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March 23, 2017

by Dr. Lani Wilson

Good morning. Spring rain, clear, crisp skies, and the end of March. Amazing. I pray that you had a hopeful spring beginning. Beginnings are good.

The word given this week is knew (yup. I know; remember-not my party). It’s interesting that it is the past tense of “know. There are three simple definitions: Awareness through observation, familiarity with someone, intimate physical relations (Apple Online Dictionary). A sampling of passages in the gospels with the word knew in it are ominous with reference to Jesus.

He [Pilate] knew it was through sheer spite that they had turned Jesus over to him.
Mark 27:18 (TMB)

But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them.
John 2:25-26 (TMB)

On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many powerful deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’
Mathew 7:22-23 (NET)

So the crowd came and began to request that Pilate do for them what he always did. Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release the king of the Jews for you?” because he knew that the high priests had handed him over due to jealousy.
Mark 15:8-10 (ISV)

Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you." For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, "Not all of you are clean."
John 13:10-11 (NASB)

Demons left in droves, screaming, "Son of God! You’re the Son of God!" But he shut them up, refusing to let them speak because they knew too much, knew him to be the Messiah.
Luke 4:41 (TMB)

There has been a hefty debate over the millennia about what Jesus knew of his mission and when He knew it. What is absolutely true is that we will never know the answer to these questions this side of heaven, period. Also, in the six passages above, the statements about and by The Nazarene are declarative: Pilate knew the Jewish leaders were jealous of Jesus; the demons knew Jesus was the Son of God; The Christ knew He was being betrayed. In New Testament scripture, we know what happened and whatever tension was there when we first read these accounts were dissipated because we knew the ending. More importantly, we knew the lead character, the protagonist. We know Jesus. Right? But what happens when what we thought we absolutely knew was not possible comes to pass? What happens to what we knew post-November 8, 2016?

Psychologists spend a lot of time studying people’s motives and drive, specifically to enhance our understanding of human behavior in order to help.

Such research indicates that humans instinctively look for purpose in the world, and though they may find alternate explanations, teleological explanations may persist in certain situations. Developmental psychologist Jesse Bering (2011) regards this automatic search for purpose and meaning in life as one of the primary forces that drives religious thought and makes it difficult to be conceptually consistent as an atheist.
T.S. Greenway, J.L. Barrett, & J.L. Furrow 2016, Theology and Thriving: Teleological Considerations Based on the Doctrines of Christology and Soteriology. Journal of Psychology & Theology, 44(3), pg.180.

Dr. Viktor Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning out of his experiences in WWII concentration camps observing who and how fellow inmates lived, survived, and died. In essence Dr. Frankl found that people must find and/or make meaning in their lives and completely surrender themselves to its pursuit. What happens when that to which you have given yourself, be it profession, values, beliefs, positions or praxis, is unvalidated? That which you knew becomes unknown. God is still on the throne. The Christ still died and rose from the dead. Easter-Resurrection is still real, right? Right?

Today, anxiety is generally understood to be an unpleasant emotional state that causes distress, nervousness, and uneasiness. I realize, of course, that there are differences in how a 1st century Galilean and a 21st century American person would understand and define anxiety. Examining these differences is well beyond the scope of my present inquiry. However, I think it is reasonable to believe that an unpleasant mood condition that causes distress, nervousness, and uneasiness would have commonly existed in any period or culture in human history. Then, I contend that both the hemorrhaging woman and Jairus are experiencing tremendous anxiety in the sense that they are confronted with attacks of intense apprehension that lead to trembling, dread, distress, and confusion.
J. Huh, (2012). Non-anxious Presence of Jesus Through Mother-like Composure. Pastoral Psychology, 61(4), doi:10.1007/s1089-012-0427-2, pg. 578.

It is not an over exaggeration to state that there are many of us who are still floating out here somewhere in states of disbelief and anxiety: Our early 21st century “Twilight Zone.” The polity we had come to know in the previous fifty plus years culminating in a contentious but steady-handed Obama presidency of almost a decade was unmoored on November 8th. It was a most violent reversal of sacrificed lives and precious belief: It was a death.

So here comes Jesus the Christ, taking His time on His way to Jairus’ house of death, ignoring the pleas to hurry, the laughter of the unbelievers, the grief of professional mourners. And then an untouchable woman touches Him. He stops to curtly inquire, “Who touched me?!” Eventually, that abruptness resolves, purposefully, wholly, Jesus-like.

To the 1st century witnesses of the two events, Jesus’ composure in midst of crises probably seemed ludicrous. The disciples ridiculed their master (see Mark 5:31) and the crowd laughed at Jesus (see Mark 5:40), and rightly so. It is likely that the 21st century readers of the passage would have reacted similarly towards the absurdity of Jesus as well. Everyone was full of anxiety for understandable reasons and reacting normally to the anxiety-driven situations. However, Jesus was not agitated. He was calm and composed. Thus, what I propose is that Jesus’ questions and exhortations in both scenarios were not expressions of anger, frustration, or curiosity; rather, they provide clues to discover a composed Jesus in midst of anxiety provoking situations and people.
Ibid. 581.

In the article, Huh proposes Jesus as the “Good-enough Mother” of the mid-20th century, Developmental theorist, British psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott. That mother allows her infant to experience the anxiety of loss of the unindividuated sense of the omnipotent self. All the while, this Good-enough Mother continually “mirrors” the infant’s needs for reassurance, allowing the self to become separate and whole. Where are we in this process of loss of belief in the civil rights’ progress made since mid-20th century? Where are we as we watch the apparent dismantling of 21st century human rights?

  • We were whole.
  • We were separate.
  • We were approaching new truths.

However, it seems like what we knew is disheveled, disturbed, and disfigured. Did our belief in the righteousness of our beliefs fail us or did we mistake it for belief in the Righteous One? Certainly, it now sometimes feels like we are living in a preternatural state of anxiety, bouncing somewhere between apocalyptic despair and resigned faith.

Moreover, many psychologists agree that anxiety is related to circumstances that are thought to be uncontrollable or unavoidable, whereas fear is related to specific behaviors that can lead to escape and avoidance.
Ibid., 579.


Does this post-nuclear, static, domestic terrorism diminish decades of work, dedication and determined sacrifice? It is not civilly and theologically mature to admonish that this is the work of God. This is the work of life.

Because submission and service require giving up something that might be potentially advantageous to the individual, suffering may be, in some cases, a consequence of human thriving. Jesus’ mindset of humble submission and his actions of service to God and to others certainly resulted in a high degree of suffering; Paul’s ministry, which sought to imitate this mindset of Christ, involved suffering as well. If the absence of suffering is thought to be essential to human thriving, then Jesus and Paul ought not to be thought of as exemplifying a high degree of thriving. However, if Christ is to be taken as the “highest conceivable development for humanity” (O’Collins, 2002, p. 17), then suffering must be integrated into an understanding of human thriving.
Greenway, 2016, 183.

This is suffering. Who knew that the backlash to a Black presidency would be so extreme? Who knew that White Americans were self-destructive enough to sacrifice their own elders and children to the mythic god of White superiority? We are tossed up in the air and haven’t quite come down. And yet…

Instead, the mood of Jesus depicted in his question and exhortation is that of calmness and confidence. If the readers accept the fact that Jesus was fully divine and fully human, we must acknowledge that he already knew the answer to his own question. He knew that the person who touched his cloak was the woman suffering from a hemorrhage for 12 years. It was not necessary that someone replied with a name, because that was not Jesus’ intention. Therefore, what we see in the question and exhortation is not an expression of anger or even curiosity. Through the question, Jesus wanted to allow a chance for the woman to publicly confess her faith and encourage her for trusting in his divine healing power. In other words, through his rhetorical question and instruction, Jesus allowed an opportunity to spotlight the woman in order to reassure her faith and vicariously teach the crowd to have such trust in him as well. Thus, the picture of Jesus, here, is one who is composed as he encourages and enlightens people.
Ibid., 580.

It seems that a substantial ingredient in mature adulthood is accepting that life involves suffering.

  • That most of the time there is not a storybook ending anywhere in sight.
  • That the evil and despotic do not suffer as the most vulnerable.
  • That existential pain is real.
  • That we must question Whom we worship and why frequently.
  • That there is the “dark night of the soul.”

These seasons of confusion can be a scary experience, for laypeople and pastors alike. The fifteenth-century Christian writer John of the Cross described this experience; he called it la noche oscura, or dark night, that difficult invasion of God's astringent grace that opens us to new realms of spiritual experience. However, it's easy to miss this moment of grace, especially if we fail to ask deeper questions about what God might be up to.
Chuck DeGroat, “3 Truths About the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ A painful and profound reality that shatters illusions” Christianity Today, February 2015

Every question there is about God roils through your mind as the shock waves of post-11.8 reverberate everywhere. And yet...

The essential difference between Jesus and the good-enough mother is that Jesus purposely allowed the necessary time and distancing for the woman and Jairus to grow in faith. A good-enough mother, no matter how composed she tries to be, cannot be a perfect mother. In contrast, Jesus could’ve been perfect, but he chose not to. He could’ve simply healed the woman’s hemorrhage and not delayed his March to Jairus’s house. He could’ve not asked his rhetorical questions and quickly healed the sick. He could’ve been “perfect” according to the cultural, social, and religious standards of the time, but he didn’t. It is noteworthy, then, to acknowledge that Jesus “purposely made mistakes” in order to allow the woman and Jairus to become spiritually autonomous. Jesus intentionally became good-enough, not perfect. Thus, in Jesus’ deliberate imperfectness, he allowed his children to grow in faith and become spiritually autonomous.
Huh, 586.

This is life. No platitudes. No “too blessed to be stressed” Sunday-isms. No choir gospel-goodies for transient, emotional levitation. No flimsy institutional architecture, framing a limpid yet heavy soul beat. This is life.

  • And this is where Jesus lives.
  • Where we thrive.
  • Where we will always find Him.
  • Where He is always “Good-enough.”
  • Where we are safe.
  • Where we must be if the capital “C” is emblazoned on your holy varsity jacket.

If we only knew what was around the bend with The Nazarene, we plead to console ourselves. But then we wouldn’t be His followers, would we? You’re a follower if you walk behind, not in front of, not beside. It doesn’t satisfy but it is life. So “live,” He says. The Master says, “live because that’s why I died.” So. You. Could. Live.

Anew.

Live.

LORD Jesus, we walk, ride, skip, drag, roll, hop, slide, run, crawl, limp, shuffle behind You. We will see ‘round the bend because You’ve been there. We believe you. We know You more fully now. We knew You as we saw You then. And You’ve always known us. Keep us. Hold us. Handle us. And by Your blood we will know You completely bye-and-bye.

Ride on King Jesus,
No man can a-hinder thee.
Ride on King Jesus,
No man can a-hinder thee.

In that greatness of morning
Fair thee well, fair thee well.
In that greatness of morning
Fair thee well, fair thee well.

When I get to heaven gonna' wear a robe,
(No man can a-hinder thee.)
Gonna' walk all over those streets of gold.
(No man can a-hinder thee.)
When King Jesus sittin’ on the throne,
(No man can a-hinder thee.)
Joy to a man when the devil goes.
(No man can a-hinder thee.)
Traditional Negro Spiritual, dailyprayer.us/Christian_song_lyrics
Ride on. Ride on. Ride on, King Jesus.

Amen.