Playing catch-up

Sometimes, we’re a little slow on the uptake.

You know what it’s like. There’s a conversation in progress, one that started without you. You’re trying to join in, but you have to catch up, filling in blanks, trying to decide how many questions you can ask without being annoying.

It’s a little like that in the life of following Jesus.

The Scripture represents an ancient and ongoing conversation between God and his people. Studying Scripture — the whole of Scripture — is like catching up on a conversation. Some things make sense by themselves even if we haven’t heard everything. But other things need more context if we’re really going to understand.

That’s why John tells us that even after Peter and the beloved disciple see the empty linens in the empty tomb, even after the beloved disciple “believes,” his faith is still incomplete, because he hasn’t understood the whole conversation. He, Peter, and Mary Magdalene are all still catching up to what God has already done.

And somehow, I find that encouraging.

Yes, Jesus sometimes chided his followers for their lack of faith. But it’s not as if the drama of the gospel is all about the impressiveness or heroism of the disciples. It’s not a coming-of-age story in which they confront their shortcomings and earn their happily-ever-after by becoming better and more complete people. It’s not about God finding and rewarding the most spiritually insightful people in the world.

It’s about a perfect God who calls a necessarily imperfect people to be his representatives to a world that is desperately out of kilter. And the imperfection of his people includes the littleness of their faith, their lack of understanding, their slowness to comprehend.

Yet they are still his people, still his representatives.

Take note: resurrection happens, whether or not any of Jesus’ followers expect it or believe in it. We often think of faith in instrumental terms: if we have enough faith, or the right kind of faith, then God will do thus and so. But the larger story, I think, is one in which God continues to work out his purposes regardless of whether his people understand. Most of the time, in other words, faith is playing catch-up to what God is already doing, has already done.

Resurrection, in other words, happens. The tomb is empty. And little by little, by fits and starts, faith begins to make sense of it all.

By immersing ourselves in the ancient conversation, we can sharpen up our ability to make sense of God’s work. And thankfully, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit who, as Jesus promised, will instruct us.

But we will never get it all. Such is the nature of faith: unfinished, reaching out to God, seeking to understand.

And such is the nature of divine love and grace, that we are embraced even as we try to make sense of the resurrection that has already been gifted to us.

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