Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Psst! It's a Secret!

It may not be a big surprise to any of us that Jesus of Nazareth was a little different than expected for his day. He spoke in mysterious ways -- even for a rabbi! -- and said a lot of challenging things, like "he who saves his life shall lose it." It was enough to make some wonder about his sanity (see Mark 3:20-21). So here was Jesus, preaching and healing people, doing wonderful things that made people think he might be the Messiah that the whole nation wished would show up. When he asks
his disciples, "Who do you say I am?" Peter replied "You are the Messiah of God!" (see Luke 9:18-21). A great answer, showing Peter had been paying attention!

But Jesus' next comment is baffling: "Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone who he was" (verse 21).  OK, this is getting a little weird. After all that time, it looks like the message is sinking in for some of his disciples, but instead of congratulating them, Jesus tells them to keep it a secret. What's up with that?

His next instruction reveals something important: “The Son of Man must suffer many terrible things,” he said. “He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” It's probable that if his disciples started spreading the claim that Jesus was the Messiah, he would be betrayed and crucified sooner than the proper time. Jesus had to tell the disciples to keep it quiet. He deliberately stayed away from revealing the fullness of his identity to the religious leaders and the public, until the time was right -- then it all happened rather quickly, at just the right time.

OK, that's the history lesson. So what? Well, for what reasons would the disciples have wanted to think Jesus was the Messiah? Fame, because they were his disciples; the joy of seeing their hopes come true; and finally, perhaps most of all, relief from all the suffering they were going through in life (because the Messiah was believed to bring peace, abundance, ease, and restore Israel as chief among the nations). What's wrong with that? Because, at that stage, it would have been about their desires, not about God's plan to save all humanity through Jesus.

You and I can make the same mistake when we pray "thy Kingdom come" (Mat. 6:10), if we pray from our own discomfort and dissatisfaction with the world. (I'm especially tempted to pray this prayer at tax time!) There are many reasons to be tired of this society and all its problems. But, just like Jesus, we need to know that we still have a mission, and we're not here for our comfort. What if the turmoil and discontent in this world, the injustices and suffering, sickness and war, all make the world more open to the message of the Gospel? What if the message that God has redeemed the whole world because he loves us, and is inviting us into his joy, becomes even more inviting because of what's around us today? Actually, I think that's exactly the case, which means "thy Kingdom come" means "let it come through me" not "please come and save me."

Yes, Lord, thy Kingdom come. Through us. Every day. Amen.

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