FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK
There is an ancient legend that on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, the devil, who is a master of disguise, attempted to get into heaven by pretending to be the risen Christ. The devil brought with him minions of demons all disguised as angels of light. As the group approached the heavenly gates, the demons began to cry out the opening verses of the great hymn which welcomes the Messiah. They cried out, “Lift up your heads, oh gates of heaven. Open wide your doors and let the King of Glory come in!” The real angels in heaven looked down upon the group and saw the one whom they thought was their risen Lord. So, they joyously added their voices to the next part of the hymn by crying out, “Who is the King of Glory?” Here the devil made a fatal mistake. In answer to that question, he lifted his arms and said, “I am!” In that instant the angels shut the doors of heaven to keep out the imposter. Because the minute the devil lifted up his hands, the angels could see that his palms did not bear the nail marks of the passion. And without the wounds of the passion, the angels knew that this was an imposter. He could not be the risen Lord.
Now Jesus is our savior, but He is also the way to salvation. He is the model we are called to follow. Therefore, so it is not by chance that He bears the wounds of His passion in every gospel scene in which we see the risen Lord. These marks of the passion are not some stain or some flaw which the resurrection was unable to erase. They are an indelible reminder to us that our way to salvation will include struggle, pain, and death. Now this is not to say that struggle, pain, and death are somehow good gifts. It is to remind us that trouble and pain are part of the human condition, and the way that Jesus shows us to salvation is not around the human condition but through it. Jesus’ way must be our way as well.
This is certainly clear in today’s Gospel. Because immediately after Jesus’ baptism the first thing he does is not preach but face evil. The first thing he does is not heal the sick, but grapple with the devil. The first thing he does is not to proclaim God’s Kingdom but confront the fragility of his human nature. Jesus confronts the devil, and in that action shows his weakness. Jesus struggles with human weakness. The gospel stories present this struggle in a very formal way, placing Jesus in complete control. But we can be sure that the historical Jesus did not find things quite as easy. He was like us in all things but sin. He experienced real doubt, real turmoil, real temptation, real pain. Such struggle with human weakness is part of our way to salvation. In his confrontation with human weakness, Jesus shows us our way to glory.
Now there is no doubt that we would prefer another way. We would all prefer to come closer to God without doubt, without struggle, without pain. But this is not the model which is presented to us. If we intend to be Disciples of Christ, we must prepare ourselves to deal with the human condition which causes us to struggle and to doubt. As difficult as that model is, the minute we accept it, there is good news. When we accept it, it leads to hope.
If we find ourselves doubting our faith, questioning what we have been taught, wondering whether the promises of eternal life are true, if we find ourselves struggling with sin, trying over and over again to improve but failing, the last question we should ask ourselves, “What is wrong with me? Why do I doubt? Why do I sin?” Those weaknesses are part of the human condition. But it is by fighting against doubt and sin that we trust that God will use our efforts to lead us deeper and closer to life. If we find ourselves lost with grief over the death of someone that we loved, over the end of a marriage, if we find ourselves paralyzed because the pain of a sickness or the fear of growing old or death, the last thing we should ask ourselves is “What have I done to deserve this? Why is this happening to me?” It happens to us because we are human. We face the same struggles which every human person must face. But we trust and hope that if we face them in union with Christ, if we fight the good fight, God will use our struggle for our growth.
Jesus is our model. He shows us the way. His way is not around our human condition but through it. His way includes the doubts, the struggles, the pains of life. Considering his example, we believe that God allows our worst trials, our greatest troubles, to be a part of our salvation. Those who wish to share in Christ’s glory but cannot show the marks of the wounds in their hands, are not disciples. They are merely imposters at the gates of paradise.
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