Jesus' rebuke has a purpose

Jesus didn’t appear to kings, but to the lowly who reported to the kings. He didn’t appear to the high priests, but to those unworthy to stand in the inner sanctum. They, then, reported to the high priests what they saw. 

The royalty and the leadership of Jesus’ inner circle should already have been aware of this. Broad witness, from the ground up, is how God does things. 

Jesus needed to rebuke the apostles.

Image by Meditation LIFE

Be different thinkers, Jesus says

By John Pearring
Acts 4:13-21
Mark 16:9-15

“But later, as the Eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised.”
(Mark 16:14)

Harsh words from Jesus. Not surprising, we think, due to the apostles’ witness of Jesus’ death. It’s no wonder that they were skeptical. He didn’t appear to them, but to lower level disciples, and to Mary Magdalene. That’s not the way they saw their relationship to Jesus. There was no filter between them and Jesus, so they doubted his appearances.

Jesus, however, doesn’t want them to be these kind of thinkers — unbelieving about whom he would appear to, and unconvinced of his transformation of creation. God expects something different from his leaders who should be aware of the patterns of God. What Jesus did wasn’t new.

He didn’t appear to kings, but to the lowly who reported to the kings. He didn’t appear to the high priests, but to those unworthy to stand in the inner sanctum. They, then, reported to the high priests what they saw. The royalty and the leadership of Jesus’ inner circle should already be aware of this. Broad witness, from the ground up, is how God does things.

Yet, there’s a loveliness to Jesus’ rebuke even here. He reprimands his hand-picked men because he has work for them to do. He’s not condemning them. He’s forming them for the next phase their relationship. The time where he won’t be around them in the second person. This was Jesus’ opening for the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ rebuke spread across all of the disciples. Notice, though, there were only eleven of them. Judas had already taken his own life after turning Jesus over to the Romans. He was gone. I wondered if Jesus ever rebuked Judas. If he did, how did that go?

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?”
John 12:3-5

In an earlier gospel, Jesus was reported to have rebuked Judas about the treasurer’s improper focus. 

Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me.”
Mark 14:6

Judas’ response to this rebuke, and likely many other corrective measures by Jesus, were rude rejection and misguided adventure. After his betrayal, though, Matthew reveals that Judas realized the mistake of his actions, an evil he allowed to take him over.

Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself.
Matthew 27:3-5)

He condemned Jesus, probably as retribution to Jesus’ perceived condemnations. Jesus, though, had not condemned Judas. Having no “corrective” relationship with Jesus, only a litany of rebukes, Judas apparently felt there was no other path. He went to his “own place” and took his life.

There are two sides to rebuke. One is reprimand, and the other is correction. God’s desire is that we be drawn to him, not pushed away. His scolding includes a redress, a reorientation. He wants our mistake or fault to stop so that he can lead us in a different direction. 

A reprimand, however, does not always reach the intended target with good effect. A verbal spanking still stings. From God, or any proper authority, a scolding should shift our attention to something entirely different. Our thinking needs to be reviewed, not stubbornly held and exercised.

All of us have the experience of shame that sends us into a funk. We go off to our “own place” as Judas was said to do. In despair and sadness, God still loves us, but our exclusion by walling off the Holy Spirit hinders God from our overhaul. 

Rebukes are complex. Seeing an immorality or transgression we holler or speak out. We want to stop a violence, a manipulation, or just plain errant behavior. A rebuke is an abrupt halt by a referee. Plenty of other things are going on, too.

In the cases of perceived error the referee halts everything to both calm things down and to set apart aggressors and their victims. This can take place with either physical or verbal altercations, and everything in between. In just a simple statement, for instance, the direction that a group of people may be headed might be curtailed.

When Jesus rebuked Judas for calling out Mary Magdalene for pouring an expensive oil on his feet Jesus did it publicly. He wanted to establish a larger picture for all of his disciples. Judas, it appears, did not agree to Jesus’ reset of the financial structure. Their organization wasn’t designed to distribute wealth or to be a charity. Jesus wasn’t interested in building an investment portfolio, funding an army for military purposes, or restructuring social classes to attract followers. Jesus placed himself at the center of the apostle’s attention. He wanted them to be like him, not to take on the task of public relations.

In essence, whatever the purpose of a rebuke from God, he wants to stay our hand to mend our thinking, straighten our path, even edit our language. 

The closer we are to God, the more intense the corrections and disciplines will be. I believe that’s a logical development of becoming more like God. He knows we’re trusting him as he carves off the painful hard parts of our character and our collections of distractions.

His first rebukes probably come in stark contrast to what we expect. It’s at the early corrections where God is cautious with us, but not too careful. He is bent on getting our attention, anyway he can.

As we get to know God more, and adjust our lives to his leadings, we become more interested in cooperating with God than clashing with him. If we remember that God is kind, that he loves us, then his correction is not going to destroy us. His amendments destroy our bad habits, or selfish desires, and our cognitive dissonance. We get better at noticing his attention to the details. It just makes sense.

How else could he, without compromise and with full confidence, say to a group of men whom he’s just reprimanded and chastised say, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) They must have been primed for the correction he just gave them.

The first reading for today tells the story of what happens to the redirected apostles. Jesus has ascended. They’ve been anointed by the Holy Spirit. They are changed. The men aren’t just courageous, they are articulate. They are emboldened, sure, but in a way that operates beyond the working of the religious and political structure of the world. 

Who else would say, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

That’s what God is looking for. 

“Dear God, please make it clear to me when I’m messing up. Be blunt. Zero in on my sin and wake me up.”

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