Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lent 3

During this Lenten season
we have been focusing on our call as disciples of Jesus —
our call to sit at his feet and learn from him,
our call to follow him where he would lead us.
Of course part of the difficulty in reflecting on our call as disciples
is the difficulty we have in thinking of ourselves as disciples at all.
Disciples?” we ask.
“Weren’t those the people who followed Jesus around
2000 years ago in Palestine?”
We tend to this of the disciples as Jesus’ contemporaries,
and we presume that the time of discipleship is past.

But even once we grasp the idea
that “disciple” is a more general term
that can include us today as we seek to be followers of Jesus,
I suspect that we continue to feel that we are at some disadvantage
by comparison with those
who could actually see Jesus with their own eyes
and hear Jesus with their own ears.
I don't mean to make excuses,
but I sometimes find myself thinking that
if I could have heard Jesus' preaching with my own ears,
if I could have seen Jesus’ miracles with my own eyes,
then I would have the same kind of faith,
the same kind of hope,
and the same kind of love
as disciples like Peter or James or John or Mary Magdalene.
If I could have been Jesus’ contemporary during his earthly ministry
then I could have heard first hand
his call to sit at his feet and learn from him,
his call to follow him where he would lead me.
If I could have been his contemporary,
then I could have been a real disciple.
As it is, I feel as if the best I can do
is be what the philosopher Kierkegaard called
“a disciple at second hand.”

But our Gospel today indicates that being Jesus’ contemporary
did not necessarily confer any advantage
with regard to being his disciple.
In today’s reading from John’s Gospel,
Jesus performs a rather strange, disruptive act
in the temple in Jerusalem,
utters some cryptic words about his Father’s house,
and speaks mysteriously
about a temple being torn down and rebuilt in three days —
and his disciples are left, frankly, baffled.
They have no idea what he is talking about.
They see his actions with their own eyes
and hear his words with their own ears
and they are at least as puzzled as we are.
John tells us that it was only several years later,
after Jesus had been raised from the dead,
that they begin to understand
that it is his body that was the temple
torn down and rebuilt in three days.
John tells us that it is only after,
when Jesus’ mortal voice had faded from their hearing,
that, “his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.”
Though they were his contemporaries,
they found it no easier than we do to believe his words
and to answer his call to come and be his disciple.
As Paul indicates in our second reading,
the words and actions of Jesus
seemed foolish and weak when viewed from the perspective
of human wisdom and human strength.

So Jesus’ contemporaries were as bad off as we are
with regard to discipleship.
They had as much difficulty as we do grasping the truth
of “the foolishness of God,”
of feeling the power of “the weakness of God.”
Indeed, they were in some sense worse off than we are,
because they only learned later
what we have proclaimed to us now:
that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
They had to await Christ’s resurrection before they could
“believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.”
The faith, hope and love of the disciples
was born from the empty tomb
and Jesus' risen presence among them.

But for us, Jesus Christ crucified and risen
stands in our midst right now,
if we can but see with the eyes of faith
and listen with ears of hope.
Indeed, if Jesus is not present to us here and now
as much as he was present in Jerusalem two-thousand years ago —
indeed, if he is not in a sense more present to us
because he has been raised to new life in the Spirit —
then we might as well stop now and all go home.

So for Lent, I’ve decided to give something up:
I am going to give up making excuses.
I’ve decided to stop telling myself
that if only I could have been there
to see and hear Jesus with my own eyes and ears,
if I could only have heard his own voice calling me,
then I would be a real disciple,
then I would sit at his feet and learn from him,
then I would heed his call to follow him where he would lead me.
Because the fact is, the risen Jesus is here now,
calling me and calling you;
his own voice is calling us, no less than it called his first disciples.
If we believe that Christ is risen and active in our midst
then the time for excuses is over
and the time of discipleship has begun.

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