Despite my frequent attempts to make Jesus a rigid character, devoid of life and vibrancy, who is predictable, tame, and plain, He has a way of decimating those stereotypes. Case in point: Matthew 26.
Sometimes, probably for reasons of insecurity and judgmentalism, I want Jesus to be the kind of God that is dead set on giving us what we deserve, despite the catastrophic implications for both the entire world and for me. I think I desire this kind of wooden Savior because I want to be able to put handles on Jesus, grips with which I can move Him and pull Him and even carry Him around with me when the fancy strikes me. But, alas, He does not acquiesce.
I once again was cut to the bone as I picked up on a statement I’d never really paid much attention to in Matthew 26:
Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
After the institution of the New Covenant, the bread and the wine, and after a song Jesus drops the bomb on His rag-tag group of followers and tells them that they will abandon Him when the going get tough. They are, with Peter as the spokesman and eventual main offender, incredulous. There’s no way we would ever do that to You! You’re God…You’ve shown us the beauty of love…You chose us when no one else would! We aren’t going anywhere!
But they did.
They ran like cats in a thunderstorm.
So the question I have to ask is this: what do you do with deserters? What do you do with traitors who, at the first sign of trouble, leave their captain high, dry, and stranded with no support? What have these turn-coats gotten throughout history? Death. Death is the answer. There is no greater malfeasance than selling out your tribe. You don’t pledge allegiance and then pound pavement in the opposite direction. In our world it is better to have never signed up than to break the contract half-way through.
So what does Jesus do? He looks at them, tells them clearly that they will betray Him, the Messiah, and then He tells them this, “It’s alright, I’ll see you in Galilee. We’ll meet up there.”
This is the unlikeliest answer of all as best I can tell. Not only does He not get angry, not say that they’ll work it out in the end, and not write them off, but He actually says that when it’s all over with we’ll hook up and catch a meal together in Galilee. No harm, no foul.
How can this possibly be true? Jesus literally demands nothing here other than a save-the-date. He doesn’t tell them that they need to try not to let it happen, He doesn’t tell them that if they’d prayed more or been more committed they might have been better prepared. He doesn’t offer one solitary shred of condemnation. He just says, “I’ll see you in Galilee.” And not just that, but, “I’ll be waiting for you in Galilee.” He tells them, I’ll get there first and even though there are a hundred people who haven’t betrayed me, I’m going to be looking for you guys, my friends.
I was a little put off by this at first because, frankly, what does this kind of unconditional love leave as an incentive for those that didn’t (or wouldn’t) betray Him? And then I realized what a grimy, foolish, and utterly ridiculous statement that was.
None of us stayed. We’re all traitors to the Crown.
So I offer this question in reflection: what do you do with a God that looks at you, tells you that at the most important moment you can imagine, you will fail, but seems largely unconcerned with using that as a “teachable moment” because He is much more interested in making plans to eat dinner with you afterward? How do you respond to a Savior that saves you in spite of all the failures that He knows you will make? What is the appropriate response to the One that looks at you in your guilt and filth, drowning in the squalor of your failed best intentions, and says, “No matter what, I’ll see you in Galilee”?
I’ll tell you what I did…I loved Him. I loved Him because in that moment, perhaps above all other moments, I knew that He loved me first.
And that, my friends, is the Gospel.