I can’t honestly say that, having been alive 2,000 years ago, there are many places that I would have followed Jesus of Nazareth. He hung out with a ragged bunch of unattached men and was constantly under surveillance in an occupied country. If I didn’t have too much to lose, this guy might be worth taking a chance on. But the second that ‘things’ pile up—be it home, family, really anything that can be taken from you—I think that I’d balk.
All that honestly said, I can return to the beginning and to the reading from Mark and say that I would never miss the chance to follow Jesus down to the beach. That’s where things always seem to happen. If you were lucky enough to be walking along the shore of Tiberius as written in John’s Gospel, the risen Jesus appears inconspicuously to a couple of lost souls. If you were there when the crowd was about to stone the sinner, you would’ve seen Jesus write what I’ve always hoped were not the names of sins or sinners, but a poem, in the sand. The sea shore is where land and water meet in awesome but comforting majesty. This place where lands shift—where the ground upon which we stand can literally move from beneath us—is where Jesus “taught them.”
And, of course, nothing is said of the lesson; we only see the result. We see that Jesus tells Levi, who was in some way associated with the dreaded imperial customs office, to “Follow me.” Then all the more active hangers-on break bread together at Levi’s house, while less active hangers-on and Pharisees wonder why Jesus is eating in such “bad company.” His only teaching there, “I did not come to call the righteous but the sinners.” This typical beach statement is, as Hebrews says, “sharper than any two-edged sword.” If you’re already righteous, you should understand what’s happening; yet, if you understand and are called, you’re a sinner.
W. B. Yeats echoed his great model William Blake when he wrote, “man can embody truth but he cannot know it.” I know that I’d like to know what Jesus means by this, but then I find myself falling into the trap of Wisdom Literature, forgetting that Jesus’ stories are parables and his sayings are koans. I think of this and I think of the beach in regard to sympathy, especially at this time of the season. If we are giving of our gifts to those who are “less fortunate,” are we doing so because they are our family, because it makes us feel good, because “there but for…”? Or, are we doing it because this is where Jesus spent his time as we wandered along in the shadows? For me, what always begins as a message of comfort, will ultimately come full circle—Jesus is there for me in my time of sickness becomes Let the self-satisfied take care of themselves. But there is that circle, the fruitfully puzzling & reflective message of all koans, which brings you to perhaps not to a fuller understanding, but perhaps at some point to a fuller embodiment as we all sit off a little distance on the beach.
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