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Category Archives: Summathetes?

I was with my family in Washington, D.C., over the holidays. One morning I was out early, walking the streets, talking with the Lord. I was asking him if there was anything I could do to participate with him in what he was doing in the city that morning.

I ended up stopping in a bagel shop for a quick bite. Sitting there I noticed a woman in the back of the store. She was having a conversation . . . from the appearance of it, she was having conversations with two someones, one tall, one short . . . but there was no one else around here. She was sitting there, seemingly by herself, but engaged in vigorous discussions with someone standing over her (who she looked up at when she spoke) and someone either seated on the floor or very short next to her (who she looked down at when she spoke). She laughed, shouted, whispered, talked . . . nearly constantly.

And it was then I began to have a conversation with a not visible someone as well. I can’t fully discern what were simply my thoughts and which (if any) were the Spirit’s words. But my conversation went something like this.

She looks like she needs help.

Maybe you should go over and talk with her.

Maybe it’s a demonic problem. I don’t want to create a scene.

But it wouldn’t create a scene if she found freedom and release in Jesus.

Is that what you want to do, Jesus?

I don’t think I can do that. What would I say?

She certainly doesn’t look happy.

But Jesus never just walked up and interrupted someone needing help . . .

Really . . . what about the man in the tombs. A demoniac, not looking for help . . . Jesus just showed up and rescued him from his trouble.

But don’t people have to want to be helped, ask for help, to get help?

But what if they don’t know what the problem is . . . what if they don’t know that help is available?

So, right, I’m just going to walk over to her and say, “Hey, you want to do something about those voices?”

What would the risk be?

What a scene. What would people think? And what would people think if nothing happened? Maybe she’s just got an emotional problem.

And Jesus could help with that, too.

Well, yes, but . . . I just don’t know.

But maybe the kingdom of God could break into life in a small way right here.

Lord, if you want me to talk with her, have her look over at me.

She is still talking with her not-present-friends.

Lord, if you want me to talk with her, I’ll just stand here for a moment. Have her look over here.

She never turned to look at me. I stood there for what seemed like eternity (but probably more like three or four minutes). Then I took a deep breath, took a step . . . and promptly left the bagel shop.

So what I am wrestling with is . . .

How can I live in such an abiding relationship with Jesus that I will have a better sense of what he is up to, what he wants to do, how he wants me to participate?

Knowing the kinds of things that Jesus did (and still does), how am I to know when and how I could or should step into a situation and stop simply being a spectator?

If I know the things that Jesus does and how he still wants to do those kinds of things through his friends and followers, what will it take for me to get off the sidelines and become a more active participant?

And Peter said, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)

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So far, Jesus hasn’t been wrong. In his journey with his disciples, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had told them any number of things.

They have watched him speak words about healing, and people were healed. He instructed two of them how to find the room in which to celebrate the Passover, and it turned out just as he had explained it. You would think that after three and a half years with him that they would begin to understand . . . Jesus tells the truth and it is worth listening to the truth he tells us.

But they still struggle with listening to Jesus . . . and so do I at times. In the midst of listening to what Jesus is saying to me, I can often pick up on the wrong things, place an accent on the wrong part of what he is saying, argue about what I think matters most and overlook the thing that he is saying that ought to capture my attention.

Let me illustrate this, drawing from Mark’s Gospel. After the Passover meal, as Jesus and his friends are going on their way to pray, Mark recounts this:

And Jesus said to them [the eleven, Judas has already left], “You will all fall away, because it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” But Peter said to him, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.” (Mark 14:27-29)

Did you notice what Peter picked up? (Probably the same thing I would have picked up on!)

Jesus says two things about what is going to happen:

1. You will all scatter and leave me.

2. I will rejoin with all of you later.

Peter focuses on the first . . . the “not so good news” in what Jesus is saying. And, in the process, he seems entirely to miss the more important part: Jesus is not abandoning them, their unfaithfulness will not change his commitment to them, no matter what is about to happen and how poorly they might handle it Jesus is still for them and will be with them and they will still be welcomed as part of all he is doing. That is amazing . . . to hear all the implications of that second critical point. And it is that amazing part that Peter missed . . . sadly.

Apparently he was more caught up with how impressive he wanted to be, how impressed he was with himself. While all along, Jesus was drawing him to look more realistically at himself and be way more impressed with Jesus!

It isn’t that Peter should have just shrugged his shoulders and adopted a fatalistic “Oh well, I guess I will deny Jesus” attitude. But given Jesus’ track record of telling the truth, it would have made much more sense had Peter simply taken Jesus at his word and then come to grips with the whole message Jesus was offering him.

Rather than arguing with the one who is always right about his own certainty that Jesus was wrong on this point of his “falling away,” Peter could have rejoiced and celebrated and enjoyed and thanked Jesus for the certainty of Jesus’ own unfailing faithfulness. Jesus was making it clear that no matter what was coming, Peter could know that he would be reunited with Jesus and that Jesus would take the lead in making sure that happened.

Peter could have rested in the certainty of the good news Jesus was offering, rather than arguing about the seeming not so good news that was part of the message.

John tells us that when we sin we can confess our sins to the one who faithfully forgives (1 John 1:9). But sometimes I get stuck on the “I sinned!” part, overlooking the radical good news that we have a faithful forgiver in Jesus.

Jesus calls us to love one another as he loves us (John 13:34). But sometimes I get stuck on the “love one another . . . including that one?” part, overlooking the radical good news that I can love because of the great love with which Jesus loves me.

Jesus tells us that we will have trouble in this world but that we can take courage because he has overcome this world and its trouble (John 16:33). But sometimes I get stalled on the “tribulation! trouble!” part, overlooking the radical good news that the one I follow has already conquered this world and all its trouble.

I argue with Jesus about whether what I did was sin or not. I debate with him about whether he really intended me to love every “one another” or whether it is necessary to be selective. I push back against the idea that following him will include trouble. I don’t take him at his word. I act like he isn’t truthful. And I end up overlooking the good news he does tell me!

I can forgive because he extends forgiveness to me. I am able to love with the love he pours through me. I will make it through whatever the trouble might be because he is so much greater.  And, with Peter, I can be sure that he will continue to lead and guide and meet with and love me . . . it’s just the kind of Savior that Jesus is.

I really do want this life with Jesus. There is a part of me that longs to genuinely enjoy the kind of experience with God, rooted in grace and empowered by the Spirit, that Jesus came to offer us through what he accomplished in and through his life and death and resurrection. But there are times when my day-to-day activity betrays that there are other wants shaping my living. And I find in my own heart and mind rationalizations and reasonings that push against Jesus’ kind of life. It’s not that I am entirely double-minded, it’s just that . . . well, I am distractable.

If I am going to be honest, that distractability is not inevitable. I am distracted, in some sense, because I want to be, I chose to be, I set my focus and the distractability follows. And what I end up doing, in those distractable moments, is to attempt to justify my choices, argue that my distractability just “happened,” and try to plead ignorance or argue relevance or . . .

Well, I do whatever I can to distance myself from what I really already know matters. I play mental games to keep from having to look honestly at what Jesus invites me into.

I know that sounds pretty twisted . . . but I do find those kind of cognitive gymnastics going on at times. Kind of like what happened in Mark 12:18-27.

Some Sadducees come to talk with Jesus. They find it very hard to ignore him, but they don’t really like him. They don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, Jesus seems to. They don’t think God messes with people directly very much any more, Jesus seems to believe the opposite. So, they don’t really like him and they really are troubled by his growing ministry.

So, they come with a question. Or at least they pose it as a question. They ask about a woman whose husband dies before an heir can be born. That was a problem in Jesus’ day, in that property was the basis of life and family property stayed with the son(s). No child and the family property goes to another. So, there was provision in the Old Testament law for a woman whose husband dies leaving her childless; she could have a child by her husband’s brother, thus preserving the line.

Well the Sadducees suggest a hypothetical situation involving seven brothers and no children and then end this sham by asking Jesus about whose wife the woman would be “in the resurrection” seeing as she had wed all seven brothers.

The truth is, they weren’t looking for an answer. They only wanted to trip Jesus up; get him a bit off balance. They were trying to muddy things up a bit so they wouldn’t have to deal with Jesus. They wanted to be able to throw up their hands and say, “See, this Jesus doesn’t have it all figured out! He can’t even resolve this tiny problem!”

And I do the same. All to often. When I hear Jesus speak to me about something in my life that needs to change or something in my world that he intends for me to be attentive to, I change the subject, raise an objection, posit a hypothetical situation . . . all in hopes of getting him distracted enough and getting me engaged enough that I can justify not following him simply, not responding to him directly.

How did Jesus respond to the Sadducees? He informed them that they had missed it. He didn’t directly resolve their hypothetical situation. He simply told them that they neither understood God nor the Scriptures (Mark 12:24).

They were playing games. Jesus was calling for life. They were dealing in fictional hypotheticals. Jesus was breathing life into spiritually dead people. They were wrangling about words. Jesus was speaking truth. They missed it my a mile by trying to be clever and confrontational. Jesus spoke to them simply and called them to be attentive.

Sometimes I miss it by a mile, too. I play games, deal in fictional hypotheticals, wrangle about words, try to be clever. And Jesus speaks plainly to me. He asks:

Do you really want to listen to what I am saying? Will you give attention to what the Scriptures actually say? Are you inclined to rest in the power of God? Or are you going to continue to distract yourself with such games?

Summathetes. The word means “fellow disciple.” The idea is that of someone who is traveling together with others to grow as an intentional apprentice to Jesus; learning in partnership with other learners how to live in and enjoy this life with Him.

For those who might be interested, the Greek word looks like this: συμμαθητης. It would be pronounced sum·ma·thay·tays; the accent falling on the last syllable.

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? That word is one of the most common words used to refer to His followers and friends. For some, the word stirs thoughts of “being disciplined.” Others seem to think in terms of some rare class of Christian; a state unattainable by most of us “average believers.”

For some time now, I have been thinking (along with a group of friends, and fellow-journey-ers, and co-workers, and fellow-students) about what this disciple-life is really supposed to be all about. In conversations and times of prayer, in personal study and group discussions, in reading and reflecting, the idea of being a genuine disciple of Jesus continues to stir my heart.

The word’s root meaning is a “learner;” one who follows a teacher. But in Jesus’ day, to follow a teacher was about more than just learning stuff. Following a teacher meant coming to see life the way he saw life, to experience life the way he experienced life, to prize what he prized, to think as he thought. A disciple was someone immersed in and caught up in the life of his or her teacher.

So this blog is about this simple (yet profound and captivating!) idea: following Jesus together. “Summathetes” is the English transliteration of the Greek word that means “fellow-disciple.” And my desire is to think out loud with others who have a passion for Jesus what it means to be His follower.

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