There is a risk inherent in viewing Jesus’ words as play. Especially as we live in a world permeated by pain and suffering. Before I wrote this morning, I read a friend’s blog describing her blindsided breakup. How can I honestly write about play on one hand and be awake to suffering on the other? Can joy and pain coexist?
Or is there no alternative to playing in the midst of our suffering? It seems impossible to imagine that our suffering can be shared at the same time that we are called to into play.
The Apostle Peter’s words are always with us. We believe. Help our unbelief.
But if the subject matter of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount contains more on play than we might have imagined, that is not to say that the setting is one that lends itself to vapid time-consuming recreational activities. Jesus is relatively unknown to his hearers at this point. Strange to think, but he is also unknown to his disciples as everybody gathers around to hear the wonder-worker speak.
What the people have perceived to this point is that Jesus, the meandering rabbi is a man of sorrow. He has been tested in the wilderness by the devil, and it’s possible some early press on this story had leaked out. And before anything happens, his cousin John the Baptizer is arrested. Up to this point, God in human form has formed quite the auspicious list of contacts.
But there is something that is undeniable about the authority of Jesus, even at this early stage of his ministry. As he passes by two pair of fisherman brothers (three of which would become his closest friends), he simply says “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And just like that, he’s got a following.
And think for a moment about what your first great public scene would be, if you were in Jesus’ shoes (or sandals, or whatever). Maybe you are more practical than I am, but I would almost bet you I’d get everybody’s attention by creating a square circle or calling down fire from the sky. Something to really get the crowd going. Something to make them think.
Who am I kidding? My first public act would have been to jump off the top of the temple. If I could resist bread after 40 days, that is.
There’s Jesus, though. Healing people. And not just raising the dead and showing off. He healed all the sick, those with various diseases and pains…He drove out demons. He healed the epileptics (my personal favorite!). He gave full range of motion to the paralyzed.
This initial public scene in Matthew’s Gospel reveals two basic, fundamental elements of what is to follow. First, that Jesus is willing to identify with the hurting. And second, that Jesus is willing to play with the present reality of those who are hurting.
Over and over again we see these themes play out in the life and ministry of Jesus. He meets people in immense pain, then he plays with them until their reality is changed. He shows them another way.
What does it look like when Jesus identifies with you in your pain?
And are you willing to let him play with your present reality?
The answer to the first question will say that we believe.
The answer to the second question will echo Peter’s words: help my unbelief.