I have a confession to make. I’ve been reading the book of Matthew for the past 2 years. Not every day, and sometimes, not even every week. But when I set out to know this Jesus of the gospels for myself once and for all, I thought it made sense to start from the account of Matthew. Little did I know 2 years ago that it would be a long and windy road.
Since starting from Matthew chapter 1, I’ve read a cluster of verses at each sitting hoping to glean some insight from them about who Jesus is and what he was trying to do. My real confession is this: more often than not, in the last 2 years, I’ve read the cluster that I can handle for the day and I’ve all but slammed down the book in frustration because I just don’t get it. I just don’t get a lot of what he’s saying. And I’ve been hearing about this Jesus practically my entire life. There were times when I understood it. Or so I thought.
For the past 2 weeks, I’ve been stuck on Matthew chapter 13 (yes, it’s been that painstakingly slow). Just that beginning, where Jesus tells a story about this sower who plants seeds in different types of soil. I’ve read it about 5 times. Interestingly, his disciples ask him why he always tells stories instead of just being direct and Jesus then goes on to explain the parable. Surely, since he explains this one, I would understand this little passage, I thought. But I just have so many questions. And indeed, every time time I put the book down I end up asking God, What do you mean by this?
This is how I walked into the Good Friday service last night at New Life Fellowship. I was handed a program that listed the prayer stations (we do contemplative services for Good Friday – a very profound way to spend an evening in the presence of God, I’ve found, over the past few years). What do I see right on the front?
As soon as I saw that, I let out a big sigh and knew it was going to be a long night. Once it was time to go to the stations, I first approached the huge wooden cross laid across the platform so that I could be reminded of the suffering that Jesus endured. After all, it was Good Friday. I sat there stone-cold and wondering why I wasn’t “feeling it”. I started to see how hardened my heart had become, yet again. Then I finally mustered up the courage to approach one of the Matthew 13 stations. The “THORNS” station was wide open so I took a seat. The rest, I’ll share with you in the thoughts that bombarded me while I was sitting there. I sat there for an hour, for the rest of the service.
It is so hard to navigate through this world. I keep TRYING SO HARD. I want to prove to myself, to my friends, to my coworkers, to complete strangers that I have this all figured out. Every piece of new information that I am given is not received with a humble and open heart but it is grasped with a tight fist that desires superiority. I want so much to know. As much as I possibly can in order that I could show the world once and for all that I am fine without. Without it, without people. Without family, without community, without love, without grace, without anything. That I am self sufficient and that I am ok. I am just fine. Thanks.
Could I be more wrong? Every time I get to this silent presence of God, all he ever tells me is that it’s okay. It’s okay not to know and not to have everything figured out. He quiets my attempts to have this hold on life and says to let go. Stop holding on so tight. Stop living with such thorns. He persists with this kind of talk until I finally start to see how hard my heart has been and then I just start to break down. These are not words I’m used to hearing.
How am I supposed to live like this? How do I NOT BE THORNY GROUND?? This is all I know how to live. I don’t know any other way. Frankly I am wholly afraid to live any other way. You’re telling me that I would have to say I don’t know? I’d have to say that I don’t have this all figured out? I am allowed to say that I’m scared? I can express that I feel so alone and in pain and sometimes I don’t know how I’m gonna make it through the day? Could this really be okay? Could this be the way to Jesus? So desolate and uncertain and completely foreign?
But what about everything I know about this life? About Jesus? About how this is supposed to work? Do I just raise my white flag and call it a day? Surely this is not what he meant when he bore the cross. Surely he didn’t want us to suffer like this? Utterly destitute and afraid not knowing where our next step is going to be? Knowing that we are journeying to our death? Surely this isn’t the gospel? The good news? Why must there be death before resurrection? Why? Why? Why?
I take in a deep breath. Then I let it out. I surrender.