Over the past week or so, I have sat at my computer with tears running down my face because I’d never studied Isaiah before. If you look closely, it is like reading Jesus’ baby book. It is uncanny how well Isaiah knew a man that he knew he’d never meet, but could see his outline everywhere he went. It is interesting to note that Jesus would have studied Isaiah as well, and whether he recognized himself is debatable. I don’t know what made Jesus know inside that he was the Messiah, but I know what it feels like to know the decision has been made, and how scary it is to live there.
I would never in a million years claim that I was the Messiah of anything (I can cook, but not THAT well). However, I have had the dream of being a preacher since I was a kid, and life did not get any better for me until I accepted the call that God whispered into my crib; my mobile swung in God’s breath alone. Even as a child, I knew I was meant to do this. I just didn’t know how. As I have mentioned before, I grew up as a child of the Texas Annual Conference. That meant I got to sit in the gallery and learn just how little I meant to them in person. I don’t remember crying. I remember going inside myself and ruminating with grief, anger, and a pinpoint of light for my dad who tried to make things right and failed, not because of who he is, but because of who THEY are. But this is what I know for sure. I have the capability to fundraise. I have the capability to preach. I have the capability to serve God in every way they would want me to, as long as I never have sex again. If that seems like a fair deal to you, I wonder why so few have signed up?
It took a big personal tragedy and resurrection on my own before I realized that I did not have to drop everything and do something else in order to preach. I have that space right here, and I really like using it. It’s kind of like the pensieve for my theological thoughts, because people rarely come up to me and say, “explain God. Go.” This way, people can read my words at their own pace, and I do not have to worry about putting a sign in the sanctuary that says, “please refrain from texting until sermon begins.” Although I totally would. Maybe I need one for my office. I am decking it out in sacrelicious crap. The sheer amount of cheap Jesus shit available on the market is frightening, but it makes me laugh like a hyena, so it’s got that going for it. I also love that in my neighborhood, it is relatively cheap to have Jesus, the Virgin, AND Selena all airbrushed on the hood of my car (in Corpus Christi, that IS the Trinity. Dios te bendiga [God bless you].). My bathroom is decorated with those candles you see with Jesus and the saints with these apathetic expressions. There’s one near the toilet where Jesus is clearly saying, “I am so over this.” I have loved Jesus kitsch since I was a kid, because I think he would both be outraged AND amused. The candle only cost me a dollar, Jesus. Settle down now. And see, now that I’ve told Jesus to settle down, I feel a peace washing over me that I cannot explain, I just know it’s there.
So you see, I am a different person than when I just sorta accepted Christ, but I didn’t really LIVE IT, even though it is better for me. As I have mentioned before, I have sensory overload A LOT. The only thing I can do for it is isolate so that there is little enough stimulation that I can take it all in. The life Jesus describes is perfect for the ADHD soul, because anyone who has it will recognize that being “on” and trying to act like a normal person is just not going to work, because people are going to notice that you aren’t like other people right off the bat (and most likely punish you for it). I have come to believe that this is why ADHD kids were separated from the rest of their peers when I was in school. In some ways, I wish I had been diagnosed with ADHD as a child, because I think that being in a smaller room with fewer kids would have raised my grades tremendously. During kindergarten and first grade at Parker Elementary in Galveston, we had an open floor plan. For most people, this worked well. For me, it was torture every day because I could hear, feel, and empathize with the whole school, instead of just the 20-30 in my classroom. Again, sensory overload, and the reason I isolate. I should have realized this early on, and come to think of it, I did. I am an old soul. I knew that I was messed up, but couldn’t put my finger on it. Turns out, I was just being who I am in the world, which conflicted with my ability to focus on my own schoolwork to an ENORMOUS degree.
I stayed in regular classes and struggled through, because even though I am way above average on standardized testing, keeping my homework together in one folder (and, well, let’s not kid ourselves, not forgetting to do it) wasn’t going to happen without divine intervention. I didn’t have it then.
But I do now.
Walking the Bible has literally taught me how to solve my own problems. I realized that if I started the seed for St. James online, eventually it might translate into a brick and mortar building…. “clicks and bricks for the modern church.” As I was telling Dana, my perfect life is to be pastor of a small church so that I could continue to be the presence I am on the web without compromising my ability to pastor on the ground.
And that is where my real life coincides with the readings for Easter. This is not meant to be a confessional Easter sermon. I am providing context for the mental space I was in as I was reading, because that affects my exegesis and eisegesis just as much as reading other people’s commentary on the same scripture. Isolating has allowed me to work in a much more orderly fashion, because I am only concentrating on myself and my reaction to what’s in front of me. I am not putting out so many fires, because I do not open myself to receive them… occlumency at it’s finest, even though I did not go to Hogwarts (Incidentally, in terms of character development, I am a cross between Luna and Hermione, because Portland). Protecting my mind from intruders in an invaluable skill, because without it, I will do everything for others and forget that I am salting my own ground.
I have taken many, many Meyers-Briggs personality tests, and on every one of them, I come out with INFJ. I am the same personality type as he is. I do not think this gives me extra insight into the text. I believe it gives me a better-than-average educated guess as to what he was thinking as he reacted to everything around him. I understand his occlumency. I understand his isolation. I understand him being warm and personable and yet so introverted that he needs time alone to prepare for it.
So for me, the eisegesis is thinking that Jesus struggles in the same way I do. He is caught between two worlds, heaven and earth. I understand this more every day, because I see it as no different than my relationship with my partner and my relationship with the Fanagans. On the ground and in the cloud. I actually have Argo to thank for that, because without her, I wouldn’t have been able understand exactly how Jesus struggled to communicate both with God and with his followers. It is as transparent as a well-made window pane as we approach the Garden of Gethsemane.
You don’t get to see Jesus as he sweats blood. You don’t get to see Jesus as he cries. You don’t get to see Jesus and pray with him. You can pray for him on your own, even though his fucking defensive line that was supposed to protect him literally fell asleep on the job. It is one of those things that as a pastor would make me come unglued. Surely they had coffee or tea to help them. If coffee is what it takes for my defensive line, there is no bean too expensive. What will it take to protect my silence in the way that Peter failed? Hear the words of Jesus through Matthew 26:36-46:
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”
The magnitude of his thought process astounds me into silence, and I am rarely speechless. I haven’t looked at this pericope in years, and new things have jumped out at me since I have stopped denying my personality and trying to make it fit with others. Jesus and I both have a personality type that is only found in one percent of the population. Argo once said that I am the most intense personality she’s ever seen, and she thought SHE was complicated. My inner world makes me one with God, if that makes any sense at all. I thrive on doing exactly what Jesus did… say to people, “sit here while I go over there.” Jesus needed to talk to himself, but he did not want to be interrupted. He needed Peter, John and James to just be a quiet presence in the garden, telling the people walking by that “this seat is taken.” Hard to do when you’re asleep. I want to call them all sorts of names, but Jesus will not let me. He says it all worked out okay, and I can just chillax.
I have a hard time chillaxing when I think about what a bastard Peter is all the way through Good Friday and Holy Saturday. When Jesus begins his trial, Peter is watching and taking everything in, but he doesn’t face it with bravery. He thinks he’s going to be next, and starts running in fear, even to the point of denying that he was a follower of Jesus so that there would be no reason for the authorities to arrest him in the first place. I see his thought process, and my J kicks in. Of course I judge Peter. In a lot of ways, we are so much alike…. and this is just a wild guess, but I am thinking that I probably have a few Fanagans that live this way, too.
When the going gets tough, sometimes we gather into ourselves to avoid the heat of punishment, because we all have a face that we hide away forever…. what happens when we take them out and show ourselves what we’ve done? It is in these moments that I truly can forgive Peter and move on from his acting like a total jackass to Jesus. It’s not like Jesus didn’t warn them this would be hard. A LOT. Ohhhhh, Peter. How you became The Rock is beyond me, but Jesus saw something in you that honestly, I don’t. You professed with your words and denied with your actions, which is exactly why I wasn’t right with God and had to sit with it for a long time. Still sitting with it. When I have rid myself of my shame, maybe things will be different between you and me. Right now, though, you’re at the top of my shit list.
It’s a good thing I said, “right now,” because the longer I delve into the Gospel, I realize that it wasn’t necessarily Jesus’ resurrection to have. I mean, Jesus is awash in symbolism for going through bodily resurrection, but it means nothing if we do not earn resurrection metaphorically ourselves. It is Jesus that teaches us this, day by day, starting with Peter.
Are you capable of this level of forgiveness? Ben Witherington III suggests that “John [Editor’s Note: Gospel writer] has the threefold restoration take place in a setting similar to where the threefold denial did. It’s like revisiting the scene of the crime, only this time getting it right.” In Greek, the love that Peter has for Jesus is “philia,” which translates to brotherly love, which he attests to three separate times.
It is the “bromance” version of resurrection, and it happened while Jesus was still on earth. Peter goes from the last to the first, because in a rarely used pericope, Jesus says that he allowed Satan to test Peter before he trusted him to found the new church. I do not necessarily think this to be unwise. In my allegorical imagery, I can picture Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka telling Charlie Bucket that he’d won the keys to the kingdom simply by taking what he stole and bringing it back, confessing his shame at taking something. Charlie did something wrong. Charlie was forgiven. When that happened, the world opened up bigger than it had before.
How can we extrapolate that into real life? I think the answer lies in our reaction to the story. Are you going to let Jesus resurrect you the way he resurrected his followers before he died? If you think that resurrection doesn’t happen in real life, you are reeeeeeeally not paying attention. People resurrect themselves after tragedy all the time.
- People die.
- People divorce.
- People move.
- People take new jobs.
- People have complications in labor with their kids.
- People watch innocents die at the hands of the state, just like Jesus.
If we can’t be resurrected in situations like this, it’s not Jesus’ problem. It’s our own fear and shame allowing us to cut ourselves off from the things that would help us rebuild.
So I ask you, Fanagans…. who’s resurrection was it?
If you didn’t say all of us, perhaps you need a resurrection now. Let me know how it goes. If Peter can be redeemed in all of his little boy shame, there is nothing that we can’t do for ourselves.
Happy Easter. Go have some ham.