “warts and all” approach is one of the main things I love about the gospels. The information about Peter was included not to denigrate him – no, not at all. Rather, the information was included to show us that we’re just like Peter and Peter’s just like us, especially when we screw up. And, just like Peter, we too can get another chance, if we sincerely love God and sincerely want to follow Jesus.

 

I wonder how many of us reading (and writing) this can imagine being in Peter’s shoes. I’m guessing that most of us who call ourselves born-again followers of Jesus have, like Peter, sworn in our hearts that we’ll do anything and everything to follow Jesus, anything and everything to do God’s will.

 

I also imagine that we’ve been tested on this already and have come up far, far, far short of what we’d envisioned for ourselves.

 

But take heart, you worms! As my grandmother used to say: “Mistakes keep you humble.”

 

Without humbling ourselves before God (meaning, without handing our one and only true possession over to God, day in and day out [meaning, without handing our will over to him, day in and day out]), we won’t be able to do God’s will and we won’t be able to get to heaven.

 

That’s a spiritual fact.

 

Peter screwed up royally, we occasionally screw up royally, even Jesus made the odd mistake, like when he assumed, when he was 13 years old, that he was old enough to start his ministry, or when he tried to heal a blind man and had to do a second round of healing to get it right.

 

Jesus wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t a sinner, but he wasn’t perfect. His followers aren’t perfect, either. Only God is perfect. We strive for perfection (Jesus says “be ye perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect”) but we’re not expected to achieve it. When we fall short and fall down, God will pick us up, pat or spank us on the bum, and then set us back on the path we need to go.

 

After his resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Peter said yes, of course, he loved him, and even got a little impatient with Jesus for asking him the same question over and over again. People interpret Jesus’ three questions about loving him as being the resolution of the three times that Peter denied knowing Jesus (and I agree with this interpretation), but I also see Jesus’ repetition of the same question as being a way to emphasize a profoundly important point – that in living your life, you occasionally screw up and do the exact thing that you swear you’ll never do. But that doesn’t mean you don’t get another chance, as long as your heart is in the right place, and as long as you still love God and still want to follow Jesus.

 

The gospels show us how the early disciples lived their lives while they were here on Earth. We can see ourselves in their triumphs and confusion and weak faith and occasional royal screw-ups. But we can also see ourselves in how they kept going and how they were rewarded for their perseverance by a steadily increasing faith and an ever-closer relationship with God and Jesus.

 

You’re going to make mistakes – that’s for sure.

 

Just don’t let your mistakes unmake you.