For those look a quick and dirty to make the average spiritually-minded person challenge God’s integrity, I think I’ve found it: Tell that saint that he or she continues to have deep character flaws that will derail their best efforts obey God. Odds are said person will challenge your assessment and by doing so will call God a liar.
Before you dismiss me, consider the earliest church, the disciples. In their brief time with Jesus, his band of followers provide themselves over and over to be light on faith, lacking compassion, and prone to power struggles. Jesus even called Peter, his designated successor in regards to leadership of the church, Satan. The empirical evidence of their own human failure lie in their wake.
And somehow, the disciples didn’t even pause before arguing with Jesus when he predicted the nature of their next group failure. The Gospel of Mark’s account of the Last Supper captures the human reflex of maintaining our unrealistically cheerful view of ourselves at all costs.
The scene opens with a display of Jesus foreknowledge. He sends two disciples into Jerusalem to secure the location for their celebration of the Passover. He tells his delegates they will find man drawing water from the well and to ask him for a room. The odds that the first man they asked would be willing to open up his home to thirteen worshippers on hours notice was low and even lower when you consider that drawing water from wells was a task reserved for women in that culture.
But events unfolded as Jesus predicted and the disciples confidence in Jesus’ ability to know the future was strengthened.
Fast forward to the meal when Jesus takes the conversation to a dark place. He predicts that one of them would betray Jesus. The disciples are troubled and press Jesus to know whether or not they would be the one. Jesus’ settles their anxiety by pointing the finger at Judas who as dipping his piece of bread into the dish at the same time as Jesus.
Eleven disciples are relieved that someone else with fail instead of themselves. This emotional response affirmed their confidence in Jesus’ ability to know the future.
Fast forward to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus gather his disciples and their renewed confidence in his omni-science to tell them that they would all deny him and scatter.
Jesus predicts their failure and they argue with him.
Peter went first and told Jesus he was wrong. This is the same disciple who confessed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God. He knew who he was talking to and he told Jesus when it came to making assessments about his character that he was off base. Wrong. Mistaken. Perhaps a liar.
Jesus tells Peter that not only will he deny him, that he’d be a serial offender, and disown Jesus three times before his first morning cup of coffee.
The scene ends with Peter not backing down. He declares he’d die before denying Jesus and the remaining ten follow suit.
Jesus tells his followers that despite the length of time they’ve followed him and despite their accomplishments that they are capable of grievous sin and they dismiss him.
The scene ends with the disciples in denial over what type of people they are and what type of God Jesus is. At no point in the Gospels are the disciples like the Pharisees than they were in this moment. For three years, the disciples watched Jesus embrace the moral misfits who knew they were broken at the same time he reserved his harshest criticisms for the Pharisees, kept score of everyone else’s sin while denying their own. They heard Jesus denounce their duplicity for having a sophisticated outward religion that was incapable of acknowledging or cleaning up the rot within.
In his book People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck characterizes evil as a malignant type of self-righteousness in which there is an active rather than passive refusal to tolerate imperfection (sin) and its consequent guilt. The Pharisees were able to pretend they were sinless by projecting their guilt on “The Sinner Class.” I wonder if the disciples weren’t able to maintain their sense of innocence by projecting their eveil on Judas. It’s amazing to me that after Jesus calls Judas out, not one of his peers were willing to come to his defense. In a moment, Judas was not longer “us” but “other.”
This passage terrifies me because it reminds of who I am, someone who resists telling the truth about himself. This drive makes me want to join and shape religious communities that help each other maintain a constant state of inauthenticity. I am the type of person who reads “blessed at the poor in spirit” in one moment and in the next attempts to create the illusion that I’m morally fit. I’m the type of person capable of hiding my failure from God even though failure is the kindling upon which grace ingnites. The passage scares me because proximity to Jesus didn’t seem to make one lick of difference to the disciples and I’m no better.
On the other hand, this passage comforts me because I know that Jesus saw the white hot mess that was his disciples and died for that too.