Category: Jesus

Isbell and Jesus on Good Friday

I was thinking about what it is I’m trying to do with these recent Jesus posts, and I was reminded of one of my favorite songs. The posts try to do something similar to what Jason Isbell does in “Relatively Easy” (Apple Music).

Even though it’s dark at first, listen:

I lost a good friend

Christmas time when folks go off the deep end

His woman took the kids and he took Klonopin

Enough to kill a man of twice his size

Not for me to understand

Remember when he was still a proud man

A vandal’s smile, a baseball in his right hand

Nothing but the blue sky in his mind

His tragic recollection turns into a beautiful portrait of a friend’s face. The dark image of the first several lines fades into something like a nostalgic 1987 Tops baseball card. You see his friend’s face, that “vandal’s smile.” His face shines, and you feel like you know him.

I’m toying with that image of the baseball card. The friend step out of the portrait like the people in Harry Potter pictures. Now, Jesus steps in. He looks through the card and flashes a similar vandal’s smile. His face shines, and there’s nothing but blue sky in his eye. You feel like you know him. The smile is kind, but it’s twisted and smirky and fittingly called “a vandal’s.” He’s not predictable.

He’s about to tear it all down.

“For those overwhelmed with dispear.”

Something like that. That’s what the back of the card would say.

Peter and Jesus on Good Friday

It was the first time they met. Jesus just steps into Peter’s boat and asks him to take him out so he can teach from the boat (Luke 5:3). Why did Peter comply?

Remember that Peter is the same one who, at the end of the Gospels, tried to take someone’s head off with a sword. If in the garden on Maundy Thursday night Peter was willing to take someone’s head off even after spending three years with Jesus, what must he have been like at this point when they first met?

Peter and his crew had been fishing all night and hadn’t caughty anything. That can’t have left him in the best of moods, and surely he was tired. In what way did he listen as Jesus taught the crowds?

Maybe he kept fiddling with his fishing gear and had Jesus on his mental back burner. Maybe he stopped and wiped the sweat from his forehead, shook his head, and entertained him with a “Huh! Look at this guy!” I picture this is a few different ways, but in all of them Peter is going along somewhat reluctantly, just entertaining the teacher man. Maybe he’s too tired to fuss and resist the request.

Even though Jesus is teaching the crowds, it’s no mere coincidence that he is standing in Peter’s boat. He has Peter on the mental back burner as well. When Jesus finishes teaching, he turns to Peter and tells him to put his boat out farther and let down their nets. “You mean the ones we just cleaned?!” Peter didn’t say it, but surely he thought it. The text actually says that when Jesus first saw them that morning they were doing exactly that, washing their nets (5:2). What Peter does says is “Sir, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at your request I’ll let down the nets.”

Was “at your request” accompanied with an eye roll? Was he frustrated to prolong his work day yet again? This isn’t “Saint Peter”; it’s a first century man who earned a living fishing. I mean, he prefaced his agreement by making known that he and his buddies had already let down their nets all over the palce. They did it all night! Whether at this point Jesus’ teaching had kindled in Peter a glimmer of respect and hope or whether Peter agreed with an eye roll and a sigh, I imagine Jesus’ response was the same. He smiled, maybe smirked.

If your Jesus doesn’t smile and smirk, well, I am writing this for you. Try to imagine with me. And if you think that an eye roll directed at him or a sigh of frustration can turn away Jesus’ smiling face, then please try to imagine with me. The kindest, most irenic person you have ever known is only a reflection of him.

Two boats so full of fish that they started to sink a little. Peter falls to his knees in amazement. Now, what was the nature of the amazement? Maybe Jesus’ gift of such a massive catch said to Peter, “Someone transcendent is here. You are unworthy.” Or maybe it was more like, “This catch is worth so much money. We did it! The night wasn’t wasted. Thank God I’ll make ends meet this month! Oh, my God …”

On their very first meeting, Peter was shown kindness by Jesus — so much so that he fell down and worshipped.

Today, on Good Friday, Peter is in a bad place. You think he thought about this first encounter? You think he can still see that smiling, smirking face. You think he can still hear Jesus laugh as they struggled to get all those silly fish to shore? I doubt it. Not today.

But he will. John 21 is coming. Soon, Peter will sit on the beach by a fire and see Jesus smile at him again. In just a few days, he will hear that kind voice call to him, he’ll jump out of another boat and splash his way to shore like those silly fish. Can’t you hear them laugh, both of them, as Peter walk out of the water dripping wet and sees Jesus smile again?

Morning versus Night

Fernando Ortega’s The Crucifixion of Jesus is a beautiful mix of melodies and scripture reading, all reflecting on the passion narratives. As I listened this morning, the part where Peter confesses his loyalty stood out to me.

Mark 14:29–31

ὁ δὲ Πέτρος ἔφη αὐτῷ· εἰ καὶ πάντες σκανδαλισθήσονται ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ ἐγώ.Καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ἀμὴν λέγω σοι ὅτι σὺ σήμερον ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ πρὶν ἢ δὶς ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι τρίς με ἀπαρνήσῃ. 31 ὁ δὲ ἐκπερισσῶς ἐλάλει· ἐὰν δέῃ με συναποθανεῖν σοι, οὐ μή σε ἀπαρνήσομαι. ὡσαύτως δὲ καὶ πάντες ἔλεγον.Peter said to him, “Even if everyone falls away, I won’t!” Jesus said to him, “I’m telling you that today, on this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times. But he was emphatically saying, “Even if I have to suffer with you, I will never deny you!” Now, all of them were saying the same thing.

We might ask, “How could Peter be so adamant and then by that very night do the opposite?” But doesn’t our experience make sense of this? How many times in the morning or midday have you thought “Not today,” only to lose the battle at night. Granted, the shift here isn’t really from morning to night but from evening to late night. Nevertheless, I think the point still stands.

It is striking to me how our mentality shifts as the hours pass, and it is striking to see something similar in the passion narratives, too.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

When you read scripture, do any of the characters ever look directly into the camera? I was discussing this phenomenon with a friend once, and he told me the theater term for this is “breaking the fourth wall.”

New Oxford American Dictionary
New Oxford American Dictionary

Mark 14:41 is a perfect example. Here, Jesus and the disciples are in the garden. He has come for the third time and found them sleeping. Jesus is standing over three of his friends as they sleep, and no one else is in the scene.

This time, instead of encouraging them to watch and pray, Jesus says, “Sleep on, and rest. It’s fine.” I imagine him looking down at the disciples because though they are sleeping he is clearly speaking to them. In the next sentence, however, he starts to look up, directly into the camera.

The transition happens as he says, “The hour has come,” and by the next word he is staring directly into your eyes. “Look,” he says, “the son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” Who else would he be talking to but the reader?

Sure, he could still be looking at the sleeping disciples, but do you really say “look” to sleeping people? It is your attention, no one else’s in the scene, that ἰδού is intended to grab. (That is the word I’m translating “look,” traditionally rendered behold.) If that word is intended by the author to grab your attention, then why wouldn’t you imagine the character who is saying it to be looking at you, the reader?

In the next sentence, Jesus turns back to the disciples and says, “Get up. Let’s go. The one betraying me is here.” For one brief moment in the garden, however, Jesus breaks the fourth wall. With heavy eyes and a heavy heart, no doubt, he invites you the reader to look and watch.

Jesus and Sadness

When you think of Jesus, just how human is he? I’ve been posting on this theme lately because I’ve been thinking about it for years, and for whatever reason, during this spring break, these little snippets are just overflowing. This morning it’s Mark 14:17–25 that I think poses a nice challenge.

As Jesus sits with his closest friends, having already told them multiple times he is about to suffer and be killed, he breaks the news that one of them is going to hand him over. What’s the tone of the conversation? Yes, of course, you see all the disciples scrambling in bewilderment, each of them asking, “Me? Is it me?”

But look up at Jesus’ face. What do you see? We’ve been in this literary world how many times in our life? Have you looked at his face?

I think we often see him looking down, eating, sitting up straight, sort of stone faced, chin up. If we were to caption this perception of him, it might say, “I know what one of you is about to do. I know.” Stern voice, resignation, laying down the truth.

That can’t be all of it. Surely he is sad. Surely he struggles to say these words. Do you think Gethsemane is the only time he felt grief and sadness and loneliness? Stoic, truth-telling philosopher all his adult life then goes straight to grieving like a madman in the garden — that can’t be it, can it?

He was despised and rejected by people — a man of suffering, familiar with sickness. (Is 53:3)

He repeats himself in various ways as he breaks the news. As his friends are in disbelief and probably again thinking what he is saying can’t be right — they always think he is off base — he says, “One of the twelve.” That had to sting. One of the twelve that he called out and lived with for so long. Then speaking more directly to the moment, “One who is eating with me.”

How could he say those words with dry eyes or without a stutter or mumble or sigh? He sees the faces of those he knows will miss him more than any others. He knows the pain they are about to experience. Don’t you fear the pain that others will experience when you are gone? Didn’t he feel that?

Then there is verse 22. Imagine: He knows what’s coming. He picks up the bread, with his friend who will betray him in the room, and he breaks it. He breaks the bread. Doesn’t he know that symbolizes his body? Isn’t he the one that told us that? He broke it. Don’t you think his emotions were stirred?

He had to be made like them, fully human in every way. (Heb 3:17, NIV)

Do the gospel authors have to tell us every time he feels sadness for us to go there? Isn’t it enough that they told us he was born to Mary? Isn’t it enough that Hebrews says he was like us, fully human in every way? Isn’t that warrant for imagining his eyes and voice showed the same emotions you experience?

After he broke it he gave thanks. Have you worshipped genuinely in the midst of grief and sadness? I imagine that little table blessing was marked by pain. He picked up the cup that he knew was a symbol of his blood. Don’t you think he feared the lashes and the nails and the suffering? He will struggle to breathe.

How can “one of you will betray me” not be marked by grief and sadness and loneliness? How you imagine his face and his voice matters a whole lot. We are in a season where we need to know that he is familiar with sickness and sadness, loneliness and pain.

Fire in His Eyes

If you were to look into Jesus’ eyes in Mark 12, I imagine you would describe them like John did in Revelation 1 — as a flame of fire. Has a more subversive, weighty little story ever been told than what you hear at the beginning of Mark 12? It’s certainly on the level of Nathan’s “you are the man.” This is the story of the vineyard entrusted to farmers, who in the end killed all the owner’s servants and even killed his son in hopes of gaining the inheritance for themselves.

Here in chapter twelve, it’s like the undercurrent of furor that was boiling in Mark 3 spills over. There, early in the book, Jesus was brimming with anger because his opponents were more interested in playing legal games than showing compassion to those suffering. Here, however, he doesn’t hold his tongue. As chapter eleven comes to a close and prefaces Jesus’ story, I imagine him stepping up to the mic like Apollo:

Down from the peaks of Olympos he hastened, enraged at heart, carrying on his shoulders his bow and lidded quiver, arrows rattling loud on his shoulders as in his rage he strode on his way: he came as nightfall comes. (Iliad translated by Peter Green, 2015, p. 26)

Jesus is calm and composed as he tells the story. That composure mixed with the ferocity of the words is why I think in this moment Jesus’ eyes looked just as deep and fiery and filled with life and power as what John saw.

As he draws the story to a close and explicitly says that the lord (ὁ κύριος) will destroy the abusive farmers, he makes his own literary reference.

Haven’t you read this scripture? The stone the builders rejected, this one became the cornerstone. This was from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

There’s the twinkle. The last clause. Can’t you see it? As he utters the syllables ἔστιν θαυμαστὴ ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν, don’t you know his face lit up with a smile? One of those I got you smiles that is resigned to whatever hostile reaction it might ignite. Despite all the misunderstanding up to this point, they got it this time: “They knew he told the parable about them.” The arrows sliced through their targets.

He said it was marvelous. Maybe the mention of wonder and marvel, as Jesus leans into his coming suffering, is related to the wonder and fear his followers felt on the road as they headed to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32). Things are changing, it’s from the Lord, but it’s scary and confusing and amazing. Hardly anyone knows what to think except the one who walked ahead.