The People Look Like Trees Walking

September 19, 2012

The People Look Like Trees Walking

 

I imagine that when you meet someone for the first time, you might introduce yourself by giving your name or your vocation or where you live. Jesus gathers with his disciples, and instead of saying, “I am Jesus, born from a virgin in Bethlehem,” he asks, “Who do people say that I am?” Can you imagine going to a party, and when you see someone you don’t know you introduce yourself by saying, “Hi, nice to meet you.” “What’s your name?” “Well, what do they say my name is?” “Um, what do you do?” “What do they say I do?” I would imagine that neither the conversation nor the friendship would last long, though it’s not a terrible question to ask. Am I who I say I am? Is the community wrong if they see me differently than I see myself? Is my identity somewhere in the middle of my personal perception and what the community sees? Maybe neither matter. What do we really see when we look in the mirror?
 
Jesus traveled to Bethsaida with his disciples, and there they met a blind man who begged for Jesus to heal him. Jesus put saliva on his eyes and asked him, “Can you see anything?” The man said, “I can see people, but they look like trees walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and the man could then see everything clearly. This is an odd interaction with Jesus to say the least. First, Jesus put saliva on the man’s eyes, which is a biblical way of saying that Jesus spit in his face. I wonder what was going through the man’s mind at the time. He asks Jesus, whom he has never seen, to heal him, and what he receives is spit in his face. I wonder how many times this has happened to him, yet this time, his eyes begin to open. Secondly, the man sees people, but they look like trees walking. What an odd thing to say? Just as the man’s vision becomes clearer, the story becomes clearer as the narrative continues.
 
Jesus went on with his disciples to the village of Caesarea Phillipi and he asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” They answer, “John the Baptist and Elijah and a prophet.” These answers are close, I guess, but not quite right . . . like seeing people who look like trees walking. He then asked, “Who do you say that I am,” to which Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Now they see clearly. Just as he told the blind man not to go into the village, he tells his disciples not to tell anyone about him. The healing of the blind man and Jesus asking “Who do you say that I am” is the same story told it dramatically different ways, all for one purpose.
 
Proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah is not enough. First we must understand what Jesus’ messiahship means. “Who do you say that I am” is a fair question even today. Some say that Jesus is a conservative. Some say that Jesus is a liberal. Of course they are both wrong because Jesus is a registered independent like I am. That’s the problem. We are quick to make Jesus who we want him to be. I’ve heard it said that you know you’ve made God in your own image when God hates all the same people you do. Jesus tells his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo suffering, rejection, and death, and the disciples reject this. Peter pulls Jesus off to the side to tell him, “Jesus, this is not what the messiah is going to do.” Jesus responds by saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You have your mind set on human things, not the divine.”
 
The disciples, and the culture in general understood the messiah to be a great military leader, one who would win Israel independence and usher in a kingdom which would have no end, and on some level, it’s difficult to blame them. Every year before Christmas we sing, “For unto us a child is born . . . and his name shall be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and the government shall be upon his shoulders.” This sounds like a military leader, one who would send Rome packing. These words from Isaiah are not wrong. The government was certainly upon his shoulders . . . as he carried the cross.
 
Not only will Jesus suffer, but he tells the crowd who came from I’m not sure where, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life will save it.” Again, this is something a military leader would say. If you want to lose your life then try saving it by running from battle. If you want to save your life, fight selflessly. It is a terrible marketing strategy—pick up your cross and follow me—those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will find it.” But it is true. Letting go of “I” is the way to truly find life.
 
Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 12. He writes, “Three times I appealed to the Lord about this thorn in my side, but the Lord said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” Strength through weakness because in our weakness the grace of Christ is revealed.
 
This seems counterintuitive until you experience it. Several weeks back we gathered here on a Saturday morning to ask the difficult questions of who we are and how are we following God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We sat in a circle and asked, “When is Broadmoor at it’s best?” No one said that Broadmoor has the best worship backgrounds. No one said that Broadmoor has the best preaching in town. No one said that Broadmoor has the best playground equipment. What people did say was this—“I was suffering and the church was there.” In the midst of suffering we see how truly strong we are as a community of faith. Pick up your cross and follow me is easily abused. It does not mean, “Your poverty is your cross to carry,” or “Your illness is your cross to carry.” It means, “Let me walk with you.” It means that we carry each others burdens as Christ carried ours. Salvation is letting go of “I” and seeing the blessing in you, or as my father says, “Because the universe is infinite, I can say with confidence that I am not the center of it.” It’s not that we to go out and suffer, it’s that when we are in the midst of suffering we discover what really matters, and conversely how much of our lives we fill with stuff that doesn’t matter.
 
Last week Christie and I went to the OB because our third daughter is right around the corner, and the check up wasn’t good. The baby wasn’t growing as she should, so we had to see a specialist to find out what was going on. I’m happy to say that everything is fine, but for a few days before we knew what was going on, it was amazing to see what truly didn’t matter. Being with Christie mattered. Being with my girls mattered. Sharing the struggle with the church mattered. Email did not matter. What I was wearing did not matter. The news that the new iphone was released did not matter.
 
God’s grace is sufficient, Paul says. If you want to be my followers, deny yourself, carry the cross, and follow me. You know, I think the blind man was closer to understanding Christ than the disciples. It’s not that we are walking trees, but we are carrying the cross.