One of the strongest images of the Old and New Testament is that of the journey. The backbone of the Old Testament is Israel’s Exodus trek from Egypt through the wilderness to the Promised Land.
In the New Testament, we sojourn with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, ultimately along the Via Dolorosa. We travel with Paul around Asia Minor and to Rome. We learn along the way to see our own lives as a journey of faith with Jesus being formed in us all along the way.
If the spiritual life is conceived as a journey, then perhaps it is helpful to think of it in segments:
I. The first segment is Eden
The first page of the spiritual journey would be Eden. There we see the world as God created it—perfect, untainted, wonderful. Hold the original image in your mind’s eye and embrace it as it was intended to be: good.
II. The last segment is the new heaven and new earth
The destination is revealed as we turn to the last page of the journey. It’s an incredible segment, leading us along a way in which all is restored, renewed and whole.
III. The middle segments are times in the world
In between the origination and destination are the unfolding sections of time, where we live in reality, in the world with one another. The middle pages are sometimes mundane, sometimes frightful, sometimes calling for great courage, sometimes demanding sheer perseverance amid tedium.
At the middle page, is the image of the Last Supper. Most of us have in our mind’s eye the Leonardo da Vinci painting of the Last Supper. The disciples gather around a table with Jesus at the centre. We focus on those disciples, and we find it amazing how different they are. When you consider the people who gather at the table of Jesus, the amazing thing is that nobody laughs and nobody leaves. It is worth considering their diversity, what holds them in place, and with what promise Jesus’ disciples continue to gather at His table. In it, we find encouragement and strength for our own segment of the journey.
There Is Incredible Diversity Among Jesus’ Disciples
There was diversity among the Twelve
The disciples came from an otherwise incompatible assortment of backgrounds:
- Simon Peter was the rockiest one.
Jesus name Simon ‘Peter’, meaning ‘rock’. D. Elton Trueblood makes the point that it must have been a joke among the disciples, and his name mocked him. Rather, he was ‘rocky’. A fisherman by trade, bold in word, timid in action, along with all the others, Peter would deny his association with Jesus.
- James and John were called the ‘Sons of Thunder’.
James and John were sons of Zebedee and of an aggressive mother seeking her sons’ promotion.
- Thomas was the doubter.
Known as Didymus, meaning ‘the twin’, Thomas was the dismal doubter. He couldn’t believe Jesus was resurrected unless he touched him.
- Matthew was a tax collector.
Also known as ‘Levi’, Matthew must have been the suspect one among the disciples. Tax collectors were on about the lowest rung on the Jewish social ladder.
- Simon was a Zealot.
Simon might well have been a prior member of the Jewish political faction that was determined to overthrow Roman rule by force.
- Judas Iscariot was the treasurer.
Judas the treasurer became Judas the betrayer. Even Judas was slow to leave the table of the Lord. The stories of the rest of the Twelve round out a wild assortment of unlikely people upon which to begin a worldwide movement.
There is a great diversity among disciples today
In reality, the picture of the disciples is a portrait of the church—of you and me and our fellowship together. We are diverse. We are different. We have our own idiosyncrasies. We clash from time to time in our ideas of how things should be.
There Is a Unifying Factor for Jesus’ Disciples
Jesus’ love, acceptance, and forgiveness held his disciples fast
Why did the Twelve continue to follow Jesus? When others had fallen away or rejected Jesus’ teaching, what drew these unlikely persons to him? Even Judas stayed until the very last possible moment.
What was it that caused them to become, ultimately, an indivisible community of faith—a living dynamo of the spread of the Good News? Simply: the common bond, the unifying factor was Jesus. Jesus had a way of holding them together by his love, acceptance and forgiveness. Jesus met them—each one at his point of need. He called them, in their uniqueness and brokenness, to follow him. And, because he saw them for their value and purpose, instead of their apparent misunderstanding and selfish ambitions, Jesus cared for and loved the Twelve.
Jesus reaffirms his transcending love at the Last Supper
I think Jesus reaffirmed his love, acceptance, and forgiveness for the Twelve that Last Supper evening as, one by one, he washed their dirty feet. As he serves in washing feet, Jesus sees beyond the surface of that rough-hewn stone in Simon a petros—a rock, a solid, precious stone. Peter finds in Jesus forgiveness, direction, and, finally stability and power. Jesus sees beyond the scepticism of Thomas and wills for him a great, unshakable faith. Jesus shows special care for the traitor, Judas Iscariot, as he takes his feet and washes them ever so carefully. Judas—even on the night that he would betray Jesus—receives fresh evidence that he is loved, accepted, and potentially forgiven.
That night, one by one, they found in Jesus renewed ability to be themselves. They found in Jesus the permission to set aside the identities imposed on them by their culture. With him, they could be true to themselves. They could be transparent with one another. They could be open to God in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the unifying factor for the Church
Like they, we all are coming from different places. We have had our own history of pain and heartache and trouble. We’re finding in Jesus the love, acceptance, and forgiveness for which we long. Because of His love, we can learn to dwell together in love. We belong to one another because we belong to Jesus.
We find a special place together at the Lord’s table. It is symbolic of the fact that Jesus is our Host and our common bond. We are truly one at one table with the Lord.
The Last Supper Holds a Present Promise for Us
The disciples stay at the table, beckoning us to remain there too
We find them reclining together at the supper table, focused on the One who had reached out to touch them in so many ways. Now he speaks to them of final things, of departure, of separation. They’ve come so far; will it now end? Does it end here? Nobody leaves the table (except Judas). They stay. Why? Because of Jesus. There is present promise for us in their staying at the table. If that diverse group could hang together with Jesus, surely we can. As long as Jesus is Host, the table beckons us. Our expectations differ, and some hopes go unfulfilled, but our Host holds us fast.
Staying at the table, the disciples receive precious promises
As the Eleven remain and share what would be their last meal together before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, they receive some promises, which are passed on to us.
- They receive the promise of a kingdom: Jesus declares to them, “I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred to me” (Luke 22:29).
- They receive the promise of another, greater supper together: Conferral of a kingdom carries with it the hope of another, greater meal together. “So that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom,” Jesus says (Luke 22:30).
- They receive the promise of shared reign with Jesus: Those who suffer with and for Him will reign with Him.
The journey we travel takes what seems to be a lot of wild turns. Sometimes it may seem like an out-of-control roller-coaster. Sometimes it’s like a peaceful float on a deep river. But be assured, life, even life in Christ, will take you to the limit, tear at your heart, and strain at the capacities even grace makes possible.
We’ll share much of that journey together. But Jesus is with us every segment of the journey. He is the Way, the road we travel. He is our Guide. He is the Host. So let’s enjoy the ride.
John Hay, Jr; The Preacher’s Magazine