“Embarked on God’s Mission”
At the close of Don Quixote, the first and some say most telling novel of Western culture, the main character forswears the heroic efforts he has made with his sidekick, Sancho Panza. As his life comes to an end, Quixote tells us his intent is to bring tales of knightly heroics to an end too, exposing them in all their foolishness as false guides to true personhood. And we, like Panza become companions of his now too, are left to sort out what to make of these many chapters of life we’ve shared. Were they true exploits of false errantry? Were they false efforts of true hearts? Was it all just a dream?
Jesus’ followers at the close of his life faced similar threats to making meaning out of what was happening to them. John’s gospel tells us that Simon Peter drew his sword and attacked soldiers coming for Jesus (chapter 18). Given the fact that the guards come to arrest him have already fallen to the ground once on encountering Jesus, it is all the more remarkable that, when Jesus’ side-man raises weapons to defend him, he is told to put his sword away instead. What is Peter to make of this? Are we comrades-at-arms or not, Jesus? Are we on a mission from God, or what?
Before the word “mission” was co-opted for use in military attacks, there was indeed a sense of comradeship recognized among those sent out on actual missions for God. We see it in the lives of the disciples and Christ, as he says “I shall no longer call you servants…[but rather] I call you friends” (John 15:15). In this very passage, in fact, we are told that “no one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Note it does not say that love is demonstrated by taking someone else’s life for one’s friends, which is what Peter was willing to do in attacking those who came for Jesus. No, a different kind of heroism will apparently be involved for those who follow this leader.
Thus Peter slowly realizes that his task is not to try and “protect” his teacher from himself after all. Nor can he defend against his own past denials of his master (John 18:15-18). All he can do is be faithful in following Jesus as he is called to do (John 21). Or he can refuse to do so.
The temptation to think we control the movement of God’s Spirit is not new. On one level, we may think renewal results from our own manipulations. At depth, however, being renewed in Jesus’ faith requires an openness to the Spirit which “blows as it will” (John 3:8). Ours is to be open to God’s Spirit, and respond to it in commitment to Christ.
Living after the way Jesus walked, through the crucifixion he suffered, into the resurrection he led — this is the mission Jesus set for his disciples. It seems God’s mission for us still.
Peace and good,
Pastor Bill Jones (April, 2011)