Monday, August 20, 2007

A Gospel Tableau

As I've mentioned lately, I'm going to spend some time in the coming posts looking at the words of Jesus on his last night with the disciples, as recorded in chapters 14 through 17 of the Gospel of John. But before doing so, I want to go back to chapter 5 for a moment, and to the scene at the Sheep Gate, recorded in verses 2-8.

As you'll recall, there were many lame and blind at the pool there, called Bethesda, the waters of which were believed to have healing properties. Imagining a tableau of the scene, we might see Jesus in the middle, with one group of people behind him, and another group before him. The group before Jesus are the "blind, lame, and paralyzed." The other group, at Jesus' back, are the disciples (with perhaps a few suspicious Pharisees mixed in).

Now, it should be no surprise to find Jesus' disciples following him about. Jesus was, after all, their teacher. Those disciples were students in a traveling classroom of kingdom proclamation and demonstration, and of course the time would come when he would send them out to do the same sort of work on their own. It's those disciples I want you to focus on for a moment. They're almost always with him, aren't they? We have a tendency to ignore them until one of them says or does something foolish, but they're always there, and Jesus is always teaching them. Sometimes they ask him questions, like any good students, and sometimes their questions seem a little foolish, but remember that these were students in a very advanced program. The learning curve was steep for these guys.

What's my point? As I've mentioned in my recent posts, I want to spend some time here at In the Clearing focusing on discipleship, and one of the ways I want to do that is to pay special attention to the things that Jesus said to his disciples on his last night with them. But today I only want to bring your attention to that scene among the colonnades of the Sheep Gate, and the two groups of people--the blind and lame on the one side, the disciples on the other.

And of course a similar tableau is repeated throughout the Gospels. Jesus walking here and there, the disciples following, questioning, even as crowds of the hungry, the lame, the hurting run to meet Jesus. And always Jesus on the one hand healing, and on the other teaching, showing, mentoring.

Now, think about the last sermon that you heard. Who was it aimed at? Who was the intended audience? Was it the cripples, or the disciples? My contention is that most of our sermons these days are aimed at a presumed audience of the crippled and needy, not of disciples. The best of them are encouraging messages of hope for those in need--for the worried sick, the hurting, the lonely, the depressed, the unwell. It sounds so right, how can anyone object to that? But when Jesus addressed his disciples directly, it was always in the mode of teacher, showing them what to expect and how to live as Kingdom emissaries in enemy territory. He treated them not as broken but as mended, not as a doctor his patients, but as a teacher (Rabonni) his students.

I am not at all suggesting that their is an absolute dividing-line between these to modes for Jesus (or for that matter between these two groups or audiences), but I am suggesting that there is a significant difference at the very least. In other words, the content of Christ's message for the lost is distinctly different than his message for his disciples. But I sense in the typical modern believer something like the mindset of a crippled seeker, rather than that of the eager-to-learn apprentice or student. We identify ourselves, in other words, with those desperately needing healing rather those following and learning. And, in a similar way, I sense in the modern pastor a tendency to treat his flock not so much as followers of the Way of Jesus, but instead like those crowds that gathered around Jesus for the ease of their pain and sorrow.

Should it be this way? Was it this way in the early church, among first century pastors? I am not claiming to have the answer to these questions just yet, but what I am going to do is try to correct the focus in my own life and study and prayer and, yes, my blogging. I am going to identify with the the disciples in that Gospel tableau, asking the questions a good student might ask, and seeking to follow in the steps of my beloved rabboni.

1 comment:

Milton Stanley said...

I look forward eagerly to reading what you've found.