Born To (Not) Run
My morning reading encompassed Mark 14, a chapter that begins ominously as leaders plot to kill Jesus and weaves between intimacy and intrigue. Jesus tenderly receives a woman’s anointing as her anointing him unto death; Judas enters the plot to betray Jesus; Jesus and his disciples share the Passover and the Lord’s Supper is instituted; Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. After Jesus’ arrest all of the disciples flee: the familiar names and, curiously, an anonymous young man (v. 51) following after Jesus who was seized but who escaped naked into the night, leaving his captors holding his clothing. It’s possible this anonymous young man is Mark the gospel writer himself. If so, Mark’s signature appearance in the gospel he pens is marked by fear and flight. By the end of chapter 14 Peter has not only fled from Jesus but denied Jesus three times.
Contemplating the death and resurrection of Christ is a good time to observe the disciples’ running and reflect on our own propensity to run. Principally, the cross calls us away from false confidence in our own spiritual strength. J.C. Ryle’s comments on Mark 14 helped me reflect on this point:
Let us learn from the flight of these eleven disciples, not to be overconfident in our own strength. The fear of man does indeed bring a snare. We never know what we may do, if we are tempted, or to what extent our faith may give way. Let us be clothed with humility.
The annual recital of running feet reveals own hearts; often we seek to preserve our own lives instead of trusting ourselves to the only one capable of holding us steady. We sing in solidarity with the hymn-writer “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Owning my propensity to run fosters charity towards other Christians.
Let us learn to be charitable in our judgment of other Christians. Let us not expect too much from them, or set them as having no grace at all, if we see them overtaken in a fault. Let us not forget that even our Lord’s chosen apostles forsook him in his time of need. Yet they rose again by repentance, and became pillars of the church of Christ.
Among the first disciple-runners were future missionaries and martyrs and possibly a young man that God would grow up and inspire to write a gospel.
Recognizing our propensity to run fuels our love for Jesus who neither ran nor runs away from running disciples who disappoint him.
If there is one trial greater than another, Ryle notes, it is the trial of being disappointed in those we love. It is a bitter cup, which all true Christians have frequently to drink. Ministers fail them. Relations fail them. Friends fail them. One cistern after another proves to be broken, and to hold no water. But let them take comfort in the thought that there is one unfailing friend, even Jesus, who can be touched with the feeling of their infirmities, and tasted all their sorrows. Jesus knows that it is to see friends and disciples failing him in the hour of need. He is never weary of forgiving. Let us strive to do likewise. Jesus, at any rate, will never fail us. It is written, ‘His compassions fail not’ (Lam. 3.22).
Good Friday and Easter are historical makers inviting runners to stop, stand still, and know the grace of forgiveness and welcome from our Savior who didn’t run. He stood still long enough to die for runners. Alive again, he stands to extend grace and forgiveness to those whose running has pained us. May Easter 2013 bring the joy both of knowing Christ’s welcome and extending it to the runners in our lives.
J.C. Ryle quotes are from: Ryle, J.C. Expository Thoughts on Mark. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1857. Reprint, 2012, pages 255-256..