A Willing, yet Gullible Spirit
If there is one thing I know in the marathon called life on the narrow path, it is this: When Jesus said, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”, He was telling the sho’nuff truth yall. Just saying.
Interestingly, he made that pronouncement when He was getting ready to have his life handed over to be brutally murdered while His best homies were found sleeping on the job. Instead of praying, they were catching some Z’s! Boy can I relate. And consequently, if it wasn’t for the comfort of the disciple’s blunders as an exemplar of what “not to do” making me breathe a sigh of relief, I would have ditched this narrow path thing a long, long time ago. Can I get an amen up in this joint?
Peter seemed to be the ringleader on this kind of shenanigans as a matter of fact. You know, like when he got the brownie points for getting the right answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am” that Jesus asked the class rather pointedly. Peter states with a shit-eating grin on his face (paraphrased), “Well, everyone knows Jesus that you of course are ‘The Christ, the Son of the Living God’” (in an operatic tone) as he then drops the mic! Booya! So, in essence, Peter gets the star for the day in class. Two stars in fact. But of course moments later, in what he thought was an equal star-worthy moment, as Jesus lays out the trajectory of his trip to Jerusalem and getting crucified plan, Peter has now received just enough accolades to instruct the teacher apparently. So he basically looks at Jesus and says something like, “Never Jesus, ain’t gonna happen on my watch”! To which Jesus quickly deflates Peter’s balloon of a growing big head ego with something only your mama could get away with saying and your dignity to still remain intact. He says, “Get Behind Me Satan! You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s”. So yeah, the Spirit is indeed willing, but…let’s not move the tassel to the left just yet for the one with the keys and all!
The Reality of Weakened Flesh
I mean when that happened, you would have thought he would have had that Deja vu moment right? I mean when the class that keeps most of us from ever graduating took place, you would think he would have at least had some cliff notes somewhere. But no. He is so eager to please, and yet complimentarily, is also so smitten with Jesus more than most at the same time to be sure.
But the scene is set for us. Jesus, as he often does, goes to pray alone somewhere (subliminal alert to all flunky disciples like me). And while He does, and since evidently doing other things rather than praying when Jesus does is more important, like for instance “fishing” (during a storm), they spot this figure on the water coming toward them. And as they wipe their eyes and pinch each other to make sure this is real, the scene changes to a Stephen King novel come to the big screen, and they see dead people (wrong movie), or rather what looks like a ghost I mean. Well we all know the story. And Peter, simply trying to graduate with honors again, gets this bright idea that if that’s actually Jesus, which they now recognize it is, perhaps he will really show up the rest of these rag-tag fellows by walking right alongside Him and “be the man” once and for all. And of course, as Jesus often does, he commends his effort and says, “Sure, come on down Pete”.
And as the plot then thickens, Peter steps out of the boat and walks on the water to Jesus. And by then, he must have been saying, “Jesus, I think I am now ready to teach the class on ‘How to Follow Jesus in Just Three Easy Steps’, and then join Enoch and Elijah for that chariot that awaits to escort me to heavenly bliss”. So he’s walking, with that strut and all (on the water in a storm mind you), and then it happened as sure as the damn dew in the early morning, the text says that “he saw the strong wind and he became afraid”. And I’m like, “No shit Sherlock”, welcome to the long line of flunkies who always have to repeat this same class! And as the disciples collectively sing in the background “Never gonna get, never gonna get it”, the comedy becomes all too hauntingly familiar and up close and personal. At least to those of us who can admit that the flesh cannot and will not EVER get the job done! And all of a sudden, if we’re honest, we no longer hate Peter for his continual “sucking up”, and instead, we like him…a lot.
The Audacity of Faith Called into Question
And so rather than over spiritualize this difficult lesson in faith, to be honest, I get a little miffed that Jesus says to Peter, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?”, don’t you? Because it is at this point that I more identify with Peter here. Truth serum injection alert! I mean you and I get the picture. It’s dark, there’s a storm, and the waves are about to engulf him, and all his posse is laughing and talking about his mama all at once! Who wouldn’t’ be afraid? Who wouldn’t call everything into question? Who wouldn’t begin to sink under those circumstances? Let’s do a go fund me right now!
Well the sanctimonious among us like kicking Peter types when they fall or drown most of the time. Doesn’t really matter though. From the safety of our current “non-storm” in our lives we say, “Dude, Jesus is with you, all you had to do is keep your eyes on Him and you would have been just fine man”. And, they get a star for that. I mean after all, it’s the truth. Really it is. But does it also not make you scratch your head and wonder, “If the Israelites, and all those jive turkeys in the New Testament saw the hand of God, and even God himself, and His only son actually “do” miracles in front of their faces, why can’t you and I just walk on the narrow path with our chest out like a boss man”?
I’ve often wondered that myself, especially, even today; perhaps like most of you. But you don’t have to raise your hand or anything. But just between us, here’s a newsflash: Life is fricking hard as Hell, with or without Jesus! And it doesn’t matter whether he’s in the boat, out of the boat, all up in your grill, or whether he just finished calming whatever storm in your own life. It just doesn’t matter. Because first of all, whatever victory you did have, you have probably by now written off as coincidence or donated it to science. Or, better yet, if it was the failure and the sinking and not the victory you experienced (more often than not by my terms), the rub is this: Sometimes even when Jesus is there for real, or by faith, we cannot for the life of us see Him anywhere! Because after all, we are sinking! And it’s not imaginary, it’s not our abnormal psychology kicking in, or our imaginary freakin friend. Hell no, it is for real OK! So let’s just call it out can we?
The Other Side of Fear
George Addair is accredited with the famous quote, and one that I both love and hate because of its truthfulness and difficulty in actually carrying out. He said, “Everything you have always wanted is on the other side of fear”. Moment of silence please. Let that sink in and breath slowly! And in this case, the devil, or “Mr. Frenchy”, or whatever you desire to call him, specializes in fear. It’s his favorite my precious. And you guessed it. He is behind all that blocks us from the way of “real” faith. He keeps us petrified in fear, and his primary job it seems, is to lie to us; and just for kicks and giggles, I’m told he likes to steal, kill and destroy too! Just watch the evening news and you’ll get it immediately.
Stephen King in fact, seems to also know, as in the case with the reboot of his recent films (parts 1 and 2) of IT from his earlier novel. Now I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it. But every one of the cast of characters, from the first movie to the one just released last week, has come from some depravity and fear in their life for which they feel that cannot ever escape. Whether it be falling victim to an overprotective and hypochondriac mother; owning the guilt of a brother who was tragically murdered; caught up in the crutches of a pedophilic father; or as a fat kid who’ll probably never be kissed by the girl he loves; the song remains the same. IT knows what they fear, and he can transform himself into whatever that is, with all the guilt to boot. Ironically, he’s a clown, which kids (most) would normally trust and love, but IT is also the most hideous beast one can imagine with an evil bite! Or, if you’ll have it, he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or for our purposes here, maybe even and angel of light!
But here’s the point, and I know it took me awhile to get here. The charismatics, or perhaps we’ll call them “people of faith”, can teach us something here. They’ve been teaching me a lot lately (though I’m very slow at this), as I still remain cautious, probably to a fault. But the truth is, that Jesus and George Addair (not necessarily the same) are right. Everything we want, everything God can and apparently wants to do both for us and in us, is on the other side of fear–which is the hardest class if you haven’t gotten it by now. It’s the Mother lode I’m telling you.
Because you see, faith only comes through when you’re drowning, and there’s only one eyeball left on top of the water that anyone can see coming out of your nappy head! It seems to only come then. And it doesn’t matter whether you see Jesus like Peter did, or whether you can’t always see Him like you and me. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve been there time and time again, and so you just think, “God, why don’t you stop picking on me while I’m dying over here. And why then do you have the audacity to ask, ‘Why did you doubt’”? What matters is simply this, as I’m sure Peter finally realized as that last bit of blood rushed to his head on his upside cross as he finally graduated the incredible sinking class: Faith only comes through once you die, or you drown, and not a moment before! And the good news for us is, you don’t always have to die or drown, but you sure as Hell will feel like it and experience some of what it might feel like, time and time again. Because after all, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things that are currently unseen—while you are drowning. For in that moment, and only through the Spirit of God, faith speaks things that are currently not as if they actually are. And no, Dale Carnegie is not getting ready to walk in. And No, it’s not Norman Vincent Peale or Robert Schuller either. But I will tell you this: He that comes to God, must not only believe that He is God, but continually (every single day, while you are in fact drowning, I’m afraid), that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Because faith is a full contact sport my friend. And getting your ass kicked from to time, and I mean like Mike Tyson, ear-biting ass kicked, is the only way we’ll ever graduate the incredible sinking class!