The disciples were flawed people. But you knew that, right? Thomas doubts. Peter denies. Judas betrays. We mostly think about them as individuals. Thomas doubts. Peter denies. Judas betrays. We don’t always think about the community of disciples and what life in that community was like.
We don’t have too many clues about the community life of the disciples, just bits and pieces. Certainly when James and John (Matt 20:20-28; Mk 10:35-45) asked to sit at Jesus’ right hand, that caused problems. In Luke 9:46 and 22:24-27 (and Mark 9:33-37) the gospel tells us the disciples argued about which of them was the greatest. They were jealous of others (Mark 9:38-41, Luke 9:49-50). Not, evidently, one big happy family.
We may be willing to accept the disciples as flawed but we often tend to have an idealized picture of the early church. Occasionally you hear people long for the “good old days” of the early church. But if things were wonderful then, Paul wouldn’t have needed to write all those letters.
No for better or worse, the community of disciples and the early church were made up of regular people. People who could be loving, and welcoming as they discovered what it meant to be the church. Equally so, as they were regular people, they could be self-centered, lazy, crabby,and self aggrandizing.
Honestly things haven’t gotten any better over the last 2000 years. We’ve done some things right and many things wrong. The church has always been made up of regular people. The church still has an amazing ability to live the gospel in compelling ways and in not so compelling ways.
With that history, you would think the church would be acutely aware of our ability to miss the mark. You would think by now we would be a much more humble people.
One of our favorite ways of missing the mark happens when we pretend that we are one big happy family where no one ever messes up or acts poorly. The church is made up of regular people. We mess up and we act poorly. What is supposed to be different about the church is that we should be able to acknowledge this, confess, forgive and move on.
The church is made up of regular people and that means from time to time there will be disagreements. Why do you think some of us are called “protestants”?
I am increasingly convinced that one of the purposes of the church is to be the incarnation, the embodiment, the lived presence of God’s all-inclusive love. But that doesn’t mean life without tension and conflict. Read the Bible. God and Moses had an occasional heated discussion. As did God and several of the prophets. Jesus exchanged an occasional sharp word with his followers. If everyone is truly invited to the Lord’s Table, if everyone is a child of God, if everyone, really everyone is our neighbor, our brother and sister, there’s bound to be an argument or two. There are in every family.
Part of our call to embody God’s love is to practice forgiveness and acceptance of each other, when we mess up or when we disagree. The ability to disagree and remain in a healthy and caring relationship appears most days to be a lost art. I was going to offer an example here, but there are simply too many examples to choose from- just pick your own favorite.
It is true, there are some divides that cannot be bridged. There are times when it is better, safer, healthier, to go our separate ways. But I don’t think they are as common as we believe. In our society it’s easier to walk away from conflict and declare the other deluded or incompetent or even evil, than it is to stay and do the admittedly hard work of listening to and loving those with whom we disagree.
And that, doing the hard work of listening to and loving those with whom we disagree, is the missed call of the church. What if we helped people learn how to that and helped them understand why it is important? What if we, the church, actually tried to live that way? It won’t be easy. I imagine it will take a long time before we have any competence at it.
Can you imagine a world where disagreement didn’t divide? Where a variety of opinions and ideas could be expressed and listened respectfully to?
I’d like to know, what do you think?