Making it Real
[Jesus] said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
1 John 1:1 – 2:6
Let’s imagine ourselves visitors in a small village in Galilee, just at the time Jesus was passing through. A crowd has completely filled a house. An even bigger crowd surrounds the house, with people crammed around every open window and door. We approach but can only hear a word or two. We ask a woman on the edge of the crowd about what’s going on inside. She whispers that inside the house is a rabbi everyone wants to hear. We ask her who he is. She motions for us to follow her and whispers, ‘I am Mary. I come from Magdala, a town not far from here. I don’t want to disturb those who are trying to listen. I will be glad to tell you what I know.’
When we get a stone’s throw from the crowd, Mary explains that the rabbi inside is the son of a tradesman from Nazareth. He has no credentials or status, no army or weapons, no nobility or wealth. He travels from village to village with a dozen of his friends plus a substantial number of supportive women, teaching deep truths to the peasants of Galilee.
‘Look around at us,’ she says. ‘We are poor. Many of us are unemployed, and some are homeless. See how many of us are disabled, and how many are, like me, women. Few of us can afford an education. But to be uneducated is not the same as being stupid.
Stupid people cannot survive in times like these. So we are hungry to learn. And wherever this rabbi goes, it is like a free school for everyone – even women like me. Do you see why we love him?’
We ask, ‘Do you think he is starting a new religion?’
She thinks for a moment and whispers, ‘I think Rabbi Jesus is doing something far more dangerous than starting a new religion. He says he is announcing a new kingdom.’
We continue, ‘So he is a rebel?’
‘His kingdom is not like the regimes of this world that take up daggers, swords and spears,’ Mary says. ‘He heals the sick, teaches the unschooled and inspires the downtrodden with hope. So no, I would not say that he is a rebel. Nor would I say that this is a revolution. I would call it an uprising, an uprising of learning and hope.’
We look curious, so she continues: ‘According to Rabbi Jesus, you cannot point to this land or that region and say, “The kingdom of God is located here,” because it exists in us, among us. It does not come crashing in like an army, he says. It grows slowly, quietly, under the surface, like the roots of a tree, like yeast in dough, like seeds in soil. Our faith waters the seed and makes it grow. Do you see this? When people trust it is true, they act upon it and it becomes true. Our faith unlocks its potential. Our faith makes it real. You can see why this message is unlike anything people around here have ever heard.’ Mary looks concerned. She asks, ‘And where are you from? You aren’t spies from Jerusalem, are you, looking for a reason to arrest the rabbi?’
‘No, we are travellers,’ we reply, ‘passing through.’ We quickly turn the subject back to her: ‘You are one of his disciples?’
She looks down for a moment and replies, ‘Not yet. But I am considering it.’
We wait for her to continue: ‘Most of my friends in Magdala are just trying to survive. Some of them are indeed dreaming about a holy war against Rome and their puppets in Jerusalem. Even little boys are sharpening their knives and talking of war. But I think that is foolish. My father was killed in the rebellion in Sepphoris, so I know. There must be another way. Another kind of uprising. An uprising of peace. If Rabbi Jesus can lead that kind of uprising, I will join it gladly.’
‘You seem to have a lot of faith,’ we observe. ‘Do you ever have doubts?’
She laughs. ‘Sometimes I think his message is the crazy dream of poets and artists, the fantasy of children at play, or old men who drink too much. But then I ask, what other message could possibly change the world? Perhaps what is truly crazy is what we are doing instead – thinking that a little more hate can conquer hate, a little more war can cure war, a little more pride can overcome pride, a little more revenge can end revenge, a little more gold can cure greed, or a little more division can create cohesion.’
Mary is silent for a moment, lost in her thoughts. She turns again to us. ‘What about you? Are you beginning to believe in him? Do you trust him?’
That question has a peculiar power, doesn’t it? ‘Do you trust him?’ is not the same as ‘Do you believe he existed?’ or ‘Do you believe certain doctrines about him?’ It’s a question about commitment, about confidence. For Jesus, the call to trust him was closely linked to the call to follow him. If we truly trust him, we will follow him on the road, imitate him, learn from his example, live by his way. Because his message was and is so radical on so many levels, believing and following can’t be treated lightly. They are costly. They require us to rethink everything. They change the course of our lives.
This time, we have been lost in our own thoughts, so Mary asks again: ‘Maybe you believe he is misguided and only misleads others? That is what the religious scholars from Jerusalem think.’
‘We’re like you,’ we respond. ‘We want to learn more. We feel our hearts being drawn towards him. Maybe we are beginning to trust him.’
‘So we must go back and listen,’ she says. We return with our new companion to the edge of the crowd. While we were away, it appears there has been some kind of commotion on the roof of the house. The crowd is buzzing about a paralysed man being healed.
Mary leans towards us and whispers: ‘Often when he heals someone, he says, “Your faith has healed you.” So there it is again. With him, faith is where it all begins. When you believe, you make it real.’
‘You change this’ – she points to her head – ‘and this’ – she points to her heart – ‘and you change all this.’ She gestures to indicate the whole world.
We hear in her words a summons, a challenge, a life-changing invitation. Do we dare to step out and follow Jesus, to make the road by walking, to risk everything on an uprising of peace, an uprising of generosity, an uprising of forgiveness, an uprising of love?
If we believe, we will make it real.
Meditate & Contemplate
1. What one thought or idea from today’s lesson especially intrigued, provoked, disturbed, challenged, encouraged, warmed, warned, helped or surprised you?
2. Share a story about one of your biggest decisions – how you reached it, how it felt before and after making the choice.
3. How do you respond to the idea that faith makes it real?
4. For children: Who is someone you want to be like when you grow up?
5. Activate: This week, consider beginning each day with the words ‘I believe’. If you would like, add the words ‘Help my unbelief’. Echo them throughout the day when they arise in your heart.
6. Meditate: Sit in silence with Jesus’ words: ‘Your faith has made you well.’ What in you feels like it is being made well? End the silence with a simple prayer.