We are often told in Church that God is with us. And this is true and a comforting thought.
We are not alone.
More than that, we have an almighty, powerful and loving friend at our side. Always.
Like a best friend – always at hand to cheer us up, to say ‘Never mind’ when things go wrong.
But, when we read the Gospels, we see that being with God, being with Jesus, is not exactly like this.
Just look at the disciples’ experience of being with Jesus.
We see Jesus not just being with the disciples and encouraging them at difficult times. But teaching them, correcting them, challenging them, commissioning them and confiding in them. Furthermore, he asks them to be with him and encourage him.
But the disciples really struggle to be with Jesus. They are foolish, timid, weak, blind and feckless. And Jesus often needs to forgive them, find new trust in them and commission them again.
Jesus often comes over as some hapless community organiser – spending endless time in meetings with his volunteers, carefully correcting misinterpretations, testing out his vision and plans and gently upbraiding when things go wrong.
For example, the disciples want to ‘command fire to come down from heaven and consume’ a Samaritan village when the people there are hostile to them; but Jesus says no. The disciples argue over who is the greatest; Jesus tells them that the least important among them is the greatest. The disciples see someone ‘casting out demons’ in Jesus’ name and want to stop him; Jesus tells them to leave the man alone. The disciples try to shoo away people bringing children to see Jesus; but Jesus says he wants to see the children.
In all these ways, Jesus shows us what it is like to be with God.
As disciples, we need to be willing to be taught and to recognise our flaws and ignorance. We need to be willing to serve and to be aware of our incompetence.
The disciples are repeatedly humiliated and fall short of what it really takes to be with Jesus.
Three times Jesus tells his male disciples that he will go to Jerusalem and be killed; but it’s a woman who recognises this and anoints his body for burial. Jesus calls the disciples to take up their crosses and follow him; but, when Jesus dies, it is a Roman centurion who proclaims, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.’ One of Jesus’ closest disciples, Peter, saves his own skin by denying that he was with Jesus; so, when it comes to it, Jesus is not crucified with Peter or any of his disciples, but with two bandits.
All in all, as I reflect on this, I see that being with God is not so much about hanging out with your best buddy. It is about being open to the enormous challenge of being with God, as the disciples were. And this means recognising that we will truly struggle to be with God and cope with all this demands of us.
But to be with God is the hugest privilege and opportunity imaginable.
So let us rise to the challenge. Let us accept the calling. Let us learn and forget; and get things right and get things wrong. Let us know ourselves loved and rebuked and forgiven and entrusted.
Let us have a real relationship with almighty God. Through the amazing person of Jesus Christ.