I’m sure that you have heard many times now that the Chinese character that is usually translated by the English word “crisis” is actually made up of two components – one character that means “dangerous” and the other that means “opportunity.” Put “dangerous” and “opportunity” together, and you have a crisis. So say the Chinese.
I thought about all of that this past week or two as we have gone through a crisis time with China. We felt the danger in it, didn’t we? Maybe we wouldn’t get our air crew back. Or at least not for a long time. And maybe we wouldn’t get our reconnaissance plane back in one piece, or maybe even if we did, it’s no use to us any more. Dangerous. Difficult. Delicate. Hard to see any opportunity in that crisis. It’s always hard to see opportunity when you are submerged in the danger of a crisis, personal, political, financial, spiritual. Everything looks bleak, and your heart is in your throat as you wonder what will happen next.
But I am glad that somebody saw opportunity in these last few days. I am glad that somebody worked hard at finding the language that would defuse the situation. If you know the difference between regret and sorry and very sorry and apologize, you tell me. They sound a lot alike. But not to the Chinese mind, and somebody saw in the crisis an opportunity for diplomacy, for a calm spirit, and for communication. We can be grateful for all of that. It means there was somebody who knew what he was doing, who knew how to stay by the stuff even when rejected. Somebody who stayed the course, crisis and all.
For some months Jesus had been moving vigorously toward Jerusalem. As he went from Galilee southward into Judi, he announced, more than once, that he must go to Jerusalem, there to suffer and to die. There was in his mind an impending crisis, but he seemed to want to walk straight into it, not avoid it. The twelve didn’t know what top make of it, but stumbled along with him. After all, as one of them said, “Lord, we have left everything to follow you. If not you, to whom shall we go? You are all we’ve got!”
I can imagine they must have felt something queasy in the pit of the stomach when they approached the city on that first day. What would happen when Jesus rode into the city? Was he trying to start something? Wouldn’t it have been better just to tiptoe through the gates? But all this folderol!
That was only the beginning. What followed moved them all inevitably toward full-scale crisis. Arguments with the priests and scribes, disputes with the Pharisees, overturning the moneychangers’ tables – what next? There was an undercurrent of hostility you could almost taste. Everything had about it the smell of crisis. Dangerous. Dangerous opportunity.
Some people see in crisis moments an opportunity to make a name for themselves, to get some prestige. Some people see in the crisis moment an opportunity to be somebody. Judas’ saw in the impending crisis an opportunity to push things forward and get some personal gain at the same time. He could force Jesus’ hand – some feel that’s what he was trying to accomplish – he could force Jesus to declare himself, and maybe win the day, and then he, Judas, would be known as a player. Or, if not, he would at least have thirty pieces of easy money in his pocket. Some see in crisis moments only a moment for their own gain. It’s an ill wind indeed that does not blow somebody some good.
So when food is scarce, and you have some to sell, you up the price. When resources are stretched, you drive a hard bargain because you know you can get it. Some see in crisis an opportunity to betray the human spirit and do nothing but gain. But what if we looked at crisis moments and saw in them an opportunity to bless instead? What if we looked at crisis times and saw an opportunity to love and to help? Sadly, many of us will be like Judas, seeing little more than what benefits us, short-haul. Opportunity lost. Dangerous.
Others see in crisis times an opportunity for learning more about themselves. If they are healthy, they will welcome crisis times because they know that they will test their mettle and be challenged to prove themselves. Athletes welcome the next race, for it will test them and make them stronger. Good students welcome the next examination, for it will shape their minds with deeper knowledge. Healthy people welcome tests, believing that challenges only make them stronger.
But what about unhealthy people? What about those who are spiritually sick? The guilty, the shame-ridden, the anxious see in everything that comes along something that may threaten them, something that will expose them, something that will make them into objects of ridicule. If we are spiritually sick, we are guilty about nearly everything. We are even guilty about feeling guilty. For too many, crisis moments are dangerous opportunities to wallow deeper in shame and self-pity.
“Lord, is it I?” Several disciples wondered whether they could be the betrayer. They suspected that treason was in their hearts. They felt so negative about themselves that the crisis moment was for them a moment of terror. How sad, how very sad, that they did not yet see it as an opportunity for cleansing, for forgiveness, and for wholeness. Looking inside is always dangerous; you don’t know what you might find there. But if there is a deficit already there, how much a crisis moment will deepen it! Opportunity lost. Dangerous.
And then there are others who see the crisis moment as an opportunity to retreat, to pretend, to withdraw. So many of us, when things get tough, want to withdraw and sit it out. Let others worry with it all; I’m outta here! That’s the way I see Peter – his denial that he ever even knew Jesus is his way of trying to manufacture a little safe quiet place for himself. Oh, I know Peter. I’ve been Peter. I am Peter. When I don’t think I can handle the challenge in front of me, I want to withdraw, in one way or another. I will procrastinate, as if the task at hand would just go away. I will turn on the television, as if some silly escapist froth would change anything! Escape. That was Peter’s tactic. An opportunity to withdraw.
But it could have been an opportunity for bold encounter. It could have been an opportunity to tell the truth, the whole unvarnished truth. It could have been so many things. But crisis for Peter meant an opportunity lost. Dangerous.
Through it all, look at Jesus. Through it all, look at the one in the very center of the crisis. For Jesus, the crisis was an opportunity – dangerous, yes, maybe, but if you know the will of God, how can it be ultimately dangerous? And so while the storm swirled around Him, He found an opportunity to bless, to love, to give, to share.
To the Judases of this world, who think that fame and fortune lie at the end of every rainbow, if they can just get there .. to those who see critical times as opportunities for greedy gain, Jesus simply hands out bread, freely hands out bread, the staff of life. Take, eat.
To the soul-weary disciples of this world, who feel so guilty, so shameful, so anxious – so much so that every tough moment is one which kicks up their self-pity –to them Jesus offers wine, the elixir of gladness, the cup of celebration, and says that even in self-giving there is joy. Even in sacrifice there is celebration.
And to the Peters of this world, who are all about turning inward and protecting themselves from challenge, who have such potential for witness and who yet see only an opportunity to go into backward march retreat – to us Jesus gives the gift of prayer. The gift of His presence. The blessing of His very heart, poured out to us, for us, with us.
This night, the crisis deepens and comes to a climax. Some will grovel for gain, some will wallow in shame, others will withdraw into irresponsibility. But see these dangerous opportunities and come to this table. Take the bread of sustaining life. Drink the cup of affirmation. Hear the prayer of friendship and hope. And be healed by the one who saw this crisis as a dangerous opportunity, but an opportunity to bless us.