I often feel bad for the 12 disciples. They get preached about, taught about, analyzed, canonized, demonized, and all usually with the attitude that they were a bit dim in the basement, despite being the closest companions to the Son of God. Peter was wishy-washy, James and John had smug anger management issues, Matthew worked for the enemy, Thomas was stubborn, and Judas… he lived off the 5-fingered discount, especially from the troupe’s own treasury. They aren’t always portrayed as a stellar bunch of folks.
But this is the community Jesus chose to help nurture. Toss in some women of independent means, women of ill-repute, women of other nations, lepers, alcoholics, children, and even a Pharisee or two, and you have one of the most misfit band of patchworked, hobbled, awkward communities of humanity history has ever known.
Traditionalism would assume that Jesus was good for these poor folks (see The Beatitudes in Matthew 5); his presence transformed them, honoured them, drew them together, and lit a faith as yet unseen in that time under the torture of Rome.
But I had a thought today.
What if Jesus needed his band of Merry Men?
Jean Vanier writes:
“The response to war is to live like brothers and sisters. The response to injustice is to share. The response to despair is a limitless trust and hope. The response to prejudice and hatred is forgiveness. To work for community is to work for humanity. To work for peace in community, through acceptance of others as they are, and through constant forgiveness, is to work for peace in the world and for true political solutions; it is to work for the Kingdom of God.”
― Community and Growth, p.100.
In the Gospels, we see Jesus responding through sharing; through trust and hope, through forgiveness (such forgiveness!). Yet do we look to his radical example so far that we fail (just a little bit) to see his humanity right in front of our noses?
We don’t like to think of God as needing anything. God represents completeness, wholeness, balance, and perfection. To speak of God in terms of needing things or people is almost sacrilegious. Oh sure, sometimes we get away with expressing how much Jesus needed Mary during his infancy (changing poopy diapers, feeding him, burping him); we certainly see how he needed intimacy with God as an adult; and if we’re daring, we’ll talk about how Jesus needed to be human just like us, keeping things safely general and vague.
But that’s often as far as we’ll go.
What if Jesus responded to injustice by sharing not just because sharing was a part of his divine DNA, but because he sensed how unjust he could potentially be?
What if Jesus responded to despair with trust and hope not just because we ascribe trust and hope as inherent godly characteristics, but because he was prone to despair?
After all, he did live in an impoverished region, as part of a hated people; he certainly would have known death from an early age, felt hunger, worked hard for pittance, and probably had a few rounds of dangerous dysentery.
What if Jesus responded as he did not just because of his holiness, but out his human need for connection, community and communion?
Jesus needed friends.
He didn’t need followers.
Anyone can have followers. Speak a few good words, and I could move someone emotionally for a few minutes. Done deal. Anyone can have followers.
Jesus needed friends.
Prone to loneliness and times of being overwhelmed; having the innate human response to laugh and share that laughter; learning the many-shaded colours of desire for different kinds of human interaction, Jesus needed his 12 idiotic disciples not just as pupils but as his comrades. Broken and busted as they were, full of flaws, arrogance and ignorance, Jesus loved them AND HE LOVED BEING WITH THEM.
They nurtured him as much as he nurtured them.
It’s not a take on the Christo-disciple relationship that’s often explored on a daily level. Jesus? Need friends? Nah!
Jean Vanier, wonderful man that he is, has learned over the course of his life that welcoming the most broken, excluded, and wounded among us is not only to benefit them and polish our happy little karmas. In one of those twisty paradoxes, we begin to discover that we need these broken, excluded and wounded lives in our lives. We are impoverished without their wisdom, joy, fears, and sorrows. We are less without their presence.
I’m coming to discover that without not only his human relationships, but his NEED for human relationships, Jesus would have been far less a person than he was. He needed Peter’s brashness and James’ anger; he needed Matthew’s marginalization, and Thomas’ stubbornness; and he needed Judas. For more than simply prophecy-fulfillment (which would have amounted to usury), Jesus loved Judas. He wanted Judas around. They may even have shared some male-bonding moments. Why would his betrayal have stung so much if there hadn’t been love and friendship there before? If it had just been the unnamed man up the road who had turned Jesus in, the outcome might have been the same but the act of betrayal would not have been as powerful or heartbreaking.
It’s often preached that God doesn’t NEED me, but rather DESIRES me. After all, God is a God of completion and needs nothing and no one but God.
What if Jesus, as a God of communion and companionship and creation, actually does NEED me?
Pondering that huge mountain of heresy, I’ll shift to the community around me:
Who do I need in my life? Vanier is clear that we all need each other. As pretty as those words sound, they are most difficult to live out. I might take great delight in my friend with Down Syndrome, but the man walking into the Centre every morning demanding coffee after boozing all night (again)? I need him? His life speaks wisdom and light into my life?
We may need to set up healthy boundaries about how close people get to us (even Jesus had his Main Three; even then he often retreated from everyone altogether), but we don’t get to choose between the pretty poor and the ugly poor. We aren’t offered the luxury of making that judgment on anyone. For how pretty or ugly we believe the people around us are, we are pretty or ugly to others.
Here is the reality of community: Jesus needed friends. He needed family.
We need friends. We need family.
And this is hard. We don’t always want the people around us to be a part of creating who we are.
And yet this is love.
And it is a powerful love.