There’s always the temptation to look to another human being for salvation. What’s more, there’s always the temptation to look to one human being for all the answers and for all the solutions to the problems before us. In many ways, the presidency of the United States has come to signify and represent such aspirations. The President is looked upon as being the be all end all of all of our country’s hopes and problems. In this election cycle it’s always fascinating to note what people desire in a president. More often than not in these discussions the president is assumed to have way more power than he or she will actually have when entering office. For example, the expectation that Donald Trump will create jobs and Make America Great Again is, I suppose, a nice thought, but hardly as easy as he makes it sound.
In many regards this is all indicative of a continual human problem throughout time and best exemplified in the person of King Saul. Saul became king because the people of Israel wanted to be like the nations around them who had kings. Bear in mind that the impetus for this desire was the corruption of their judges. Often, the desire for authority is borne out of an insecurity regarding ambiguity, mystery and responsibility. Thus, the appeal of authoritarianism in various places in this post-modern age.
Nonetheless, it’s this desire for a king that prompts Yahweh to state that they have rejected him. In other words, God wasn’t enough for them, they needed and wanted more. This is the problem we witness in the Garden. Adam and Eve wanted more and so they (we) wanted to go their own way. This is repeated over and over again throughout Genesis as Cain builds a city for the sake of his own stability and independence apart from God. Nimrod, the mighty hunter, becomes a king standing in defiance of God. Finally, we human beings seek to build a tower in order to make a name for ourselves, the epitome of doing things our own way. We are simply not happy relying on God, we must always go one step further, we must always find something to latch onto that is not Him. And things inevitably go poorly as it did with Saul and we find ourselves going back to square one.
One surprising aspect to the ministry of Jesus is that he rejects such notions. Not only does he not want to be made king and even rejects such notions coming from Satan and the disciples, but he also builds up those who come to him. While he clearly teaches the Way embedded within such teaching is an an-archic way which discredits and calls into question those things which would claim divine authority and legitimacy. The woman with a bleeding problem was not supposed to touch or approach Jesus, to do so would be wrong according to Torah and cultural standards (Mk. 5:24-34). Similarly, the leper who returned to give thanks to Jesus was a Samaritan. Samaritans rejected Jesus, for he was a Jew on his way to the hated city of Jerusalem (Lk.9:51-56). Despite these standards and norms, they come to Jesus anyway. And Jesus notes that it is their faith that makes them well. In many regards the gospels reveal that we have more power than we may realize. Hence, “if you had the faith the size of a grain of mustard seed…” Is not the call of Jesus to lose our lives, to pick up our crosses a call to a new way, a new responsibility best articulated in both the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain? The woman with the bleeding problem couldn’t help but move her way into the crowd and touch Jesus. How risky this was considering she was unclean and a woman. But she does it and she is healed and as Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well: go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Similarly, with the leper who has returned to Jesus, a Jew, to give thanks for healing Jesus says, “your faith has made you well.”
Sinful we are, but one of the things that contributes to this state is social and cultural conditioning. Often much of what we believe to be right and wrong has much more to do with culture than with God. A simple reading of the gospels confirms this as we look at what Jesus holds up as good and of worth. The woman with the bleeding problem would have been told it was wrong to touch Jesus and the Samaritan leper would have been told not to approach Jesus since he was a Jew. Yet, they did so anyway, their faith made them well. They went against conventional norms, they went against what the world said was polite, expected and acceptable.
Such is the way of the Creator, of Jesus, of the Spirit. This is who we are called to rely on and who we are called to follow. Thus, in following we take on ambiguity, we take on mystery, we take on responsibility.