Failing, Faulty, Fragile

Jesus said he wouldn’t be sticking around. And the witness he’s left behind is his church. Failing, faulty, fragile as it is.

Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astonished at the majesty of God.

But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus¬†said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying. – Luke 9:41-45

Why would Jesus rebuke a man for bringing his son to the disciples for healing while he was on the mountain? Was that man “faithless and twisted”? What about the disciples? Did he rebuke them for trying to drive out the demon? Hadn’t he just given them the authority to do just that at the beginning of chapter 9? Surely they weren’t “faithless and twisted” for trying. No, Jesus addressed this rebuke to the “faithless and twisted generation“. The way Luke uses ‘generation’ is most often to speak of unbelieving crowds (see 7:31-35 and 11:49-52). Jesus rebuke was not to the man for asking nor to the disciples for failing, it was to the crowds for perceiving the disciple’s failure as a testimony against Jesus’ ministry. It is hard to criticize Jesus when he did all things well but when his fail the accusations fly.

There is a lot to learn from this. Jesus was very clear that he wouldn’t be around forever. He told the disciples of his murder and resurrection in verse 22. He spoke with Moses and Elijah about his departure (or exodus) in his transfiguration in verse 31. And here in verse 44 he is clear again. If people will only be persuaded by perfectly executed power encounters, things only Jesus can do, then they’re doomed. Jesus would depart and the testimony he would leave behind would be his disciples with their wobbly faith and faulty execution. “How long am I to be with you?” If you put your faith in results while Jesus is not here, you will be disappointed.

This is a all to common accusation against prayer, especially from the New Atheists. “Instead of sitting quietly, get up and do something!” they seem to say. I watched an episode of Futurama the other night and one of the characters visits what is obviously a symbol of organized religion looking for help finding his friend. The Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, etc. priest says that they can pray. The man replies, “Yes, but can you do anything.” There is a beat and the priest says, “No, not really.” Statistically, prayer doesn’t outperform action.

I think this is just the thing Jesus was teaching in this part of Luke. If you trust in performance, you’re going to be disappointed.¬† I think this is why these events are clustered around the Transfiguration. It shows Jesus in his glory and God’s approval of him. It also shows the all too human response. Peter, James and John don’t want the moment to end so they offer to build tents for Jesus, Elijah and Moses on the mountain so they can remain. But Jesus said he wouldn’t be sticking around. And the witness he’s left behind is his church. Failing, faulty, fragile as it is. God’s power is made clear not in power encounters but in weakness. Jesus didn’t make a mistake or a poor choice. It isn’t about what “works” it is about him.

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