John 21:19 and Wonder

When he first said that they should follow him, how did they go? It is hard to believe they did it with anything but eagerness. How would you respond to Jesus in that situation? Compelled by his authority, no doubt: how he seemed to know and to hold open mysteries. They went.

They left all and had only him and what he taught. They wondered and rejoiced, no doubt; were fascinated. Then maybe they started just wondering after some years, quarreled even (the despondency of Thomas in the episode of Lazarus), still following. They did not understand him, and they went on not understanding so that the darkness at the heart of the mystery perhaps was not so promising for some as formerly.

Was there disharmony between them? Thomas so morose, Peter so adamant, blustering about his own loyalty. Why? Judas was the heart of doubt, but what about Bartholomew or Matthew at this point? They’d come a long way, did they wonder where this road would really lead to?

Then they saw him captured by those he had refuted and whose plots he had avoided previously. The popular triumph melted all away. His habit of speaking irresistibly abated in that moment; he was silent. They saw him tortured, mangled and defeated; and throughout it he was silent. And they watched him die.

There was pain and grief and confusion. They huddled together out of fear, but also, I think, worse: out of not knowing where else to go, what else to do. They did not understand and it must have felt like they had followed all this way into a trap.

Then, beyond belief he returned. And what it meant took a while to grow on them: that it was real was hard to process, let alone what it meant for them now. He confronted the once blustering Peter with quiet, sharp penetration. He made it so that the treason and the rot in the relationship should be cauterized and purged away. Then Jesus, having in his wisdom seen from the beginning the road all the way unto the end, standing on the other side of death—the other side of death—beckoned once again and said: “follow me.”

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