Following Jesus is Hard to Do. (August 2017)
As our Sunday readings for this cycle of the lectionary take us through the gospel of Matthew this year, you might notice something about the structure of this gospel. For the last several weeks, we have heard excerpts of Jesus teaching or preaching. For this next month or so, we hear stories of where Jesus traveled, who he met, and what he did. This is no accident as the gospel of Matthew deliberately alternates between sections of narrative and discourse.
That said, it is not as if one type of writing is where we learn and the other type is just entertainment or “connecting the dots” of the story. The whole of the gospels were written to help us be formed as disciples.
As we look over the next month, notice how the focus is especially on the disciples. Maybe they stand in for all of us who follow Jesus from every time and place. As they walked with Jesus, much of the time they had difficulty understanding what Jesus was saying or doing. Sometimes they publically pretended that they totally understood Jesus only to ask questions of him later, in private. Sometimes they were on the wrong side of an argument. Sometimes they thought they understood but showed themselves to completely confused.
This narrative section in general shows us how difficult it is to follow Jesus primarily because he acts so contrary to what humans normally consider good and proper behavior. He challenged and offended the original disciples and religious leaders on what they assumed was true. Do we believe we are so different from those first disciples?
In truth, we should also expect to be challenged and offended by Jesus and where God is leading us today. When we use the word “grace,” we probably should be nervous because this unconditional love and acceptance of God is so different from how we see the world and how we live day to day. Grace explodes so many of our assumptions about who is good and bad and what is acceptable behavior, dress, language, or anything else. Grace blows wide open who is welcome and who God wants us to see as our neighbor. Our response to God’s grace means real-world consequences for how we see the world and how we live: to love those we do not like or those we fear; to give of ourselves when it is inconvenient to do so; to risk our lives for the healing of the world.
My fellow followers of Jesus, let us expect to be challenged and offended. Like the first disciples, let us expect to not understand God’s way immediately or easily. May we always pray that we can continue to trust Christ as we follow throughout our lives so that these challenges will bring us the transformation and growth that the Spirit brings us.
In the grace and peace of Christ,