God doesn’t not lose faith with us

Lent 6 – Palm Sunday, 2017

Matthew 26:14-27:66

Marian Free

In the name of God, who overlooks our faults and who restores us again and again so that we can take our part in the story. Amen.

In the latest issue of Liturgy News David Kirchhoffer reflects on the nature of sainthood. He reminds us that sainthood is not a matter of one-size fits all and that there is no simple definition that incorporates the diversity among those whom his tradition elevates to the status of saint or martyr[1]. “They all have stories, “ he comments, “their own all-too-human stories. Among the saints there are emperors and paupers, young and old, ascetics and hedonists, masters and slaves, colonizers and colonized, reformers and conservatives, and certainly more than one who, by today’s standards, probably experienced some sort of psychological disorder.” David’s point is that rather than being “shown up” by the saints, we actually find ourselves in very good company. The people who are deemed to be most holy by the church are as human and as flawed as the rest of us. Rather than making us feel inadequate and unworthy, the lives of the saints remind us that they are not so very different from us and that our faltering efforts to be holy and faithful are in fact good enough.

If we are in any doubt as to God’s ability to overlook our deficiencies, we need look no further than this morning’s gospel, which among other things is a tale of the whole world’s being at cross purposes with God. It is not only the chief priests and elders and the Roman authorities who try to destroy Jesus and his mission. It is those in Jesus’ immediate circle – his disciples and friends – who hand him over to the authorities, misunderstand their role, sleep when Jesus most needs their support, desert him, deny him and leave him alone to face trial and death.

Of course, not all of the characters in this account are numbered among the saints, but twelve of the those in the drama are Jesus’ most intimate friends, those with whom he has shared the highs and lows of his mission, those whom he has authorized to preach and teach and heal and those whom he has prepared to continue on his work after he has gone. These are the men with whom Jesus has chosen to spend what may be his last night on earth, those with whom he will share the most significant evening on the Jewish calendar. Without exception each of the twelve will let Jesus down before the night is out and yet Jesus refuses to condemn them or to exclude even Judas from the company.

Judas, who, even before the preparations for the dinner had begun, had received thirty pieces of silver to hand Jesus over to the authorities. Judas who, when Jesus announces at the meal that one of the disciples will hand him over, reveals what it is that sets him apart from the other disciples[2]. Whereas the eleven address Jesus as “Lord”, Judas addresses Jesus only as“Rabbi” (teacher). Jesus knows that it is Judas who will hand him over to the authorities and yet when he says: “Take eat, this is my body”, he places the bread in Judas’ hands. When he says: “This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of sins,” Judas is not excluded from the covenant or from the promise of forgiveness.

Jesus knows that despite Peter’s protestations to the contrary, Peter will deny him – not once but three times. Even so Peter too is given the bread and the wine – Jesus’ body and Jesus’ blood. Of the eleven who remain with Jesus after the meal, not one will find the strength to stay awake with Jesus even though Jesus has shared with them that he is “grieved unto death”. Still, on this, his last night on earth, Jesus will share with them his very self and he will do so lovingly, not reproachfully, with grace and not with disappointment. Jesus knows their limitations. Before it comes to pass he knows how each will respond to the events of the night but he does not abandon them as they will abandon him.

Of these twelve, men who made promises that they failed to keep, all but Judas are included among the saints. Far from being ideals of holiness, courage and piety they are revealed as men who have feet of clay, who put their own safety before their loyalty to Jesus and who flee at the first sign of danger. They have said that they would die with Jesus but they cannot even stay awake, let alone accompany him on the journey to the cross.

Betrayal, abandonment and even opposition are the tools that God uses to turn arrest, false accusations, torture and death into something extraordinary and marvelous – Jesus’ resurrection, the defeat of death. Even though by human standards the disciples have failed not only as disciples but also as friends, they are not censured, punished or rejected. After the resurrection, it is as if God had not even noticed their cowardice, their desire for self-preservation and their failure to keep their word. Instead of condemning them for their lack of loyalty and their abandonment of Jesus, God not only restores and elevates them and gives to them the task of taking up what Jesus has been forced to leave off – preaching the good news of the kingdom.

As God overlooked the flaws and inadequacies of the disciples so too God will overlook our weaknesses, our lack of self-confidence and our tentative efforts to serve.

Though we lose faith in God, God will never lose faith in us, but will raise us up time and time again so that we too will have our place in God’s on-going story.

 

[1] Liturgy News is a publication of the Roman Catholic of Brisbane.

[2] I am indebted to Judith Jones whose commentary on the gospel was challenging and insightful. http://www.workingpreacher.or

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