Thursday, April 1, 2010

The God I Want

Holy Week, and the weeks preceding it, used to be some of the busiest weeks of my year. For over a decade we hosted a family Egg Hunt, which began when my daughters were two and four. Initially we invited over a few families on Holy Saturday to dye and hunt eggs and then we cooked out. As the families expanded so did the invitation list. By the time I had the last hunt a few years ago, my oldest was in college and the boys were teens. There were over 100 people showing up, over half of which were children. The activities expanded as well. Besides the dying and hunting of over 10 dozen eggs, we shoved sugar cookies down one anothers throats in a “bunny hop” relay and competed in a themed “Egg Drop” contest which involved throwing creatively packaged raw eggs out the three story drop from my bedroom window. There wasn’t a great deal of wisdom gleaned from the exercise, but we did establish that red jello is insufficient and extremely messy packaging for a raw egg, just in case you were wondering. 

So while other Mom’s were finishing their Lenten Devotions and arranging the palm branches, I was frantically baking carrot shaped cookies and spray painting egg cartons with plastic eggs glued on top for trophies. I loved it. I loved having little children everywhere. I loved the chaos. I was more enthusiastic about my Lenten devotions and practices, probably because my children were younger and I was trying to be a good example. I stopped having the hunt because as the kids got older they got wilder, and there were more of them. A teen age boy with a good arm can pitch a hard boiled egg at 60 miles per hour. The chaos progressed from really fun to dangerous; someone took a hard boiled egg in the eye and it was time to quit. Even though the writing was on the wall, I’ve had a difficult time accepting the change. My zeal for the holiday is lack luster now, which makes me sad.

In my heart, I want things to be the way they used to be. The apostles must have felt the same way at the Last Supper. I’m sure they didn’t want to hear what Jesus was telling them. They wanted him to stay, to rise up; they wanted him to be the Messiah they thought he should be. He’d been telling them all along what was going to happen, but they didn’t want to believe it. The disciple’s varied reactions to the suffering and crucifixion of Christ offer perspective into the way we respond to our own trials.  

Like all good plot lines, the Last Supper narrative has a great villain in Judas. His story is compelling and his role in the gospel narrative has always been perplexing to me. Did God really choose him because he was ultimately a “bad guy” who was predestined to betray the Lord? That just doesn’t sound like God to me. I’ve come to believe that Judas, Peter and all the disciples started their mission on equal footing. Like Peter, Judas was enthusiastic. They both learned by example from Jesus and witnessed miracles; both men were willing to sacrifice to usher in the Messiah. Both had preconceived notions of what and who their Savior should be. They were both afraid at a certain point that salvation was not going to happen according to plan: Judas at the Last Supper and Peter while waiting after Jesus was arrested.

Judas, like Peter wanted a kingdom on earth. Peter was eager to erect tents at the Transfiguration. Judas was more determined to push things along. In an effort to back Jesus into a corner, he betrayed him in hopes of forcing his hand. Surely the Messiah would rise up and make his authority known. Judas may have been good with finances, but I don’t think he did it for the money. Thirty shekels of silver wasn’t much, even in those days. I don’t believe his betrayal of the Lord was his ultimate down fall; it was his lack of repentance, his refusal to accept God’s mercy. Unlike Peter, Judas never really understood who God was, so he ended his life in despair.

Now Peter, there is an apostle I can identify with; enthusiastic, well meaning, occasionally caught with is foot in his mouth – I have always felt a kinship. So much so, I named my son after him. On the other hand, Judas is an easy disciple to ignore - we tell ourselves we would never be like him. Peter told Jesus the same thing. You don’t hear, “Hey Judas, you can do it.” often at the little league games for a reason. But I’m beginning to see some of myself in Judas. He wanted God to be who he wanted him to be. He wanted a physical, earthly, tangible savior for his people. He wanted things set right, and he didn’t want to wait anymore.

And so do I.  I want a God who heals cancer, now. I don’t want my friends to suffer through surgeries and stem cell transplants and chemo therapy. I want a God who mends broken marriages and finds jobs for the unemployed and babies for infertile couples. I’ve always been a “Red Sea” girl when it comes to prayer: I go for the big guns and then work my way down to “If it’s your will”.  I want to accept God’s will and I pray to accept God’s will, but the truth is, quite often I really don’t want God’s will if it means people I love have to suffer and die. Yes I can see the growth that suffering through my own trials has brought about and I’m grateful for it. But when it comes to watching someone I love suffer, I just don’t want it. That’s why Judas is such an important thread in the gospel narrative; we must never believe we are so close to God that we can’t falter. We must be careful to make sure our wants, no matter how selfless the may be, are in keeping with God’s will.

Today is Holy Thursday, the beginning of the Easter liturgy. Tonight we wait in the garden of Gethsemane with our Lord. The transition from being a person who just wants an end to suffering to one who truly wants God’s will is long and difficult. Even Jesus in his humanity struggled with it.

And Jesus went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." Matt 26:39 

By God’s grace Peter learned to desire God for who He was: to want what God wanted. Judas did not. I’m not there yet. I don’t think I’ll really be able to fully embrace the part of me that is Peter until I confront and repent for the part of me that is Judas, the part of me that wants God to be the God I want, and not the God He is. Maybe the most remarkable thing about Easter is the Christ looks down at me from the cross, with all my selfish demands and wants, and loves me anyway. That is truly the God that I want.

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