We are flawed creatures, all of us. Any serious self-examination is painful. How we tend to avoid it, make light of or excuse faults; denominate deep seated defects of character as mere occasional failings. And just as we are reluctant to see the raw truth about ourselves, so we also seek the comfort of illusions about our world. We are ever inclined to give credit to some new paradigm, where 2+2=5 .
In our more sensible moments, we trust those who have the courage and honesty to require us to confront our true selves, and who tell of a world which reflects our own experience – a patched thing, good and bad.
One of the impressive features of the Gospels is their inclusion of “adverse” material. The disciples behave badly on occasion; we are warned that the Christian life will be a hard one; sometimes Jesus appears to lack the anticipated qualities of a Messiah.
There is even the point that the first witnesses to the Resurrection are recorded as women – culturally at that time not the best form of evidence .
The disciples fall short
- Lack of faith: When a squall of wind came down on the lake the boat started shipping water and they found themselves in danger. So they went to rouse him saying, “Master! Master! We are lost!” Then he woke up and rebuked the wind and the rough water; and they subsided and it was calm again. He said to them,
“Where is your faith?” (Lk 8:23-25)
- Pride: An argument started between them about which of them was the greatest. Jesus knew what thoughts were going through their minds, and he took a little child whom he set by his side and then he said to them,
“Anyone who welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me . The least among you all is the one who is the greatest.”(Lk 9:47-48)
- Desertion: Then they came forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. Then all the disciples deserted him and ran away. (Mt 26:56)
- Disbelief: And they [the women] returned from the tomb and told all this to the Eleven and to all the others, but this story of theirs seemed pure nonsense, and they did not believe them. (Lk 24:9-11)
The hardship and demands of Christian life
- Take up the cross: He called the people and his disciples to him and said,
“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.” (Mk 8:34-35)
- Exacting moral standards: You have heard how it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say this to you, if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body thrown into hell . (Mt 5:27-29)
- Hard choices: Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Mt 7:13, 14)
The inclusion of this and other apparently adverse material in the Gospels is convincing, because it must have been tough to tell people about, to write, to form the basis of missionary work in an already unsympathetic (to put it mildly) world. How tempting to trim; but they did not.
The authors felt an obligation to tell the exact truth; and had the confidence to know that this truth was powerful – even with these human weaknesses and adversities displayed.