An angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream, bringing a warning.“Get up now,” the angel told Joseph. “Take your son and your wife. Escape this very moment.”
Death was sure to come if they returned home, the angel told them. “Flee now to the safety and sanctuary of Egypt. Herod is manically searching for your son,” the angel said, “and if he finds Jesus he will kill him.”
So Joseph and Mary and Jesus journeyed to Egypt.
But they found no sanctuary there.
They found walls and barbed wire, instead.
They were confronted by armed guards and detention centers.
They heard the heart-rending lamentations of mothers as their children—even breast-feeding infants—were torn from their arms and taken away.
They had found the gospel of Zero Tolerance.
Mary clutched Jesus tightly as Joseph made the only decision possible. “We will travel along the border until we find a safe entry into Egypt. We will find a way to do what the angel said,” he told her. “We will protect our son and we will remain a family.”
But they never did find a way.
They were found by Herod, instead.
The infant Jesus was put to death, the anonymous victim of a madman.
And that is where the New Testament ends. There is nothing more to the Bible.
It’s as if Jesus was never even born.
Simon was never called Peter. He and his brother, Andrew, remained fishermen.
There was no Sermon on the Mount.
Nobody ever said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Nobody learned to turn the other cheek. It remained an eye for an eye.
Who knew they were the light of the world?
The blind never saw. The lame never walked.
Nobody ever said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
The Holy Spirit never came.
The meek had nothing.
The poor in spirit were left in desolation.
Those who mourned were lost in depression.
Those hungering for righteousness starved.
The merciful were beaten.
The pure in heart were ridiculed.
The peacemakers were locked away.
No light came to those living in the shadow of death.
Crucifixions remained in the world but there was no resurrection.
And all of us are surrounded by eternal and impenetrable darkness.
In fact, you’re not even reading this because it was never written.
Jesus is just the name of someone living south of our border.
“A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was dead calm.”
—The Gospel of Mark
I would have been freaking out, too. No question.
The Sea of Galilee is notorious for the ferocity and sudden onslaught of its storms. I’ve read that the surrounding mountains focus the force of the wind in a particularly demonstrative way.
Peace one moment, then all heck breaks loose.
My voice would have broken loose, too, joining the panicky chorus of the other disciples in the boat with Jesus.
“Hey!” I would have shouted, shaking Jesus by the shoulders with both hands, “don’t you care that this storm threatens my very existence?!?!”
We’ve all been there, experiencing a sudden difficulty that rises up over the top of our lives and threatens to swamp and sink us.
What I wouldn’t give to be able to sleep through the sudden storms in my life and simply wake up when the passing trouble—whatever it might be—had gone.
How comforting to possess the ability to rebuke the wind and say to the sea—and have the sea listen and obey—“Peace! Be still!”
If only I could be like Jesus, I think to myself, before realizing that I do have the ability shush the wind and end the storm.
In a way. But not in a way that would co-star me with cartoon superheroes who save the world.
I am incapable of being Thor and thundering back at my storms. But I don’t have to be like Jesus, either.
I simply need to recall one vital fact.
I just need to remember that in every circumstance I am with Jesus.
That Jesus is in my boat. Wherever my boat is and no matter the weather.
And if Jesus is in my boat then I cannot sink. But even if I do sink then Jesus will raise me up.
Remembering that, of course, is not always so very easy for me. Anxieties come calling and I too often invite them in and make them really comfortable. So very comfortable that they don’t want to leave, preferring to stay right where they are and take up residency in my life. I start getting their mail and answering their phone calls.
But—finally—I remember that Jesus is in my boat. And I repeat that to myself: “Jesus is in my boat.” Over and over.
And, when I do, I feel a sudden peace. Every single time.
I feel the wind dropping and the waves growing smaller and smaller.
Soon enough there is dead calm all around.
Even if the waves remain, however, I just don’t feel them as strongly.
Or fear them.
The skies lighten. Birds begin to sing. I feel a rainbow inside me.
The rainbow of Jesus in my boat.
Together we reach the shore that I’d been searching for and sailing towards.
Even when, physically, I haven’t moved an inch.
Because the deepest journeys are way inside me and the storms can’t go that far.
“He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’”
—The Gospel of Mark
We are all mustard seeds.
A mustard seed in the womb.
And then a mustard seed in this world.
One small piece of God’s dream for love and peace on Earth.
A punctuation mark in the great unending novel of humanity and its journey through darkness into light.
But, we are not just mustard seeds. This isn’t a case of having to settle for only being a mustard seed.
There is nothing “only” or “just” about being a mustard seed and a mark of punctuation.
Because punctuation makes all the difference.
And so can we.
Which is what Jesus wants us to understand.
What could be smaller than a period, comma or semicolon?
But, what has more potential?
A period, and something ends.
A comma, and something continues.
A semicolon, and two things are joined together.
We are all sown into this world as completely helpless babies. Totally vulnerable mustard seeds. Not even aware of our own two hands and unable to hold up our head.
But, oh, how that changes. How that mustard seed grows through the years until we truly do have the power to make things end or continue, and the ability to join things together.
For better or for worse.
How fortunate—given our ability to build up with love or break down with hate—that each of us human mustard seeds has the ultimate mustard seed inside us:
And, man, how that mustard seed can grow.
Our souls can become gigantic Redwood Trees of compassion and towering Sequoias of peace and reconciliation.
And when that happens we are able to provide “shade” for so much more than nesting birds.
Human beings can find shelter in our acts of determined kindness toward one another. Especially when we put our mustard seeds together.
When two or more of us gather together to address the world’s great need for love, that is how we become an entire forest of “shade” for those abandoned in the tree-less wilderness of indifference.
Wonderfully, however long we live we never grow up and out of our “mustard seed-ness.”
When we keep our hearts tuned to the Holy Spirit, we can remain mustard seeds until the day we die, able to put our comma, our period or our semicolon in just the right place to completely change the story.
Because the mustard seed inside us is the kingdom of God.
“A crowd was sitting around him and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mothers and my brothers?’ And looking at those who were around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’”
—The Gospel of Mark
The most wonderful thing might just be that we are never alone in this world.
Even when we’re all by ourselves.
Perhaps most especially when the solitude seems to be all that’s left.
In fact, our loneliness might just bring us closer to the one who never leaves our side.
No, we don’t see our brother.
And the world is so crazy and filled with so much noise and flashing distractions that we don’t often feel his presence unless we do find a quiet corner of our soul to pull a chair up beside him.
Or a tree to lean against together.
A moment looking out the window at the sunrise.
Or the utter darkness of midnight when the moon feels gone.
But our brother is there.
When we open our hearts, we find he’s never, ever left us.
It’s only us that lose track of him amid the roiling boil of emotions that can mask the sublime peace of his presence.
And, in our humanity, sometimes we seem to want to embrace an emotion that has nothing to do with that peace that passes all understanding.
We’d much rather be angry.
We’d rather be hurt.
Pinned down by a grudge.
Filled with a joy that can’t possibly last.
Tuned into the latest insane news story in a world that too often feels like an asylum.
But our brother is there beside us.
Even in the madhouse.
Especially in the despair of compassion falling apart in this corner of the world and being blown apart in that corner over there.
Our brother is waiting for us to realize that he is there.
Always has been.
Ever shall be.
Moonlight that never wanes.
A midnight sun.
The aurora borealis in our soul.
Vesper whispers at dawn.
Sunrise sanctuary in the gloaming.
The slightest touch on our shoulder that might have been a gentle breeze.
Was it really him?
Yes, it was.