When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. (Read the Whole passage)
Our Lutheran seminary in Saskatoon works in cooperation with an Anglican seminary and a United Church seminary. While I attended, students from the 3 schools started a hockey team to play in the University of Saskatchewan intramural league. One way that the 3 schools worked together was to regularly have shared chapel services, and one particular service there were a number of hockey team members in attendance. During the prayers of the people, the worship leader opened up time for petitions from the congregation. One of the hockey players piously added a prayer for the hockey game that day,
“Dear Lord, bless our team and keep us from injury or harm. Give us strength and unity in our play. And finally, Lord, reign down a hellfire of pucks on our opponents.”
Suffice it to say, there were those among the other students and some professors who were not impressed.
When Jesus and the disciples enter into a Samaritan Village, and things don’t go as planned, the disciples pray a similar prayer to the seminary hockey player. They wonder if fire from heaven that will consume the Samaritans would be appropriate for the unreceptive villagers. And Jesus is not impressed.
The disciples just don’t seem to get it. They are supposed to be out working alongside Jesus to proclaim the Kingdom of God coming near. They are not supposed to be wanting to destroy people whom they think are their enemies. But as usual, the disciples end up frustrating Jesus.
But frustration doesn’t end there for Jesus. As Jesus comes along to potential disciples, he invites them follow. It isn’t a glamorous lifestyle and there are some drawbacks. But the disciples Jesus invites seem to have a commitment problem. The first says that he will only come once he has buried his father… and not that his father is already dead or anything. The second says that he will only come once he has said goodbye to his family, the group of people most likely prevent his leaving. These potential disciples are lukewarm at best.
Discipleship and following Jesus seems particularly frustrating for Jesus today. If the disciples aren’t getting the whole point completely wrong by wanting to punish and destroy the very people they are trying to reach, potential new recruits are are balking at jumping in with two feet.
These two experiences of disciples are something we know all too well. The disciples’ desire to destroy their enemies, or to the blame foreigners for their troubles sounds disturbingly like the motivation behind the violence in Orlando, like some of the reasons that Britons voted to leave the European Union, or like the words of a certain blustery presidential candidate.
But the disciple’s frustration with the Samaritan village for not receiving Jesus is also the same experience of churches who put time and energy into a new program or initiative only for the people they are trying to reach not to respond.
And this leads us to the half-hearted commitment of the potential disciples. It isn’t just that we all have things tying us down at home and at work, things that prevent us from spending all our time at church. But our hesitancy to jump in with two feet is just as much about uncertainty. We just don’t know where all this discipleship and faith stuff will take us. Jesus says follow, but he doesn’t alway give a clear picture of where. Jesus invites us to leave everything behind, but without much promise as to what we will earn in return. Like the non-committal recruits, we just don’t know where God is calling us to go and that scares us.
That is the thing about discipleship, it is messy, it is uncertain, we don’t know where it is taking us. Jesus doesn’t give us a roadmap, but just an invitation to follow. And like Jesus who is frustrated with the disciples and non-committal recruits, we can get frustrated with trying to follow Jesus without getting the results we expect. The fact is, discipleship is hard.
It it hard when the people we are trying to reach don’t respond the way we hope. It is hard when the disciples like us just aren’t in with two feet.
And maybe that is the heart of issue today.
As Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem before heading out with the disciples, it isn’t just a place. Jesus is setting himself towards the cross. Towards the empty tomb. And as we know the story before and after those things, that the disciples seemed just as confused about discipleship after Jesus rose from the dead as they were before.
So maybe the point isn’t the disciples and how good they are at discipleship.
Maybe the point isn’t us and how good we are at discipleship.
Maybe this is about God, and what God is doing in the world. Maybe this is about who God uses to accomplish God’s mission in the world. Maybe this is about God who is doing the saving and God who able to use us for God’s mission of saving all of creation.
In fact, Jesus’ frustration with discipleship is about exactly these things.
Today, isn’t about being better disciples.
Today, Jesus sees that the disciples that he has, the disciples that we are, are exactly who God needs for God’s mission.
Disciples who don’t get it, disciples who are only partially committed, disciples who find discipleship frustrating.
These are the disciples, we are the disciples, that God uses despite our flaws. We are the ones whom God uses to be God’s hand and feet in the world. We are the ones who are same before and after the crucifixion and resurrection, but who are still transformed to be the Body of Christ in the world.
And somehow, through us, God is saving and transforming, God bringing the Kingdom near.
Today, on the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, after we have seen Jesus heal a sick slave, raise a dead son, forgive a forgotten woman, and cast out an unclean spirit… we see the people that God chooses to be disciples.
And those people are us. Imperfect, uncertain, confused, uncommitted us.
And somehow through us, even with all the frustrations and complications and uncertainty, God is bringing Good News to the world. God bringing Good News for us, with us and through us. And God is using exactly the people that God needs to save the world.
4 thoughts on “The Frustration of Discipleship”
Those disciples were so brave… Thanks for sharing.
Your stories have a unique ability to twist and turn. Run the reader to the edge of the cliff only to yank them back again. Then dissolve into a happy ending. Good job! Love these scriptures and how you dealt with them.
Great job. I too am trying address the issue of discipleship. Thank you for sharing.