Being familiar with the words of Jesus in the Gospels doesn’t make it any easier. Doesn’t mean I have greater insight or that somehow they are less disconcerting and perplexing at times. In many ways, being more familiar with these words means that they cannot be forgotten or obscured by all the other things that life brings in to mute the challenge of such words. Numerous times during a performance, I am thinking: What are you making of this? Do you believe this? Really? What do you make of it?
For example, after Jesus has reduced the fig-tree to its roots, he tells the disciples: “Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Really? Now, we know (I know) that reality isn’t quite as simple as that. If it were, there would be a whole lot more lottery winners in our churches! Pain, suffering, disease, death? Sounds a bit hokey – like “The Secret” that was all the rage a few years ago. It’s not that I do not believe in the energy of prayer; in fact the challenge and invitation of these words is to discover/uncover and tap in to that healing energy that is within us. But somehow they seem so cut ‘n’ dried that they seem almost mocking.
And this isn’t an isolated incidence in the Gospel of Mark. Think of the times when Jesus says “Your faith has made you well” (to the woman with hemorrhages and to “Blind Boy” Bartimaeus); and in a way all the healing stories throw out a challenge to us. A challenge to our faith; a challenge to what we actually make of this Jesus who is being portrayed. The father of the boy with the spirit that casts him into fire and water probably speaks for all of us when he exclaims, “I believe! Help my unbelief.”
Of course, John’s Gospel is even worse: at least four times during the last supper discourses, Jesus tells the disciples that if they ask for anything “in his name” it will be done for them. I don’t have an answer to this – not yet anyway – other than having to continue to live the tension between these stark words and the lived reality. Wanting to believe, wanting to discover the inner truth of the words, the invitation that may be contained in the challenge, yet knowing that life isn’t as simple as that.
And it wasn’t for Jesus either. These are the words of a man who ended up being nailed to a cross and dying in agony. And before that, praying in anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Abba, Father, remove this cup from me.” But of course then adds, “But not what I want, but what you want.” Submitting his will to the will of God. That, of course, opens a whole other can of worms – trying to get our heads around what the “will of God means,” especially when it involves suffering… Nevertheless, the tension (and the challenge/invitation) remains: to tap in to the healing stream within whilst going with the flow of life without.