Most of us find it difficult to be honest about who we really are and therefore spend a lot of energy trying to present someone else to others. Somewhere along the way we were told that it is not ok to be human—warts and all. Therefore, rather than acknowledge how often we miss the mark, live in fear, and haven’t a clue about what is going one, we pretend that things are different. Pretending to be someone else than we really are requires enormous energy and leaves us exhausted. And in the end, it cuts us off from the life-giving power of God.
The Bible in general, and the Gospels in particular, are brutally honest about who Jesus’ disciples were. The writers are very self-critical about their movement. They don’t cover up that Judas, one of Jesus’ own disciples, betrayed him to the authorities. They don’t cover up that his inner circle couldn’t stay awake with him in the Garden in his time of need. They don’t cover up that Peter, one of that inner circle, denied any association with him when questioned. They don’t cover up that all the disciples deserted and fled when Jesus was arrested. They don’t cover up that only a handful of women were looking on from a distance when Jesus was hanging on the cross. When you think about it: it would have been so easy to edit this stuff out. But they didn’t.
What enabled them to be so honest? When the risen Christ appeared to them and said “Peace be with you” (John 20: 19b) despite their poor performance, they were forever given permission to be honest about who they were. They realized that God’s love for them was stronger than their betrayals, desertions and denials. In short, they knew that they were forgiven. Therefore, they were free to be honest—brutally honest.
As we remember the passion story this week, we are invited to be honest about who we are. We are invited to stop wasting energy on living an illusion. We are free to confess to God and others our flaws. We don’t need to be afraid of who we really are anymore because God’s steadfast love, not our flaws, are the last word about us.
Because they were honest about their past, these first apostles had an extraordinary message to offer a troubled world. Think about it for a moment: What would have been “good news” from messengers who claimed to have been faithful followers of Jesus all along? Good News is not “I found the strength to follow Jesus and you can too!” Good News is “I was a miserable failure, but God chose me and a whole bunch of other miserable failures, and God is using us in our weakness. Therefore, God wants you in spite of all your failures. Come join this motley movement.”
Of course, it didn’t take long for the church to start pretending again. We began to pretend that we were better than everybody else. We blamed others for all the world’s problems. We congratulated ourselves for all our wonderful deeds. We put our trust in our own strength and not the grace of God. In the end, we made the church inaccessible to those who were only too aware of their flaws. But so long as the church keeps reading the passion story, there is hope that we can rediscover who we really are. If we keep reading the passion story, there is hope that we will once again see that the church is a bunch of flawed human beings, steadfastly loved by God, and that God works through that flawed humanity to further God’s work in the world.