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A Fable to Ponder

I am so disappointed; crushed is perhaps a better descriptor. I am so utterly defeated that it is more than physical and emotional, it has pierced jagged holes into my soul.  I thought he was the one. In fact, I knew he was the one. He was so authentic, so compassionate, so involved in helping those who were the unacceptable and the outcasts of the culture. He had an inner strength that appear so strong and focused on right and truth without the rough edges of criticism and shaming. He was firm but much gentler than his cousin John.

Even so, I was amazed that some of the religious leaders simply could not stand him. Somehow, they were made uncomfortable by him and they despised him. Certainly, where there was corruption, even by religious leaders, he was not hesitant to call attention to it. While he had a small group of devoted followers, it quickly became evident that he was on a collision course with the religious and political leaders. I could see the tension and intensity building even early on.  There was a story about the offer he had from Satan to have great wealth, status, and political power if he would simply join with the evil side, but he curtly refused.  Instead he continued on his rather lonely and seemingly insignificant ministry to the poor and suffering.

At some point, and I cannot really pinpoint when it happened or how it happened, but there was a change.  I am being honest when I say that this was actually imperceptible to me or maybe I was in great denial with blinders on, but I did not see it coming until it was too late. Perhaps he suffered burnout from dealing with all the people problems. Perhaps he suffered from some kind of post-traumatic stress from all the attacks, accusations, and threats. No matter the cause or how it occurred, it was impossible to fully explain.  He continued to affirm most of his teaching and speak many of the same truths, but he was different. Even I finally had to deal with this realization and it was the beginning of my undoing and immense disillusionment. It was as if a lantern had been lit and the darkness that had kept me unknowing was overwhelmingly dispelled and all was revealed to me. My heart sank into great confusion and utter despair.  I am broken.

He was no longer uninfluenced by those in power. He began to be swayed by what was conventional and popular and more in harmony with the religious status quo. Oh, he eventually explained how important it was that he have the power of the leaders and politicians in order to reach his goals and have status. He gradually justified his change by stating that he had come to believe that the ends did indeed justify the means; that there was no other way to overcome the obstacles before him. He began to discuss how power could bring the kind of following he had come to believe the movement deserved and ensure that his beliefs were promoted, maybe even enforced.

Can you begin to conceive of the cognitive dissonance that erupted within me?  Something was badly out of order.  However, he explained that If he could associate with the influential and with those who had means, then they could help get persons who would help the cause get appointed to places of power. There were indeed persons of power and of religious influence like Nicodemus who had an ethical and moral beacon of orientation that was uncorrupted. I had no problem when he spoke to Nicodemus and sought to share with him some of our mission, but when he later appeared to cater to the shady characters for some kind of return favor that I began to see the compromise.  It changed him.

Gradually, slowly, somewhat like the evolution that I saw in him toward unholy alliances, I slipped away from him. In the process I lost my direction, lost my passion, and lost my faith.  Sadly, but not so important to me now, I later heard he was killed by a sword fighting for one of his political friends. I do have to admit that I am haunted at times by how I was so wrong about a person.  The only consolation for my heartbreak is that I was not deceived and that he was the kind of person I thought in the beginning, but that he lost his bearing along the way. I have come to believe that human frailties subject us to temptations difficult to resist. I try not to live within an “if only” world. However, try as I may, sometimes I awaken to the voice within my soul that whispers, “If only he had been the one.”

What you have just read is a fable of the worst kind. What if it had ended this way? These are temptations well known to humankind to which many of us succumb.  Instead, Jesus stayed true to his character even though we are told that near the end of his life: “…everyone deserted him and fled.” Mark 14:15. He did not appear very successful by any standard.  Then he suffered and died on a cruel cross.  It comes down to how do we, as Christians, measure success?

The good news is that the above is, of course, a fable and, therefore, is not true. The good news is that some principles and ways of being are more important than power, status, authority or popularity. The good news is that when we live by such values we may not be seen as successful; however, we will have the grand satisfaction and fulfillment of knowing that we live with authenticity and love and compassion.  That is enough. That is the only way to be genuine at the core of our beings. That gives me faith to carry on in spite of my own failures, the failures of others, and when the way appears lonely.

LeBron McBride is a retired Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) senior minister as well as a behavioral medicine educator and family therapist. He is the author of over 100 professional and popular publications, including five books. He and his wife live on a farm in Rome, Georgia.

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