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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.
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.