I vividly remember the mix of emotions on the playground at recess as a kid. All of us standing in line desperately hoping one of the team captains would select us to play on their team.
I still bear a few emotional scars from the selection process.
In this week’s text, Jesus is choosing his team. If we read this passage in isolation, it might feel a bit like my experience on the playground. We assume he chooses the best and the brightest. We also assume they are thrilled to be chosen.
But when we read the story in context, it seems the disciples are anything but the best and the brightest. And if they are thrilled to be chosen, they are clearly confused as to the nature of the game he is calling them to play.
Jesus calls them as they are, warts and all, to play a game they don’t understand. He is calling them to be on the inside of a community in which there are no outsiders. But of course, we can’t conceive of such a community, any more than they could, until we are actually in one, and even then, it’s not easy.
Archbishop William Temple said, “the church is the only society in the world that exists for those who are not members of it.” This beautifully describes what Jesus is doing here. Jesus is calling his disciples to be part of a community that does not exist for its own sake, but for the sake of those who are not part of it.
Of course, this week’s text only shows a few of Jesus’ early draft picks. Here’s the list of 12 (sadly, what’s missing from this list are the women disciples who were the only ones who seemed to get the game that Jesus was actually playing).
Disciple & Background
- Peter, James, John and Andrew, Philip, James (Blue Collar Fishermen)
- Simon, Judas and Jude or Thaddeus (Political Zealots)
- Matthew or Levi (Tax Collector)
- Thomas (Skeptic)
- Bartholomew or Nathanael (Social Privilege)
Team Jesus turns out to be a colossal failure, at least in the short run. They are less like the Dream Team and more like the Bad News Bears. In the end, all the disciples abandoned him (at least the men). And when we stop to consider Jesus’ roster, maybe we can see why. Blue collar fishermen don’t have a lot in common with zealots, and zealots hate tax collectors. And then there’s a skeptic who questions everything, and one lone representative from social privilege who doesn’t seem to fit. If these teammates aren’t natural enemies, I don’t know who is. And what about the zealot who turns out to be a traitor? Oddly enough, Jesus insists that even his traitor, Judas, remain part of the community through the end. That’s nuts!
It’s been said that real change happens at the speed of trust, and trust is built at the speed of relationship. In other words, it takes a long time to change things because it takes a long time to build the trust that makes for an authentic relationship. In my experience, real trust begins, not before things fall apart, but after. Trust that’s forged in the crucible of life is the kind of trust that can change the world. The disciples simply can’t know this kind of trust until after the resurrection and neither can we. It’s then that we finally see just how much Jesus trusts us.
It’s when we’ve done just about all we can do to screw things up and yet still discover ourselves loved, forgiven and trusted at our most untrustworthy worst, that the Spirit is fully unleashed.
I think from the outset, Jesus is showing us the DNA of the church. He gathers natural enemies and then gives us a safe place to undergo the long slow road of relationship.
Jesus simply says, “follow me,” knowing they we will sort things out along the way. Together we will find ourselves on the inside of a community in which everyone belongs.
Now that’s a team I’d like to be on!