“They stuck to their faith. It was the strength of the willow tree. Accepting, accommodating, adjusting, learning, and always diligently moving back to center: the person, lessons, example and love of Jesus.”
The disciples were frequently ‘duh’-sciples, not getting it, not quite grasping exactly what it was that Jesus was saying, doing, meaning or trying to convey. They frequently got it wrong and even more frequently didn’t get it quite right.
Early on in Jesus’ ministry, they misunderstood what Jesus had to say about about witness, about ownership, about priorities, about… well, just about everything.
Yet, after having been with Jesus for a significant amount of time, Jesus asks them a crucial question: Who do you think I am? And Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Despite having gotten much wrong along the journey and having frequently misunderstood Jesus’ intentions, and even having been chided or corrected by Jesus on occasion, Peter got it right.
AND, he exhibited a characteristic of faith that we would do well to emulate.
He was persistent and adaptable.
The Oak and the Willow
There is an old adage about the relative strength of trees and which tree is the strongest. That adage suggests that there are those who believe that the mighty oak is the strongest of all trees. Tall, thick, sturdy…
But the contrasting view is that the willow is the strongest of trees. Supple, swaying, flexible…
And the adage suggests that when the wind is sufficiently severe – damaging, hostile, punishing and harsh – the oak will withstand up to a point, but then snap. The willow on the other hand will yield and bend and nearly touch the ground, and after the horrific wind, will stand upright and resume its place.
The disciples demonstrated that kind of faith and that kind of resilience.
When they didn’t get it…
When the cadre was confronted from the outside…
When there was dissension between one another…
When Jesus himself corrected or admonished or scolded…
They stuck to their faith. It was the strength of the willow tree. It was willow tree faith. Accepting, accommodating, adjusting, learning, and always diligently moving back to center: the person, lessons, example and love of Jesus.
God asks much of us. We are asked to think new things, to do new things, to accept challenges, to attempt to understand and to follow the ways of the kingdom, rather than of the world.
The person of Jesus introduces us to those new ways of thinking and behaving, and the commands of Jesus are about new ways of thinking and behaving.
The old human ways and the old worldly stuff may not be applicable by the standards of God’s kingdom.
Jesus said, “I give you new commands,” and the new commands can be challenging and can confront old beliefs and old behaviors and old worldly ways.
If we are not open to the leading of God through Jesus, if we depend on what we have always believed and where our mindset has always been, we may be as strong as the oak, but when the newness of Jesus’ teaching, example and love pushes us ever heavenward to new levels of love and obedience, our perceptions and beliefs may snap.
We have to think differently. We cannot be open to Jesus’ leading, if we refuse to be led.
In Revelations, Jesus tells us, “Behold I make all things new.” And Paul tells the church at Corinth that if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation.
Sometimes the strongest, deepest, most powerful and most abiding faith, is that which is open and amenable to go where our faith leads us.
Our real faith strength often lies not in unbending, unyielding human perception, but in accommodation and growth in the ways that God leads. The faith that survives is the faith that grows and becomes more Godly, not the faith that is mired in the tribulations and knocks – or even the violent windstorms – of this world.
George W. Rizor, Jr. is Sr. Minister, Landover Christian Church, Landover, MD and Professor of Social Sciences and Humanities, Westwood College, Annandale, VA.