Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Tag: Jesus

November 8, 2020 — Jesus deserted and alone


Today’s Bible reading

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and became anguished and distressed. Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” Going a little farther, he threw himself down with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with me for one hour? Stay awake and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Matthew 26:36-41

More thoughts for meditation

When modern Israel wants to show contempt for the occupied Palestinians, they cut down their olive trees. No one cuts down an olive tree out of kindness, they are much too valuable, almost sacred. When Roman Emperor Titus laid siege to Jerusalem in 70AD, he cut down the olive trees in the suburbs to build the siege works. Many of those trees forested the Garden of Gethsemane, no doubt, the garden on the Mount of Olives where Jesus prayed before he was betrayed. Gethsemane was a popular spot outside Jerusalem’s walls to cool off, be seen and relax. The people who cultivate the rival sites of the original garden for today’s pilgrims to enjoy replicate the pleasure the grove might have provided Jesus, who often went there.

In today’s reading, Jesus prays alone in Gethsemane. He is dragged off alone from there. He is deserted by his disciples there. He leaves the muffled quiet of the olive trees to be nailed to a tree amid a forest of jeers.

It is significant that the Lord’s agony started in a garden. Archetypically, a garden is a place of delight, a place of love, a place to drink wine, a place where lovers meet in the moonlight, the place of intimacy. The garden is paradise. The Garden of Eden was Paradise. Adam was the first to inhabit it. Paul types Jesus as a “second Adam,” the first of us in the new creation. Jesus is a redo, a re-entry into Eden. Jesus tells the repentant thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Just before he is crucified, Jesus sweats blood in a garden as a lover. He is not the great King, full of pain because the sheep will not heed the shepherd; nor is he there as the great Magus, full of sorrow because nobody wants to pick up on the truth he has revealed; nor is he the great warrior, frustrated in his efforts to defeat the powers of sin, death, and darkness. These pains and frustrations mostly take place elsewhere, among the crowds, in the temple, in the desert. The garden is for lovers, not for kings, magi, and warriors.

It is Jesus, the lover, the one who calls us to intimacy and delight with him, who sweats blood in the garden. Jesus is alone, misunderstood, lonely, isolated, without support. We see his suffering as a lover; the agony of a heart that’s ultra-sensitive, gentle, loving, understanding, warm, inviting, hungry to embrace everyone, but a heart which instead finds itself misunderstood, alone, isolated, hated, brutalized, facing murder.

You have probably been falsely accused or cut off by a friend. I suspect Walter Wallace’s mother and wife feel alone in their grief, even though they are surrounded by supporters and media attention. Jesus knows that kind of isolation and loneliness. We see him in Gethsemane as a lover who’s been misunderstood and humiliated. He’s the upright man publicly accused of lying, now vulnerable and defenseless. He’s the sensitive woman who discovers someone has been telling a false story to her friends and they are all suspicious she was ever who she pretended to be. You may have been there and also prayed something like, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me!”

Suggestions for action

It has been such a bruising year! If you’ve been following politics, you may end up exhausted and hopeless, wondering if there is anyone actually in the community to which you have been giving attention. If you hoped for societal change in the face of systemic, murderous racism, the tragedy still reverberating in West Philadelphia surely made you cry with frustration and pain. The virus comes into town like a cruel power to cut down our olive trees. Jesus is drinking that cup with you.

The isolated may isolate, but Jesus is isolated with them. Our loneliness may be an existential reality for us, but Jesus is with us there, too. [Sings Andrew Yang]

February 22 — Our blindness to God’s love for us

Today’s Bible reading

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:38-39

More thoughts for meditation

As much as we are made for love and by love, we have many defenses against it. Many of us have been let down and wounded early on in our lives; we have been loved in imperfect ways by imperfect people, and so it is hard to trust.

The invitation of the spiritual life is to begin to become aware of the love that God has for us, and to trust that love as the ground of our being. It is not an impersonal force in the universe as Star Wars theology might suggest. Rather, it came personally delivered in a body, as a vulnerable person who stopped at nothing to love us.

Now, Love can lead us out of bed and into the adventures and challenges of really living. Jesus can call us back to rest in the evening and be as near as our breath through the difficulties of the night.  When other loves let us down, we are held by His.

Suggestions for action

Act: Pray for more awareness of God’s love for you. That is spiritual “seeing.” Ponder what keeps you from experiencing it throughout the day and note that to a friend or in your journal.

Rest: Listen to Seth Martin & The Menders sing The Lone Wild Bird and see if you can rest in the love of Christ for you. We changed the words “Great Spirit” to “lowly Jesus” so that we could be with Jesus in his sufferings as he is with us in ours. Love is vulnerable for Jesus just like it is vulnerable for us. But if you want to be with him, nothing can separate you from his love. Not now, or ever.

January 22, 2017 – Finished with sin

Today’s Bible reading

1 Peter is a tricky little letter written almost two thousand years ago. We’re a long way from where this whole thing started but we want to continue learning how be included in Peter’s description of his readers, “Though you have not seen him, you love him” (1 Peter 1:8). We want to use the Bible as a way to relate to God as the regular people we are. You don’t have to understand it all for it to form you. We’re rescuing Bible study from the experts and our own indifference. Our proverb, “The Bible should be known and followed, and that is a group project,” may be good to keep in mind as we journey together this week.

This is because whoever suffers is finished with sin. As a result, they don’t live the rest of their human lives in ways determined by human desires but in ways determined by God’s will.

Read 1 Peter 4:1-11

Christ Blessing, 1465, Antonello Da Messina

More thoughts for meditation

In this passage, Peter explains that the very blood of Jesus “funds” a new life. One that isn’t dictated by human desires and empty promises that our leaders give us to fulfill those desires, but by what God wants and what God wills.

What does Peter call those human desires? For one, a waste of time. The lack of restraint here is key. The lack of discernment. The lack of boundaries. Unrestrained immorality, excessive feasting, wild parties, worship of idols. In Peter’s world, much like ours, the line between the people who follow God and the people who don’t is marked not by their beliefs, but by their actions.

Peter wants his audience to contrast with the others. And so far, they are making a difference. They act differently and subsequently people make fun of them. They aren’t part of the normal. They aren’t part of the mainstream. They are the alternative. As a result, they suffer.

This shows the baffling difference between believers and unbelievers in the world and further cements Peter’s vision for peaceful and courageous resistance.

Those who hurt you? They’ll have to “reckon” with God—the ultimate judge, of the living and of the dead. We rest assured because those who cause us suffering will have to work things out with God. We don’t need to fight them or protect ourselves. God is with us.

Suggestions for action

Today, imagine the ways you are suffering as a Christian. See if it isn’t because you are “finished with sin.”

Jesus suffered, as a human, Peter tells us. We should do. We should “arm ourselves” or “ready ourselves,” with the same kind of thought. Let’s pray that we are clothed with the mind of Christ today. We suffer because we are following him. The world will be decidedly inhospitable to our alternativity. That much is clear. We are finished with “sin.” Christ “finished” sin, and as followers, we’ve rejected it too.