This last week was one of the most wearisome and overwhelming weeks of my life. It was the pinnacle, perhaps, of this intensely difficult season. It hammered — loudly and painfully — home what I’ve been considering these last weeks; namely, how we rob ourselves of the new while holding on to the old. When I say new I mean brokenness, submission, and dependence. And by old I mean wholeness, freedom, and independence. I’ve been watching a lot of people fight tooth-and-nail for their freedoms and rights, their privilege and centrality in the world, but I have this relentless feeling that by doing so, they’re refusing the best gift.
Being under the control of circumstances and persons rather than our own powers is exceptionally uncomfortable. It’s vulnerable and scary. When politics and pandemics make us feel exposed and undervalued, we’re unlikely to enjoy it. We long for leaders who will take up our causes, our banners, and our rights. We want someone to stand up for us and overthrow all who oppose us, the righteous. We probably won’t plead for a person who will teach meekness, bless our enemies, and rebuke our pride. That hardly seems efficient or appropriate, right? We need someone to dethrone the Romans — I mean, the political party and corrupt officials — that interfere with our lives and what we understand to be right. We don’t need someone to curse our habits and systems, call us out of our comfortable lives to our crosses, and — worse yet — heal our adversaries and give them what they’re owed.
Did I veil that thinly enough?
I’ve always been really scared to be a Pharisee — to be under the impression that I’m following the Lord when I’m really opposing him. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prayed to be a John or Andrew, maybe a Peter, or, at the very least, a Paul. I don’t want to miss the Messiah standing before me. I want to see him for who he is and run after him without pause. I want to unhesitatingly trust his judgement. When he decides to submit himself — even to death — I want to be beside him. When he doesn’t make any sense at all to me, I want to, nevertheless, follow. I don’t want to be so focused on valiantly charging the stronghold of injustice and evil that I miss how he’s loving on castle captives and captors alike. I want my eyes to be so fixed on him, the works of my hands and heart to be so surrendered to him, that righteousness follows in obedience to love.
It’s not that I don’t think he wants us to be free and for goodness to reign on the earth; that’s completely in conflict with his nature and promises. But he’s already — and clearly — demonstrated that he has a very different way of freeing us and establishing goodness. Righteousness, justness, boldness, and steadfastness are all good. But they’re defined by him — as all good things are. So, maybe they’re not what we think they are. The only time Jesus did the kind of thing we do — the angry, name-calling, table-flipping thing — was to people like us, not the people we think deserve it. To those the devout dismissed and admonished, he gave only love and forgiveness. He’s not like we think he is. Unfortunately for us, he’s not like us. While our sense of justice and mercy is often slightly — or very — out of balance, his is always perfectly right. He is always right.
I’m shifting my understanding of who he is and what he’s like. I’m learning to see how he serves rather than soldiers. But I’m also trying to let go of the truly good things — even the things he’s given me — because I love him more.
If you haven’t watched The Chosen, which is free to watch through their app — free advertising — you should. The series depicts the followers — the chosen — of Jesus. One of the people of focus is Nicodemus, who is scarcely present in the Gospels. John describes him as a Pharisee who met with Jesus at night. I’ve always thought fondly of him as a secret follower of Jesus. The series expands on his life and portrays him as the teacher of teachers — a man with significant wealth, a beautiful wife, a mind searching for wisdom and truth, and a heart longing for the Messiah. As viewers, we watch his humility and openness to God sustain him while his earnest desire to know Jesus grows. Eventually he meets with Jesus, on a rooftop late at night, and he knows who Jesus is. His emotion is compelling as he realizes that the realization of all of his greatest hopes and dreams stands before him. In this meeting, Jesus asks Nicodemus to follow him. He acknowledges that it’s a big sacrifice; Nicodemus would have to surrender his reputation, position, wealth, and family. It’s clear that Nicodemus wants to choose Jesus, but he also loves his wife and, I imagine, his life. So, instead of following, he secretly contributes funds to Jesus’ ministry. He hides around the corner, sobbing, as Jesus finds his gift and quietly grieves that Nicodemus won’t be joining the journey. The scene is heartbreaking. But more than that, it’s the story I never want to be mine.
If he asks it all of me, I want to be ready to give it. Even if I feel the sting and sorrow of sacrifice, I want to surrender it all. That’s all pretty words and wishes, but it’s not the same as actually living a life of brokenness, submission, and dependence. I’ve had a bit of a forced taste of that life and it’s been less than sweet. But, I wonder, is that because I’m still clinging to the old? I want things to get back to normal, I want my children to stay in my home, I want my education to matter — to name a few things. But what I need to want — more than anything — is to be with him. Even if that means nothing goes back to normal, ever. Even if I lose my children in one of the many ways I can lose them. Even if my years of education fail to offer anything to my life or the world. Even if it makes no sense to me at all and my life would objectively be defined as one of suffering — I want it if that’s where he’s going. I know he’ll be with me no matter what life I live. He’s stubbornly committed — thick or thin. But I also know that following him, instead of taking him along by default, makes me aware of his nearness. It makes me talk to him, look to him, need him.
On a macro and micro level, we’re at a place and in a time that impartially requires us to declare our values — our mission statement, if you will — for our lives. Will we — like Jesus — win by picking up death and laying down life? Or will we wage war on everything that threatens our liberties, comforts, and positions? Will we demand to remain the reigning privileged, the benighted majority, the obstinate axis of it all? Or will we — like Jesus — live an upside-down, inside-out, off-centre life? The choice insists on being made.