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The “Yet Challenge”

Mark’s fourth grade classroom has a key word: “yet.” The significance of that word isn’t clear until the class brings it to life. When a frustrated student says: “I don’t understand it,” the class responds in unison: “yet.” The power of “yet” is transforming mental barriers and frustration into the encouragement to keep trying. It helps embody the confidence that what we don’t yet grasp will become clear.

The challenge of every teacher is helping their students manage frustration, open themselves to new ideas, and keep learning. As a rabbi, Jesus is no exception. He has a consistent message: “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news.” (Mark: 1:15) Finding a way to help his followers grasp the significance of that message is something else again.

There is a way in which Jesus faces the ultimate “yet challenge.” He uses images, parables, stories, and examples to open his followers to what they don’t grasp – “yet.” Time and again, the Gospels portray how his best efforts are met with questions, confusion, misunderstanding, and even hostility. It’s no surprise that Jesus’ “yet challenge” continues to unfold in our own lives as we try to grasp his message.

Awakening is central to Jesus’ ministry. He engages in relentless efforts to open eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to God with us. He sees the kingdom as near at hand and already present, not as a distant promise. He urges his followers to see in new ways, to recognize God’s presence, and to grasp the significance of the divine mystery that is unfolding within and among them. Awakening is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching, his ministry of healing, his reconciling practice of table fellowship, and – ultimately – his  passion, death, and resurrection.

Awakening to Jesus’ message and taking it to heart is a lifelong process of transformation. It is a journey of ongoing conversion that urges us to see God in new ways, to discover our authentic identity in God, to deepen our relationship with others, and to grasp of the unity of all that is.

Jesus’ life and ministry awaken us to a profoundly different notion of God than the one touted by the religious leaders of this time and perhaps of ours. In contrast to a strict and demanding God focused on laws and rules, Jesus reveals a God who is already present, rich in mercy, ready to forgive, and the ultimate source of love. The God that Jesus reveals leaves the ninety nine to seek out the one who is lost, runs to embrace and forgive the returning prodigal, urges loving enemies, and forgives those who execute him. 

Jesus’ ministry of awakening also emphasizes a transformational view of our identity in God. He confronts religious messages dominated by guilt, the need to observe strict religious practices, and the reliance on one’s own efforts to earn salvation. He calls us to focus on the one necessary thing, urges a profound trust in God’s healing and reconciling power, stresses staying rooted in the vine, and urges being open to the vinedresser. Jesus goes beyond depicting our relationship with God as servants or even friends. He proclaims that we are beloved sons and daughters – forgiven, redeemed, and loved more deeply than we can imagine.

When it comes to relationships with others, Jesus breaks the rules. His compassion extends beyond religious barriers and tribal boundaries. He asks the Samaritan woman for a drink and engages her in conversation. He calls Zacchaeus – the tax collector who cheats and is hated as a traitor – down from the tree and invites himself to dinner in order to extend mercy and forgiveness to him. He ignores the requirements of the law to forgive the woman caught in adultery – whose partner in the act is noticeably absent from the account. 

We are all one in the Risen Christ. On the road to Damascus, Christ confronts Paul with a remarkable question: “Why are you persecuting me?” He doesn’t refer to persecuting my “followers” or my “friends.” He is so intimately connected with his disciples that they are his own body. Paul’s conversion awakens him to the intimate relationships that make up the Body of Christ. His vision of the Risen Christ compels him to assert: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3: 28) In Christ, there is no “other.” We are all members of Christ’s body.

The more fully we awaken to Jesus’ life and ministry, the more deeply we come to appreciate the unity of all that is. We begin to see that all creation reveals the presence of the Creator. Walls and fences start to become intersections and bridges. Fear and division begin to give way to empathy and compassion. Rugged individualism is slowly transformed into embracing community and human solidarity. The call to awaken continues, and the lifelong journey of conversion unfolds within and among us.

The Gospels portray Jesus’ “yet challenge” as both formidable and frustrating. Time and again, he chides the disciples:

Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? . . . Do you not yet understand? (Mark 8:18, 21) 

I understand something of Jesus’ “yet challenge.” Even on my good days, I can be near-sighted and blind. All too often, I fail to grasp the near-at-hand presence of God. I am definitely part of Jesus’ “yet challenge.” All of us are. As disciples, we are all something like Mark’s fourth grade class. When we are unable to see, we need to encourage one another. When we fail to “get it,” we need to remind each other that we don’t get it “yet.”

For Paul, the “yet challenge” is an inescapable part of the spiritual journey: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” (I Cor. 13:12) The “yet challenge” encourages us to be patient with what we don’t understand – yet. It invites us to trust that God – like every good teacher – is patient and supportive. The “yet challenge” urges us to long for the day when the fog will lift, and we will see God face-to-face.

Questions to Ponder

Here are some questions to help you reflect on the “yet challenge.”

  • What is your experience of the “yet challenge”:
    • At different times during your spiritual journey?
    • At this moment in your life?
  • How has your unfolding spiritual journey caused you to:
    • Expand/deepen your understanding of God?
    • Understand your own identity in new ways?
    • Relate to others differently?
    • Appreciate the unity of all that is?
  • At this moment of your life, what is your experience of the “yet challenge?”
  • As you consider your own experience of the “yet challenge”:
    • Who has encouraged and supported?
    • Who could you encourage and support?