A state of uncertainty


I love the Greek word distazō.  It often gets translated as doubt, but it has a wee bit less negative meaning – “a state of uncertainty.”  (Some folks compare it with being “in two minds” about something.)  

Now, if ever there was a word to describe the COVID-19 era it would distazō – the whole world is in a state of uncertainty.  When will life ever be the same again?  And, indeed, will life ever be the same again?  As if that were not disorientating and traumatic enough… as if that was not a enough of an existential crisis… America is burning.  Literally.  And where it is not burning, it is in that most fundamental of conflicts: a house divided against itself.  

Division can be disturbingly stark.  African-American parents, some of whom I know, frequently find themselves teaching their children how to survive an encounter with law enforcement.  And, the spouses of law enforcement officers, some of whom I know, find themselves explaining to their children why their parent might never come home again.  

As human beings we are quick to choose sides, based upon our personal situation.  This week I saw a cartoon in which one character said to another, “That’s strange.  I remember it differently, in a way that aligns with my world view and casts me in a positive light.”  And so, we live our lives within a state of uncertainty.  And yet we know that black men ought not be suffocated in the process of an arrest.  And police officers ought not be gunned down at routine traffic stops.  We know that peaceful demonstrations are foundational in the birth of this nation.   Yet looting and arson are not cries for justice but rather theft and destruction.  We are in a state of uncertainty.  

One thing we can agree on is that the “other side” is not only wrong, but evil.  We reach that point by making the other person into something “other,” which robs them of their humanity.  Unworthy of our love, they are ultimately disposable.  However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ shows us another way.  

On a mountain top Jesus shares his message.  It is on mountain tops that we learn so much: Jesus’ response to the devil (4:8), his great sermon (5:1-8:1), healings (15:29) and his transfiguration (17:1).   And here we are again with so much to learn – or be reminded about – in the closing verses of Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus has the final word.  In his resurrection, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (28:18).  His universal Lordship requires a universal mission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (vs. 19).  Suspicion of the Gentiles raised elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel (6:32, 10:5, 20:25, etc.), has ended – the Gentiles are included without qualification.  Matthew’s Gospel may begin with the return of a refugee family after the persecution and violence that threatened them has passed.  But the Gospel ends with resurrection glory.  Threat has become promise.   And there is a mission for disciples (read also, the Church).  Yet it is not the Church’s mission, it is God’s mission into which the Church is called:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (vs. 19-20).  

Suspicion, exile, and exclusion ends.  It turns out that “all” means all.  All flesh, all peoples, no exception.  And this love is not to be shown by God alone, as if God loves all but we get to add an asterisk (them, but not them…).  Wonderfully, it is when all seems so dark, where all seems so lost, and where sin and death seem so powerful, that we remember that it was never more so than at Golgotha.  Yet, the defeat of Golgotha has become the triumph of Galilee.

The state of uncertainty, it turns out, is not the final sate.  It is not even the dominant state, for in Matthew’s Gospel it exists alongside worship: in this Matthew text (28:17), and in the account of Peter sinking beneath the waves after first having walked on the water (14:22-33).  Now, in the Great Commission, the disciples/the Church are to baptize and to teach.  They and we are to baptize in the name of the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit (vs. 19).  And we are to teach all that Jesus has commanded us (vs. 20).  And what has Jesus commanded us?  That we love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34).   Thus, we are to see the face of Jesus in the other; and seek that which is in the best interests of the other; and do so in a posture of servanthood.  

The mission into which we are called is one that turns the world upside down.  From the Magnificat of Jesus’ blessed mother (Luke 1:46-55) to the Beatitudes of her son (Matthew 5:3-13, Luke 6:20-22).  And it begins, through the grace of God, in the hearts of those called to carry the cross of Jesus.  It begins with us putting aside race, politics, self-interest, the comfort of familiar kin; and instead to listen attentively to the stories, fears, suffering and experiences of the other.  Such a posture is incredibly vulnerable.  It is at odds with all that the world teaches us.  It makes us look so very foolish in the eyes of those whose approval we often seek as a means of self-justification.  Yet it is no more foolish than to declare that God ,“Hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek… hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away” (Magnificat); nor to teach that they are blessed who mourn, are poor or who are meek (Beatitudes).  No more foolish than the images of police officers “taking a knee” in solidarity with protesters; or of protesters protecting a police officer cut off from his unit.  And no more foolish than to believe with all one’s heart, that upon the lifegiving cross hung the salvation of the whole world.
Pr. Ken Blyth
Matthew 28:16-20 (Genesis 1:1–2:4a, Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13)