I have a problem with the problem I have with some of the guys who hung around with him some of the time. Part of my problem is this; two thousand years later, a billion books and speeches after him and then, I confront daily the knowledge I do not follow him as well as they followed him.
The dreary conversations he has with some of the fellows in what we call John’s gospel and locate in chapters thirteen and fourteen barely skim the surface of what he wants. There are times I read through these talks, only to come out thinking, “What does he want? Does he know?”
A bulky fisherman named Simon, later titled Peter, wants to go with him wherever he goes. The problem with Peter’s protest will come to light before the first light of the next dawn, but, just then, he seems admirable. For the first time Peter seems to sense violence is the next thing to come. Nowhere else does Peter promise such courage, or fall so completely short.
A frail follower,Thomas, has no GPS, His plea for direction makes him seem daunted and doubting. He is not done with spiritual frailty even then.
Philip is empty of guile and seemingly without a clue. He receive a rebuke that seems at once sarcastic and at the same time painful. Is that really what his chief intends, or is the doomed leader just trying to take Philip back to where it all began between them?
As for the fellow known to history as Judas the Lesser; is he only a man cursed to serve in the same band as another Judas, who is, after all, the betrayer, but still is not called “The Lesser?” What does it feel like to know you were the faithful one?
I can’t seem to get a grip on them, not any of these men, and I can’t imagine what it felt like to give up a peaceful life to walk through a crowd of haters. After all, the day their leader died, there were more people who wanted a rebel killer named Barabbas to receive Roman mercy. He lived, Barabbas, while their boss died. The gang that couldn’t believe straight might be forgiven if they had wished even for a moment they had backed the winner of that fatal lottery.
The next time I give a speech based on the lack of failing of Peter, the wanderlust of Thomas, the insensitivity of Philip or the lesser passion of Judas, I hope I intend to reserve some clemency for these ordinary men who, somehow, proved to be the best their common rabbi could inspire. I know lovely speakers who say they go straight to the local leadership when they enter a town, in order to get control of the controllers. The Galilean rabbi who caught the attention of Peter, Thomas, Philip and Judas must disappoint them. The rabble who follow this rabbi are the bad crowd other mothers warn their children to avoid.
They are not admired, not for the longest time. The best among them is a good deal less that the best of the religion they are leaving.
Meet Mr. Saul of Tarsus, then, before you decide.
You can meet him on the road between Jerusalem, Israel and Damascus, Syria. He will be the short fellow, very near sighted at the time and groveling in the dirt.
Three years training the other fellows. Then, the martyred leader has to bring in an outside consultant to write the New Testament.