But what if the image is, that Jesus receives authority from God, only to hand it off to us, asking us to do the same. Making disciples then, means being among all people to give them power to become disciples in their own right. We would be giving away the life sustaining gifts we have received, to give and receive and share, so that the gift given, is from God, more than from us. Professor of Biblical Studies, John Pilch believes that Jesus simply “directs his disciples [then,] to go beyond the region of the original mission to the Israelite émigrés living beyond Palestine,” and so translates this passage: “Go therefore and make disciples of the lost sheep of the house of Israel living among all the nations.”
To live-out this Christ-centered life-style of giving away what we first receive from God, requires a certain level of trust, that is otherwise unknown among most of us in this culture we live in today. It would seem to invite and challenge us at a very deep and spiritual level. The source of life we receive from Jesus, we are called to then, give away.
What comes to mind for me is the image of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet on the night he was betrayed. Jesus, their Messiah, gets down on his hands and knees and does the work of a servant. Normally a teacher is considered above their student, Jesus reminds them, but I have come to you as the servant instead. I give away what I have received – not because it makes me empty, but because in giving away the power God has given me, I am also renewed and fulfilled. All this, even as he knows he’s about to be betrayed and crucified! A certain level of trust is required!
A clue to this trust, I think, can be found in the rather odd construction of how the disciples react to Jesus in this story. “When they saw him they worshipped him; and they doubted.” Not “doubt” in the sense of ‘dis-believing’, but a kind of ‘wavering between two strong possibilities.’ Do you ever feel like that – wavering between two strong possibilities? About someone new you met? About someone you’ve known a long time that suddenly does something out of character? About temptation to do something you once thought was dangerous but now have an unexplained courage for? About committing to church, or to something fun on Sundays? About where to invest your money, or your time? About listening to a friend, or your conscience; the world, or some crazy gospel story? Our journey of faith is accompanied by this partner called doubt.
The only other time the disciples are said to worship Jesus in Matthew’s gospel is when Jesus walks on water and then calms the storm. Jesus walks on the water and Peter is emboldened to join him, and in great faith he does it too, for a couple of steps, before he has ‘second thoughts,’ and he begins to sink, and Jesus comes over to give him a hand, and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they get back in the boat, the wind ceases, and Matthew concludes, “And those in the boat worshiped Jesus, saying, ‘truly you are the Son of God.” And so in Matthew’s gospel, the two times the disciples doubt Jesus, they also worship him!
Peter is the proto-typical disciple, he is all of us: wavering between two strong possibilities – trust in Jesus, and sinking down into his old life, worshiping and doubting at the same time.
Like Peter, it is in the waters of our baptism that we can learn this trust, where we receive from Jesus that deep spiritual knowledge and practice of our baptisms, so we can learn how to give it away, out in the world.
Jesus chose mostly fishers to be his named disciples. They were common folk, people like you and I, who I dare say, can be honest about their doubts. When Jesus called the disciples he said, “I will make you fish for people.” And so the early church celebrated this vocation. Even before the cross became our symbol, it was a fish that represented the followers of Jesus. The word fish in Greek is ICHTHUS, which became an acronym for Jesus, each letter spelling, “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” And so Jesus himself was thought of as a fish – like the fish who swallowed Jonah, because it was a large fish that swallowed Jonah and protected him in his belly, and on the third day ‘spit him out’ on the shore, saved. Jesus is the big fish, saving us, and giving himself away, so that others can become fishers of people.
And of course, in the story of feeding the 5,000, when Jesus offered to multiply the fishes along with the loaves, to feed the multitudes, the disciples once again doubted Jesus could do it.
And so, it is only when we are truly honest with ourselves, when we have doubts right along side our faith, that we can learn to trust one another. Certitude, on the other hand, breeds over-confidence. Jesus criticized the leaders of his time, remarking that, “when they worship, they worship God with their lips while their hearts are far from God.” They had no doubts at all. It never occurs to them that they might have overlooked something, or missed an angle that reveals another side to the story, and the working of the Spirit. Consequently, as Mark Allan Powell says, they are often wrong, but they are never in doubt! The disciples worship, and doubt Jesus, at the same time.
Just like Martin Luther used to say, we are saints, and sinners, at the same time. So, with this open, multi-layered, multi-colored world view, with the woundedness that we experience on the way and in pursuit of faithfulness, we are able to discover the possibility of deep trust, which leads to deep joy. We are able to receive the greatest gifts of love and grace from our God, and to give them away again, for the sake of the world. Our certitude comes through a deep trust – trusting the mystery of our triune God, the one we receive at the table of the Eucharist, where we not only receive the bread of life, but where Jesus swallows us up, and promises to carry us through all our rough waters, to deliver us on the shores of salvation.