Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tipped Towards God

Tipping points, according to Malcolm Gladwell, author of the book of the same name, are those moments which bring change, especially in a group or system. The notion of the tipping point is recognizing that what caused the change is something seemingly small or unrelated to the change.

In what we call The Last Supper, Jesus hosts a banquet, a feast he has planned carefully, using the time of hospitality and relaxation to introduce the possibility of enormous change in the course of events for all people.

There are traitors at the table; they were invited.  Jesus violates the rules of his Middle Eastern hospitality culture, naming the betrayal in the midst of the meal.  The meal itself and this naming are tipping points: great risk is taken and what will happen after is uncertain.  But the means of change is something seemingly unrelated to the situation Jesus finds himself in: how can bread and wine save any of them?

Jesus changes the very concept of what it means to sit together and eat.  The fellowship and hospitality of the meal are expanded to include in every meal fellowship with and hospitality with and from God’s very self.

With God’s participation in the meal, the very notion of hospitality is changed: it is no longer sufficient to feed our guests with the food of the stomach; now they will be fed with food for the spirit as well, the Spirit who is and who speaks Truth as well as Love, challenge as well as welcome.

But this understanding is all had in hindsight.  What must it have been like in the midst of the meal?  Great risks are taken.  What will happen after remains uncertain.

We are tempted to say that the tipping point was all about the disciples, that Jesus already knew what would happen.  Jesus is God, after all.  But Jesus was also a human being.  And it is only a few short hours later that Jesus in the garden prays to God to let the cup of suffering that is coming in the form of a crucifixion pass from him if at all possible – ‘let this cup pass’ says Jesus; we might pray, ‘not this, dear God, please not this!’  Can we really say that this Jesus who begs God to spare him is really so certain about the outcome?

Jesus took risks, seeking change, uncertain if the tipping point would even come.  One thing is certain: without his risk, nothing would have changed.

Yet in our focus on Jesus, we cannot forget his guests.  It’s easy to condemn Judas - he’s a really bad guy!  He’s just so easy to hate, isn’t he, this betrayer and liar pretending to be friends when he is really an enemy?  Traitor!  He got his just deserts, didn’t he?

But before we get too happy about Judas’ fate, perhaps we should consider Peter a bit more closely.  Isn’t he a traitor too?

Peter, who refutes Jesus in the same breath he names him ‘Messiah’ . . . Peter, who sinks into the sea for lack of faith . . . Peter, who falls asleep when Jesus asks him to stay awake and pray . . . Peter, who denies even knowing Jesus, cursing at the woman who insists otherwise . . . Peter, who leaves Jesus utterly abandoned at the hour of his great need.

Didn’t he betray Jesus with his denials as surely as Judas with his silver?

Of course he did.  But here’s the thing Peter lived long enough to come to understand:  Forgiveness is real.  It does not undo the past, nor does it erase the consequences of betrayal in the present.  But it is real.

Jesus will and does forgive all of us Peters and even us Judases, for our daily betrayals and abandonments.  But we break the heart of God if we do not turn back, if we blindly walk past our own tipping points.

First we must confess and then we must turn back.  We all have a bit of the evil self-interest and the distrust and despair of Judas and the wilful ignorant foolishness and cowardice of Peter within us.

What makes reconciliation, restoration, redemption even possible in the face of such truth?  God’s love,
deeplifequotes at Flickr Commons
which calls to us from eternity: Turn back, oh humanity!  Foreswear thy foolish ways!  It is never too late!

Jesus’ words from the cross, “Father, forgive”, are big enough for our Peter moments, and our Judas betrayals.

Turn back!

Every second of every minute of every hour of every day, God is tipping us to God’s very self.

Turn back!

Moments of us against them thinking ensnare us into daily murders of the dignity, spirit and very self of others.  There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ in God’s reality.

Turn back!

Temptations abound:  to shut our eyes to the consequences for others, near and far, of our choices.  There is no room for wilful ignorance in God’s reality.

Turn back!

The silver in our hands tempts us to Judas pride and despair and betrayal to hold on to what we believe to be rightly ‘ours’ and to ever grasp for more.  But there is no pride of place or possession or even of ‘right belief’ in God’s reality.

Turn back!

Peter-like fear creeps over us like a thief in the night, holding us captive to the demons of our mind, freezing us in place like deer caught in the headlights, robbing us of the will to the good God intends.

In God’s world, fears fade and the joy of faith moves us forward to serve God and each other with justice, mercy and humility.

God is calling to each and all of us, “Open your eyes!  I am waiting to catch you by surprise, if you would only see!”

Turn back! and in your turning, you will be tipped towards God.



  1. I wrote a song last Easter about this very concept. Peter understands forgiveness far better than we ever could. Here's part of the last verse which is written from Peter's point of view:
    Oh Lord what have I done?
    They've taken you away,
    I let you pass and never called you friend.
    You said I would deny
    I'd ever seen your face
    I never thought that it would end this way
    Your dying on a cross today.
    and then I hear you say, to the prisoner as you die
    "You're forgiven and you'll be with me in heaven."
    And then you look at me, and in your eyes I see,
    You love me, and I have been forgiven
    How can Jesus still claim me,
    While he's dying on that tree,
    Even though I turned and walked away from him?

    1. Love this! Thanks for sharing, Ginny.