By: Staci Stallings
With VBS on the horizon, I’ve been working on the scripts. As usual, God makes these things much easier than they are to stage. By Day 5 of this year, we’ve got Jesus ascending into Heaven. Yeah. That ought to be real easy to pull off!
On that day, however, there is a line that came up as I was writing it and then just today in the Gospel read at church.
Here’s the scene… Jesus has summoned the disciples to a mountain top in Galilee, and they all arrive before Jesus. It then says, (paraphrase) when Jesus appeared, they all worshipped but they doubted.
Okay, get the scene here. They “worshipped.” But they “doubted.” In the SAME sentence. What sense does that make? If you’re worshipping the guy, what doubt could there be? And if you’re puzzling over if He is Who He says He is, why would you worship Him in the first place?
When I wrote the script, which always has to fill in pieces that are not explicitly spelled out in the Gospels… like which disciple or disciples was it that was wondering if they were going to take back Israel that day? What was the actual conversation like before Jesus showed up? How did He show up? Did He walk up, or did He appear?
See, when you’re writing for a 20-minute play, you can’t just say, “Jesus told them to come to the mountain. He showed up. They worshipped Him but doubted. Then He said a few things and ascended.” You’ve got to have action and dialogue to SHOW what happened. It can be a challenge.
Mostly, it takes a lot of interpretation on the part of the playwright and some creative liberties with what you’re given to work with, always trying to stay true to what the readings say.
But as I wrote this script, I puzzled over that “doubted” line. I mean, what exactly were they doubting? So, I kind of fudged around the edges of that, put in something about one of them wanting to go punch out the Romans and others not so sure that’s what they were doing.
Then I went to Mass today. This was the Gospel, about Jesus’ ascension. And the deacon giving the sermon actually decided to take up that very line (how nicely “ironic” God can be sometimes).
Turns out the disciples weren’t “doubting” Jesus. They were “doubting” themselves!
Wow. Does that make a lot of sense! (And it sounds REALLY familiar!)
Here’s the thing, they were pretty off-balance after the whole death and resurrection thing. Then Jesus keeps appearing to them, but they are pretty sure something else is coming. So what is it? Is Jesus going to march them into Jerusalem and take it over? Or is He going to leave? And if He does, then what?
No wonder they were doubting.
I remember reading something about Mother Teresa’s journals after she died. There were parts in the journals in which she expressed doubts–about her faith and about herself in her mission to live her faith. Many people (of no faith) took this to mean that she was weak in her faith. But here is the magnifying glass that says far from being weak in her faith, she was actually walking in the shoeprints of the disciples themselves!
You see, doubt kind of comes with the territory. Faith is hard. Faith is when you can’t see, but you believe anyway. And how hard is it to believe and to consistently believe in something you cannot see? It’s tough. It’s even harder to consistently ACT on the belief of something you can’t see. We’re talking walking on water hard!
Moreover, I’m here to tell you that often when you’re on this Christian path, you’re going to come up to situations that are going to make you want to run the other direction. For example, recently another family in our hometown lost a son to tragedy much like we did. My parents, when they heard, went over to visit this family. That’s not easy. Trust me, running the other direction sounds really good in the face of that because facing this brings back up all of the pain from your own loss. But they did it. In spite of the doubts and fears. They did it.
We have a word in the English language “responsibility” that is used to denote when something is within your realm of taking care of. For example, my kids are my responsibility. I am responsible to feed them, shelter them, care for them, and raise them. But let’s break this word down for a moment.
Response means what you choose to do when something has occurred. Ability means the extent you are able to do something. So responsibility is the extent to which you are able to respond when something occurs.
But here’s the thing. In our culture, you are expected to fulfill your responsibilities. Period. Whether you feel up to it. Whether you know how. Whether you have a plan to or not. You are expected to. Sometimes that requirement is a very heavy burden especially if we don’t know how we’re going to do it because it’s just too big for us to do.
The disciples had responsibilities. Lots of them. Jesus told them to go out to all the world and tell the Good News. That’s about as big of a responsibility as you could get. And it was precisely because they did not feel ABLE in themselves to RESPOND to this situation that they began to doubt.
Here we come to the crux of this story. God does not require you to meet your responsibilities on your own strength. He does not set the bar and judge you if you can or cannot jump over it. In this very story, Jesus tells us the answer to those times when we do not feel able to respond. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;” (ACTS 1:8)
THAT’S the answer! To our doubt. To our fear. To our weak-kneed worry. To those times when our faith is weak and the responsibility seems to much for us to face.
Jesus does not require you to discharge your responsibilities on your own. Pray and receive the Holy Spirit. And He will bring you peace and courage so you are able to respond with grace and joy and faith that will astound not only those around you but you as well! Just ask the disciples!