Sunday, August 31, 2014

Good to Know Insights

It's good to know stuff before you hit the road
Jesus' words to his disciples in today's Gospel are packed full of "good to know" insights. They come at us -- no matter how many times we've studied them or heard them -- with a tone that can feel harsh when read and seems to lack context for the stark picture it paints. After all, prior to this moment the picture Matthew paints has been largely positive for Jesus and his followers. Yes, John the Baptist has been murdered, but for Jesus it's been miracles, healings, profound parables and victorious verbal battles with the religious elite. Plus, just a few verses earlier, Peter had the greatest "a-ha moment" of human history, clearly confessing that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Yet here comes Jesus with a list of stark, strange insights about following him that jar us out of our joy. Yet they're so laden with truth that we can't ignore them. We cannot help but sense they'll come in handy sometime soon. They're good to know. Let's examine a few:

Jesus is not surprised by his suffering, death and resurrection. He saved us with eyes wide open. Good to know. It's tempting to see Christ as a fortuitous Savior, thrust to the cross rather than one who embraced it and steadily pursued it on our behalf. Christ perceived the path of righteousness as one marked by suffering and how he understood his ultimate trial.  His death must shape how we see our own lives, following in his footsteps.

Jesus doesn't need us to protect him or defend him, but to follow him. We're his disciples, not members of his entourage. In an entourage, there's the star at the center, the one around whom all the others orbit and who live off of his or her awesomeness. Part of the job then is to protect the shine of the star, to help her or him perpetually look good and in doing so to protect the glow that you get to live in. But Jesus reminds us, that our task is not to protect Jesus, but to follow him. Good to know.

To "find" ourselves, we must be willing to "lose" ourselves. This is also very good to know. What Jesus tells us is counter-intuitive. In the same way that we don't protect Jesus from his path, we must not protect ourselves from it either. In this broken world, everything is backwards. We will only discover the greatness of God when we know and experience our very human limits. We fight against this truth in a thousand different ways. And yet, we must always temper ourselves with the truth that God's grace is located at the end of our rope, not the top of it.

It's all "good to know" -- essential to know -- but many don't yet know it. Or at the very least are in great need of being reminded of it.