November 13, 2012
When Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13.3-4)
After my recent surgery, I peppered my surgeon with questions. When will I be back to 100%? When can I resume doing this or that?
I didn’t have a calendar to manage. I just wanted a sense of control. Surgery had put me out of control, and I wanted control back.
The doctor wisely said, Who knows? It depends. Weeks, maybe months. In other words, non-answers to nonsense questions.
Now, in the strange ironies of a strange year, he could be asking the same question. For his hospital, one of the city’s finest, was clobbered by Hurricane Sandy and might not reopen for months.
As the disciples of Jesus dealt with the realities of their master — not the imagined benefits, not the romance of a new David, not the grand procession to power, but a suffering servant whose trajectory was toward tragedy — they, too, sought a sense of control.
“When will this be?” they asked. “What will be the sign?”
Christians have been asking those questions ever since. Every time we glean the truth about Jesus, we reach for the control switch. Make the enterprise about us, we say. Satisfy our desires. Build our edifices. Crown our kings. Anoint our prejudices. Soothe our fears. Make us right.
Then we turn our assurances into what we really want: power, wealth, comfort, admiration. We claim to be seeking the glory of God. But there is nothing in the Jesus story that requires grand cathedrals, well-attired clergy, fights over doctrine, property disputes, budget battles, or divisions along every conceivable line, from race to tenure to taste in music.
That is all us, all the time. That is our addiction to control. That is our delusion: if we knew exactly when and what and how, we could rule the world. Or at least sleep well at night.
Following Jesus has always meant stepping beyond self-interest and safety, and following one who hurries toward danger, not away from it, whose heart is fundamentally oriented toward the victim and the outcast, not toward the righteous.
Then and now, following Jesus means uncertainty, not certainty, and conflict, not peace as the world knows peace. Following Jesus means going out to serve, not staying inside to enjoy. It means forming odd alliances in pursuit of justice, not wrapping ourselves in the mantle of tribe. It means constant change, not carefully measured change. It means responding to needs, not scheduling meetings to talk about needs.
In Jesus’ company, there is no control. There is only a journey onward to a land that God will show us.