“Rise and do not be afraid”.
These words are spoken by Jesus. Again. After he has scared the you-know-what out of some of his disciples. Again.
They’d been with Jesus for awhile and they probably thought they’d seen it all by now. They had seen Jesus heal the sick, exorcise demons, forgive sins, raise the dead, teach like Moses, calm a storm, walk on water, and even show mercy to a Roman Centurion—one of their hated oppressors! Earlier, they had been sent out and away by Jesus as true disciples: to demonstrate they could imitate his life and work. Although Matthew’s Gospel is quiet on how successful they were, it was probably a mixture of success and failure. After all, they were learning. And healing the sick, exorcising demons, raising the dead, and preaching the Gospel in the manner of their Teacher is no small task. Upon returning, they realized how little they knew as they participated in the miracle of feeding five thousand, in constantly challenging their own religious authorities even though they were nobodies, in grieving John the Baptist’s meaningless execution, and in being called to deeper conversion by the faith of a Caananite woman. After all of this, what else could there be?
As the saying goes, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” And not just with the eventual passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The story hasn’t gotten there yet. No, there is another unbelievable moment that only a few disciples share: witnessing the Transfiguration. And the apostles Peter, James, and John are so weirded out by this bizarre experience that Peter babbles about building booths, James and John say not a word, and they all eventually fall on the ground prostrate in dread. Then, of course, Jesus acts normal and says “Rise and do not be afraid”. Really? And how exactly is life supposed to go back to normal after all of this?
It’s not. That is a big lesson learned through their discipleship. What they previously thought was “normal” in life was actually harmful to many. So what they considered “normal” had to change. And it could only change through a pouring out of God’s Spirit to challenge them, to open their eyes, and to offer a different way of living in the world that would lead to life and flourishing for the many who were victims of the violence of this “normalcy” and then blamed as “sinners” and “unclean” for crying out when they were injured. They had to learn to see the world again and then focus on the suffering of the sinned-against.
Lent calls each of us to a similar time of more focused discipleship. To leave behind our “normal” ways of thinking and behaving that have led to the harm of others, ourselves, and all of creation. To be unbalanced and rebalanced, to dream and be re-awakened, and maybe even have unbelievable moments with God and one another. To realize that, no matter what we have seen, heard and experienced, “we ain’t seen nothing yet” in our journey with God. And even that pure bewilderment and confusion are parts of the journey and so we need to hear the words “rise and be not afraid” as God’s love invites us to change. This God of Jesus who is new each moment, who loves us even as we constantly find ourselves disoriented, and who asks nothing more than that we embody this love we have found and communicate it to others. As we continue our early journey through Lent, let us keep this in mind.