The First Revolutionaries

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Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’
— John 20: 22-27

From the beginning, the apostles were part of a different kind of revolution than perhaps they, or anyone else, expected. Jesus was not what we might picture as a radical revolutionary. He didn’t arrive in clouds of heavenly justice. He wore no crown except for the one that bore our own sin. He gave the disciples, and us, a mission of extraordinary kindness and forgiveness.

In this past Sunday’s Gospel reading, he comes to the twelve for the first time since his Resurrection. He stands in their midst, saying, “Peace be with you.” He offers them his hands and his side, and they rejoice at the sight of him! The Lord has returned, just as He said.

He looks at his apostles, his closest friends, and he tells them, “Peace be with you. As my Father has sent me, so I send you.”   

I can only imagine what the apostles thought in that moment. They have just spent years with this man, the Son of God, watching him minister to the forgotten and hopeless. They have watched him bless and welcome prostitutes, tax collectors, and mere fishermen. They have seen him perform unbelievable miracles. They have been there as he lived a humble, kind, and generous life, and then they watched as He was mercilessly killed for it. They have seen him live this life for his Father -- and now He is asking the same of them? Now He is sending them out in the same way as his beloved Father sent him?

I, for one, would have felt woefully unprepared.

But this -- this is what the Lord does for us. He gives us exactly what we need in order to accomplish his plan. For the apostles, He breathes on them and gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Later, at Pentecost, they receive the gift of tongues, so that they can communicate with all peoples. This includes the people who will join in their “yes” and follow the Lord, but also the people who will mock, scorn, and kill them for believing in God. Even more than being given the ability to speak to these people, the apostles are given the ability to love them.

And, through him, they do.

These extremely imperfect revolutionaries, through an utmost perfect God, are given what they need to spread a radical message of love, gentleness, humility, peace, and salvation. They are the first. Their lives serve as examples of the extraordinary upendedness that often occurs in meeting Jesus, and the incredible possibility of what can be accomplished through Him. He gave them the ability to pave the way for generations upon generations of Christians to come.

There is a story in Acts of the Apostles in which Peter addresses a large crowd of people just after healing a lame beggar. He says to them, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus . . . but you denied the Holy and Righteous One . . . and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:12-15) Peter, while exemplifying faith with courage, power, and truth, also displays humility and understanding that God alone is the source of his abilities.

Now we have been given an extraordinary opportunity. We can examine the incredible example set by those who came first -- those who laid down their lives, in entirety, so that we might see the path and be able to follow it in the name of God. Striving on the path of a (Be Love) Revolutionary will not always be easy. But it is one that has been marked out in love for us by those who came first, and this particular destination will always, always, be worth the journey.