I am by principle and often spontaneously, as if by nature, a man of faith. But my reading of the Gospels, comforting and clarifying and instructive as they frequently are, deeply moving or exhilarating as they frequently are, has caused me to understand them also as a burden, sometimes raising the hardest of personal questions, sometimes bewildering, sometimes contradictory, sometimes apparently outrageous in their demands. This is the confession of an unconfident reader.
Peter often reminds us of our humanity: that’s his gift to us. Perhaps it was also a gift to Jesus. Jesus must have been tempted by what Peter said to him. Jesus certainly would have preferred not to have to talk about suffering and death. We honor the humanity of Jesus to say that he was tempted by Peter’s words. Perhaps Peter is naming something like fear within Jesus and bringing it to light. It scares Jesus, and he responds forcefully. “Get behind me, Satan!”
Discipleship and disciplines: during the past 50 years these two words have expressed for many of us the quintessence of following Christ. We have come especially to associate “discipleship” with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose prophetic voice showed us what it was like to be a Christian under Hitler’s regime.
For many years Stanley Hauerwas has been attempting to return the church to the center of Christian theological and ethical reflection. He argues that “liberal” and “conservative” voices in the church tend to mimic the groups that share those labels in the wider political culture.
When my friends and I sang at church camp, we sang sincerely, often teary-eyed, seated on the ground with the cross illumined by candlelight in front of us. In those emotional moments, I imagined myself to be standing firm in the Lord as Paul had urged the Philippians to do. In those moments, I was determined to set my face toward him. But my single-mindedness never lasted.
Jesus called the Twelve together and put the question to them with unsettling directness: Do you also wish to go away? I wonder sometimes how I would have responded to the question. Because at times the truth is I do wish to go away.
At Christmas even the most Protestant among us can be drawn to the contemplation of Mary. It seems right to recall her humble courage, her receiving and carrying and giving birth, and her joy as she sang of the saving work of God.