It would have been difficult to be one of Jesus’ disciples, I think.
There was a lot of travelling, and the fact that you didn’t get to see much of your family would have been hard. I can imagine that being surrounded by the same people every day would also have had its frustrating moments. Then you have the issue of Jesus’ rather abstract way of being - constantly proclaiming deep philosophical truths, and then “dropping the mic” and walking away, leaving his friends to look at each other, bemused.
What did he mean by that?
What is he saying?
Surely he doesn’t mean…
I often wonder what the private conversations between the disciples would have actually been like. We get an insight into some of them, for example in Luke 9, when “an argument broke out” among the disciples about who would be the greatest. I imagine that this was a fairly common kind of disagreement to have. They were just trying figure everything out.
Who is Jesus?
What does this mean?
And who am I in the midst of it all?
I think there is a part of us that is always trying to figure out where we fit.
Have you ever been there yourself? On the outside you know the language to use, and the way to act. You know to raise your hands during worship (or not – depends on which kind of church you go to) and to nod when the preacher glances at you during the sermon. You know how to sound good when talking with your friends (you know, just drop the occasional “this morning, when I was doing my devotions,” or “I really feel in my soul/spirit/[insert interchangeable spiritual word]”) but on the inside you’re so confused about,
Away from the spotlight and prying eyes, you try to figure out those stories that have been handed down to you from family, churches, leaders, friends – the stories that scaffolded your life as you grew up. The ones that inspired you to think big, or to be courageous. Like David and Goliath, Abraham and Isaac, or Jonah and the whale.
But despite their familiarity, these stories don’t quite make sense anymore.
Or even if they make sense they don’t quite feel right.
Like that time Abraham takes his son to the top of a mountain and tries to kill him. You remember that one? You learn about it in
But usually with the caveat: “don’t worry, it was just a test”
Oh sure, that makes it better.
You know that all you need to do is “pray and read your bible” – this seems to be the answer to everything, and you have honestly tried, but it isn’t working. You pray, and you feel nothing. You read, and it still doesn’t make sense.
But you pretend that it does.
Because what’s the alternative?
The alternative is to begin to ask some really difficult questions. To bring your doubt out into the open. To be curious about everything and be certain about nothing, at least for a time. To challenge, to interrogate, to question. To question.
There are so many questions.
And, to be honest, we (and here I’m speaking on behalf of the whole entire church for its entire 2000-ish year history – I’m sure I can do that, right?) haven’t always been that good at handling the questions. They often make us feel unsettled, challenged, and maybe even just a little bit insecure.
We used to burn people at the stake, or give people “a really long bath,” if they asked unsettling questions. Now we just gaslight people, possibly exclude them from stuff and occasionally call them a heretic. It’s much more civilised.
And whilst that sounds very cynical, I understand why it happens,
because questions are difficult to wrestle with.
Answers are easy,
questions are hard.
And how do you begin to enter into questions about
Galileo is a classic example. He came up with the preposterous notion that the earth actually revolves around the sun (and not the other way around), which got him thrown in jail and excommunicated. You see, for the church, to say that the Earth was not the centre of the universe this somehow implied that God was not the centre of the universe, and that was blasphemous. To them, back then, throwing him in jail made perfect sense. His ideas challenged their understanding of God.
Ideas are powerful things.
They can literally change the axis of your universe.
But I need to let you know that it is only through ideas, which begin as questions, that we will ever be able to wrestle with some of life’s deepest and most complex questions. Curiosity is a gift. Did you hear that?
Curiosity is a gift.
It is a gift to you, and to us. People don’t always realise it straight away but asking questions is one of the most important spiritual acts you can undertake. And to do it well takes practice and discipline. The kinds of questions that change our worlds are not ones born of bitterness and cynicism, but of wonder and awe.
The story of Jesus that we find in the Gospels is a story about people (the disciples, Israel, even the ‘Gentiles’) coming to understand who Jesus really was. They didn’t all get it straight away. Some of them never got it. One thing is for sure though, just being associated with him didn’t mean that you automatically understood who he was, and what on earth was going on. Those disciples were constantly coming back to those questions.
Who is Jesus?
What does all of this mean?
And who am I in the midst of it all?
We are desperate to know who Jesus is, because we are desperate to know who we are. Our search for God, to truly understand him, is just as much a search for ourselves. We want to know him more, because we want to know ourselves better. This has always been the human quest.
Over time though, things have gotten all tangled up. We have gotten our understanding of God all mixed up with so many things. Politics, history, language, culture, nationality – the list is endless. We have so many words that we use when we speak about God, and so many opinions to contend with just to figure out what questions we even want to ask.
need to ask.
Before we can really step into this quest – the one to try and understand God so that we can also understand ourselves – we need to do some deconstruction work first. Some unlearning, if you will. We need to begin to deconstruct some of the things that have been built up over time.
Like Elijah on Mt Horeb, we need to face both the God who is in front of us as well as the one who is behind us.
I often use the analogy of a tower, or a temple. It takes a long time to build something as big and impressive as a temple. It takes time, effort, energy, and a huge amount of investment. Once it’s built it’s not going anywhere in a hurry.
The concept of a temple is used all throughout scripture – but not always in positive ways. There is a strange moment in the Gospel story where Jesus threatened to destroy the temple and rebuild it again in three days.
Hang on, what?
Destroy this beautiful thing we made?
I’m assuming this is another analogy.
The temple was supposed to be the epicentre of Jewish life and worship. It was supposed to be where you go to experience to goodness and beauty of your God. By the time Jesus gets on the scene however, the temple – and those who run it - have gotten all tangled up. They are mixed up with politics, nationalism, economics – and suddenly the temple is not doing what it was supposed to do any more. It has gone from being something used to worship God, to something used to manipulate and control people. What began as a reflection of God, had become a reflection of us.
This is often the tragic truth of the Christian faith. It doesn’t take much for it to move from being something of beauty, to something… else.
If the temple represents all of our best ideas about God, all of our hopes and expectations about who he is, what he is doing, and what his kingdom will be like – what happens when it all comes crumbling down?
If you have spent your entire life investing in a certain image of God, but that image gets disrupted it can be difficult to figure out where you go to next. So much of what we learn is based on being sure about what you believe, and confident in the God that you worship but when the temple that you have built to your God is rendered powerless by the invading armies of life, you are left with nothing but broken rocks.
That is what this journey is about.
It’s about those rocks.
And it’s the perfect place to begin.