Responses to Jesus: Fighting, Fleeing, Freezing, and Following

When placed in an overwhelming situation, our primitive instincts kick in. We go into survival mode. The brain has a way of making sure that our body does what it needs to do in order to stay safe and comfortable.

But the gospel is a bit counterintuitive. It’s not necessarily about safety and comfort. Consider Jesus’ own life. He’s not exactly the exemplar of safety and comfort—at least not by the standards of the world. The temptations of Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11 can be understood as Satan trying to get Jesus to take the easy way out and follow what would seem to be natural human instincts. Make some bread (4:3). Prove to yourself that you don’t have to experience pain (4:6). Become a powerful person with all the privileges therein (4:8-9). But Jesus doesn’t do what Adam and Eve did or what the Israelites did when faced with temptation. Jesus doesn’t take the path of least resistance. He doesn’t do what seems most comfortable in the moment. Jesus remains perfectly obedient, knowing that perfect obedience will ultimately lead to the pain of the cross. Jesus doesn’t take the easy way out.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for Jesus’ disciples. Peter fights. “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear” (John 18:10). Of course, in the next verse, Jesus tells Peter to put his sword away. It may not seem that Peter has taken the easy route. After all, he’s fighting, right? He is fighting, but ultimately, Peter is doing what feels right in the moment. His way of taking care of the present stress is to pull out the sword and start hacking. He doesn’t understand Jesus’ true mission.

The other disciples flee. In the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus rebukes the swashbuckling Peter, “Then all the disciples left him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). They’ve been carried away by the other stress response—flee. The most comfortable thing for them to do is to remove themselves from the situation.

There is another characteristic that some of us are prone to exhibit. Whereas some fight and some flee, others freeze. I think we see the women at the tomb in Mark doing this. They are commissioned to tell the disciples that the tomb is empty and they will all see Jesus soon. But “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mk 16:8). In the Gospel of Mark, people are told to be silent but they speak (Mk 1:43-45; 8:29-30). On this occasion, the women are told to speak but they remain silent. Initially, they do what many of us do when faced with a seemingly insurmountable situation. They freeze.

There is another way of responding to Jesus which does not involve fighting with a sword, fleeing from Jesus’ presence, or freezing. We can follow.

But the difficult thing about following Jesus is that it requires we become disciples, which means that we become more and more like Jesus. That’s not always easy. It’s not necessarily comfortable. And it’s not necessarily safe as the world defines safety. It’s the difficult path. But that which is the most difficult oftentimes is the most rewarding. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.   For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’” (Matt 16:24-25).