Following at a distance

Monday, July 1, 2013 — Week of Proper 8, Year One

[Go to Mission St. Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 970)

Psalms 106:1-18 (morning) // 106:19-48 (evening)

1 Samuel 10:17-27

Acts 7:44-8:1a

Luke 22:52-62

The problem with being a follower of Jesus is that it sometimes feels like he has turned his back on us. Well, of course it feels like that: how could Jesus lead us anywhere if he spent all his time gazing into our eyes? If we follow Jesus along the Way that he teaches, then we’re going to spend a lot of time with Jesus’ back to us.

In today’s gospel, Peter seems to feel that painful aspect of following Jesus. Instead of fighting triumphantly against the chief priests and temple police, Jesus gets seized and taken to the high priest’s house. Has Jesus turned his back on his disciples, and on their dreams of a new kingdom of justice and mercy? Peter may have felt stunned, devastated, and afraid . . . but he doesn’t want to lose sight of Jesus. Our gospel tells us, “Peter was following at a distance.”

Peter hangs back, but he doesn’t lose contact. Peter hovers at the edge of the drama, huddles around a fire in a courtyard, hesitates to acknowledge his friendship with Jesus. Peter keeps his distance.

How many of us are familiar with this way of relating to Jesus—or to the many wise, fierce, and beloved people in our lives who dare us to become more valiant and vulnerable? Do we keep a safe and cautious distance? Do we struggle to keep pace? Do we stay within eyeshot, but not within reach?

All followers of Jesus find ourselves at varying distances from him throughout our lives. But while we are following, at whatever distance, we are preparing ourselves for a moment when the distance closes. Your never know when Jesus will turn around, and when we will find ourselves face to face with the opportunity to be bold, compassionate, and authentic.

In our gospel story, Jesus tries to close the gap between him and Peter with a glance. The passage says, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter.” The logistics of that look are difficult to explain. How did they see each other? Jesus was in the high priest’s house, while Peter was in the courtyard. Also, it was dark. Did Jesus happen to look out a window just when Peter happened to look up, in the very instant that dawn broke? Maybe so, since the cock had just crowed.

Against all practical probability, the Lord turned and looked at Peter. At that moment in his life, Peter’s guilt drove him to put even more distance between himself and Jesus. But Peter had a lot of life ahead of him, and many more opportunities to follow Jesus with his whole heart.

For today, Stephen is our example of a follower of Jesus who stares Jesus in the face in the very moment when it most seems like Jesus has turned his back. Right before he is attacked, Stephen “gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” As the crowd stones him, Stephen prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Stephen met his moment, and the distance between him and his Lord collapsed.

Over the long haul, and often in our most difficult moments, it can seem like Jesus has his back to us. Our task is to try to follow Jesus, even at a distance. Just try to keep him in our sights. We never know when we’ll experience the blessing of Jesus finding a way to look back at us. And if we’re really lucky, we might get to glance over his shoulder to see the kingdom where he is leading us.

Inspired as a child by Maria Von Trapp, Luke Skywalker, and Jesus, Lora Walsh strives for wisdom, justice, and a simpler way.  She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas

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