And at the Festivus dinner, you gather your family around, and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year! - Frank Costanza:
You do not get to Galilee on a straight road from the river Jordan and from hearing the voice of God saying: “This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17) Between those two places lies the desert. It is quiet and peaceful there but one has to deal with oneself and with all the voices that would question ones existence and place in the universe, ones purpose and value.
I go to auctions now and again. It is a rural sort of past time. I like looking at workshops that have been given up for whatever reason. Many are well stocked with tools that have not seen use in a long time. Yes, some tool stocks are hoarded by people who have attended too many auctions themselves. Some, mine included, are stocked with multiples for a very embarrassing reason: I have not used a particular specialized tool for so long, that I have forgotten I own it and I managed to buy another one at a sale or auction.
I doubt, from the looks of thing in some places, that the tools were ever used there. The workshop just does not suggest it. It was like a machine that just ran. It did not do anything. It was. Yes, that is the end of that sentence. The tools it contained were not bought with a purpose in mind. Their presence was the justification of their purchase that eventually makes it possible for the rest of us, auction number in hand, to make a similar mistake as they are offered to us to likewise store them until our estates auction off the stuff our heirs have as little use for as we did. Just being there, is not the definition of a tool. Is it the definition of a disciple? I note that tools do not do well just being - they rust. Disciples . . ?
What is a disciple and what is one good for and why should the Son of the Most High have any? American and Westerners in general tend to join groups or associations of various natures for personal reasons, often limited reasons and they leave when personal satisfaction with the contribution of the group to their interests or person (ego) wanes. (Pilch 1995, 99) First Century Middle Eastern coalitions or factions are more about loyalty to the central figure or, in looser coalition form, they are about common goals as in: Let us, the Jonah and Zebbedee clans, fish together. In the latter, just walking away from the coalition was still a betrayal that one did not undertake lest one be seen as an untrustworthy partner to future co venturists.
To become a disciple of Jesus was a matter of saying: I agree with Jesus and his goals. His grievances are mine and I will help address them. To follow him, it was necessary to have grasped what he was about. As we saw in John 1 on Epiphany 2-A, Andrew and the “other disciple” spent the day with Jesus before they became disciples of his. They came and they “saw” what his work was going to be and they were convinced. They also had been dismissed with their master’s blessing as he sent them after Jesus.
So, we know a few things about the calling of the disciples here. They must have know Jesus and the “grievance” (Pilch’s term) he hoped to address and second, Jesus must have had a grievance to address, a program, that he was proposing in the first place. As he calls and as they follow, they are not merely “learners” though that goes on and is the meaning of the word for disciple. As soon as they set foot to follow Jesus they commit to act at his direction. The influence of the master over the disciples should be obvious in Jesus’ renaming of Simon. The relationship is of a nature that Simon becomes Peter and Levi becomes Matthew at his direction. We see the proper attitude of obedience owed the leader with John the Baptist’s disciples. He sends them after Jesus and they take the cue. We also see it in Matt 10 where Jesus, having done the needed explaining of the program in the Sermon on the Mount, and having modeled the content of the mission in his first healing and preaching journey (Matt 8:1 - 9:34), now sends out the disciples to do likewise and address his “grievance” in the manner he has set out for them. Disciples “do” at the direction of the master, they never just hang out. The neo Fordean refrain: “What are you going to do now that you don’t have anything you have to do,” would probably be a total puzzle to Simon, James, and John. You “do” have something “to do: Exactly what the master told you to do.”
As we talk about discipleship this weekend, and we know we will, it might be interesting to see if we can recover the idea of “obedience” that the term originally entailed.
But back to Frank Costanza: You do not get from the Judean wilderness to the shores of Capernaum without some time in the desert. We do not actually read the story of the Temptation of Jesus until the first Sunday in Lent but it matters in this story. In the desert, three temptations are transcended and dismissed by Jesus who does so by having perfectly appropriated (easily done if you are the author) the law and the prophets which he then uses as responses to the tempter’s overtures. He returns and preaches: “Repent! The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Note, the words: “believe the good news,” which could have been take in from Mark, are not added to Jesus’ sermon here.
Jesus comes out of the desert, having seen the Father’s grievance against the people and now drafts disciples, a faction, a posse, to battle these. These disciples will help fight on Jesus’, and therefore on God’s, side to combat what the three temptations represent. The sermon on the mount will spell out how they will do this, as do the other four great discourses in Matthew. The power to accomplish it will only come from the resurrection of Jesus after which the disciples’ call will be repeated as he sends them to apply his program to all nations. (Matt 28:19) As the discourse in Matt 18 suggests, the work will be done by the church, the community of disciples where he is the focus and leader, the mediator of both truth and relationship, and the judge of actions taken or omitted. (Matt 25)
Phil Falk just turned 87 - I think. He says he can see 100 and wouldn’t mind getting there. He might. When Phil was ordained, a group of pastors gathered around him and, in ALC fashion, all had to say a blessing. One of them, the last one to speak - a tough spot in any ordination since all the good biblical and traditional blessings have be used by all the others - made up an apt blessing: “May the Lord work you hard.” Phil reports that, it being a solemn occasion, the man spoke the words with much force and sincerity. Just imagine it for a moment.
But are these words not true for all who would be baptized and be counted as disciples? Are they not true and applicable to all who show up and want to join the church? Our culture asks: “What is in it for me,” all too quickly. The idea that one would join a church to do work that the Lord commanded, commended and needs done, has faded into the background. “Will I be entrained,” “will I be spiritually enriched,” Will the people welcome and appreciate me,” “will I find enlightenment,” “will I be proud that I belong,” “will someone hold my hand when I am in trouble,” - do any of these sound familiar or must we go on? God might want to grab the Festivus pole and proclaim grievance with the world but, you know, “I have grievance with the church; it is just not . . relevant to my life.” What a terrible reversal of judgement this is. It misses the point that God’s workshop to address the ills of the world is relevant by virtue of the craftsman who established it. It is a denial that anything is actually wrong as longs we can find some “good life.”
Any student of Matthew would probably be able to pick out where and how the stories of the Temptation have their failed resistance exemplified in the above not so hypothetical dialog above. Matthew 25, 18, or 10 or the entire Sermon on the Mound might also give rich reply to such mutterings. To be called and added to the church is to be put to work in the ongoing work of God to address things gone grievously wrong through the sin of humanity. One has to eventually find ones place in God’s workshop as a well used and worn tool.
So, what will you do now that you know that God will work you hard? Maybe that is a question all disciples ought to meditate upon.