Updated: Jan 30, 2021
When I was a student in college, as an advanced age senior seeking a bachelor’s degree in psychology, one of my course instructors was asked about a doctoral candidate’s chances of getting his doctorate.
The instructor laughed and implied it might still be a while.
I did not know who this doctoral student was, but I got the impression it was an almost mythical entity, one who was eternally on the threshold of producing a successful dissertation, but then equally eternally refusing to take that final step.
I was reminded of this thought while reading the lessons for today, as I see a theme of hesitation, or distraction, causing a lost goal.
Along the same train of thought, I see a similarity in this in news of Pope Francis making statements recently, of his concerns that he may only have a few years left to live … either as an alive human being, or as a serving pope.
It seems he may choose to retire from the rigors of heading the Church of Rome … I assume for him to inhabit a villa next to the already retired pope, Benedict XVI, nee Joseph Ratzinger.
Maybe that is the same reason why that doctoral student can’t take the step to become a doctor of psychology. Maybe actually being a PhD is too much work, too tiresome; or maybe something has made him believe the prize of a doctorate is too unrewarding. In a case like that, simply putting on the clothes of a psychologist would feel like wearing the weight of the world, so much that it could only make one want to die or think of retirement.
That, in my opinion, is not what being a leader is about. A leader sets an example, so others can follow that lead with enthusiasm, with hope, and with affection. That makes a leader a mentor to the future leaders that will follow.
Pope Francis, in my opinion, is acting like Peter, who heard Jesus talking about suffering and death, only to call him aside and tell Jesus, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” It seems the human mind of Jorge Mario Bergoglio (the current pope) has been telling himself, “Don’t let them see you frail, ill, and weak. God forbid it! This must never happen to you.”
Today’s lessons can then be summed up as being all about: Lead, Follow, or Get out of the way.
Jesus was a leader. Paul was a leader. Moses was chosen to become a leader. Peter thought he was a leader. Satan is a leader for evil purposes. God is the ultimate leader for good purposes.
The disciples, including Peter, were followers of Jesus. Paul was a follower of Christ. Moses was a follower of God; and Jesus too followed God’s will.
The same characters are seen to be in changing roles. A leader develops a follower to lead, so a follower becomes a leader … and so on and so on.
The mythical doctoral student I heard of had followed a line of thought (education in psychology) to the point that he knew all there was to learn. All he had to do after reaching that point was apply that knowledge, by acting to present and defend his own ideas, opinions, and theories, based on the principles he had learned.
Instead, he chose to get out of the way. Rather than continue to follow behind a new and different course of study, or continue on and become a leader on his chosen path, he quit. However, the lore continues because he is always so close … so maybe he will take that step this semester?
Pope Francis had followed the will of a church, accepting an appointment to be that church’s leader. He followed, and he has been leading since early 2013; but …
Now, he talks of getting out of the way, instead of leading like those he followed (previous popes). He followed by adhering to the principles that are part of the coursework for one following Christ, for one following God’s call. He had (one would presume) a mindset on divine things, not human things … like health and comfort.
Are we in that same “Get out of the way” category?
Is it just too hard to determine which leaders we should follow, because our faith in leaders is pretty much shot?
Is it just to exhausting to even think about leading others, when we have a hard enough time leading ourselves to church once a week (or month, or year), for a couple of hours?
Is it too frightening to think we would be expected to lead someone other than ourselves, because for all the following we have done, we still don’t feel prepared to take that last leap of faith?
If we answer “yes” to any of these questions, then, like Peter, we are “setting our minds on human things and not on divine things.”
Moses, when he first saw the spectacle of a burning thorn bush, had his mind set on “human things,” things of the physical world. He thought, “Why is that combustible material burning with fire but not being consumed by the flames?”
The disciples were told by Jesus, “If you want to follow me [rather than Mr. Simon Peter here], then deny yourself.” That means, “Suspend your ‘human things’ brains, so they don’t wander onto that type of thinking.”
Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
When we think of this reference to a “cross” as Jesus purposefully taking the opportunity to inject prophecy of his crucifixion into minds that struggled going beyond ‘human things’ thinking, you miss the obvious.
The Greek word “stauron” has been translated as “cross.” I have discussed this before, as that word in a non-crucifixion conversation is commonly understood as a reference to a “stake” or “pole,” such as would be a “T-shaped support” for grapevines to be suspended along.
As a “cross” that is “T-shaped” (T) or even as an “X,” we see that the “stake” had become stuck in the ground, fixed into position at an intersection. The group had come to a fork in the road, where a point of indecision had been reached. Who do the disciples follow?
Do the disciples go left (follow Peter’s rebuke of Jesus, as the leader of the disciples who follow Jesus), or right (follow Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, as the leader of Peter)? Peter had caused everything to come to a halt, as far as leading, following, or getting out of the way was concerned.
“Pick up your stake and follow me,” means, “If you stake your claims on Peter, then you are no longer my followers. I am no longer your leader.”
When Jesus then said, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here (not the forward movement of walking) who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,” the plural number is stated. “Some are” means more than one, so knowing that Judas was one, Jesus just identified Peter as in the same boat with Judas.
By “not tasting death,” Jesus meant there would be no inkling of thought about what Jesus’ death would be, in terms of divine things. Because Peter and Judas, and perhaps even Thomas (where “Seeing was believing” was a reflection of his mind), their minds were set on death being the end … not the beginning.
Their faith was not in following a leader who was now talking about death. The divinity of resurrection meant nothing to them. They wanted a strong, healthy, “live long and prosper” leader, one who rewarded his underlings with cushy appointments and free visits to the palatial estate. New leaders would be something to think about many years from that point in time. After all, Jesus was only in his thirties, with plenty of life left … so they thought.
In the “Moses and the burning bush” story, we hear how “he had turned aside to see … this great sight,” the vision of a dried shrub not being destroyed by flames. Likewise, the disciples of Jesus were turned aside by Peter acting like he knew what was good for Jesus.
“Here I am!” said God. “Here I am as the Son of Man,” said Jesus. “Here I AM Who I AM,” said Moses.
When both Moses and Jesus were to say, “I AM Who I AM,” they said God leads my mind. My mind is set on divine things because I stopped thinking in terms of human things.
“Here I am of a mind set on divine things,” said Paul.
These are the bold things God says through humans who have God within them.
When God called Moses’ name, twice, God was not within the thorn bush, where “the angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of a bush.” The Hebrew word “mit-tō-vek” says “amid,” such that the angel was “amid” the bush. When God called, “Moses, here I am,” God was “amid, within, inside, and internal” to Moses, not the bush. God called Moses away “from the bush,” as a voice spoken to him and heard by him … internally.
Moses followed God’s voice. He stopped, and where he stood then was holy ground, because God was within him. Moses removed his sandals in honor of that presence.
As a follower of the LORD, Moses became a leader of the LORD. Moses walked, God talked.
As a follower of the LORD, Jesus became a leader of the LORD. Jesus walked, God talked.
As followers of Jesus, most disciples became leaders of the Christ mind, with the angel of the Holy Spirit burning amid them without destroying their bodies, with God genuinely in their hearts. The Apostles walked, God talked.
The lesson today is to stop hearing the command, “Lead, Follow, or Get out of the way” as giving you only one option.
Lead as an Apostle of Christ, with a mind set on divine things.
Follow the teachings of Christ, through a mind set on divine things.
And finally, tell that mind set on human things to “Get behind me, Satan!”
You have some leading and following to do.
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