Comfortably Human

Screen Shot 2016-10-15 at 9.10.12 AMBy John Frye

“Not one of the disciples dared ask Jesus, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew—‘It’s the Lord.’”

I am intrigued by the ambiguity the disciples felt on the shore of Galilee around a breakfast meal cooking on a fire Jesus built (John 21). What’s going on in their heads? They are confident that it was Jesus the Lord, but although they wanted to, they didn’t ask. He is Jesus, for sure. He’s not the Jesus they knew. Amazement with a dash of doubt. Doubt clothed in sheer wonder. New resurrection presence meets plain old human presence. Old humanity meets new humanity. And for Jesus, that is the way it should be. The invitation to the morning meal reminds the disciples that it’s just fine to be human as they know it, even as they try to shake away the memories of their cowardly behavior at Jesus’ arrest. What can they say? What can they do? How will they impress Jesus? They are in the presence of someone who rose from the dead! They can’t top that. They dare not speak. Jesus does. “Let’s eat!” A plain old human thing to do. Jesus could have said, “Foolish creeps, you abandoned me, let’s do a serious Bible study. Now!”

I wonder if Jesus is impressed with the ways we try, and try hard, to experience newness. Is Jesus   slightly annoyed by our earnest attempts to be “spiritual,” whatever that means? We want to tell Jesus all about what we learned in the Word and Jesus wants to know how we like the fish. We feel compulsive about a good prayer life and Jesus thinks, “Why don’t you just enjoy the warmth of the fire?” We exist in mortal bodies with plain old human needs and longings. Jesus gets that about us. It’s good for us to have a double shot of “It’s the Lord” cut with two fingers of doubt. Sometimes it is better to eat with Jesus than worship him. (Did I just get myself in trouble?) The Word made flesh walked and talked, laughed and cried, ate and slept, dreamed big dreams and felt deep anguish, bled and died. All this to affirm to us that is totally appropriate to be fully human with all the frailty and ambiguity that comes with it. No harm, no foul.

The best word that comes to my mind about being spiritual is this: relax. We give the lie to all we say about God’s unconditional love the moment we try to be something we are not. Over the years I’ve met too many hyperactive Christians trying their hardest to assure God (and all who watch them) how special they are. God’s deep, unceasing love for them is missed or misappropriated in their frantic pursuit to be holy. The underlying error in their thinking seems to be that “holy” and “human” are adversarial. A truly Christ-centered spirituality would affirm that the more truly human we become, the more holiness we demonstrate. In Christ, to be God-like is to be comfortably human, warts and all until the promised renewal occurs. Just as we live in an era of “now/not yet,” we live as a being that is “now/not yet.” We are, indeed, new creations in Christ, yet live in mortal bodies subject to all that reigns in a sin-wrecked world.

Let’s imagine what more Jesus could have said to the disciples at breakfast. “So, you abandoned me? Check. You hid in abject fear to save your own skins? Check. You tried to go back fishing? Check. How’s that working for you? Hmmmm? Who is Lord of the sea? Check. Take a look at my wrists and side. What do you see?” Nothing like that at all. Instead, “Come, let’s eat. Relax. You’re tired. You’re hungry. And, Oh, by the way, I love you guys.”

 

 

 

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