I hate to be crabby, but… (The Testimony of the Crabby Disciple)
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Proper 11)
July 22, 2012
The Reverend Paul Roberts Abernathy, Rector
Today is Crab Sunday. Since 1976, an annual day at St. Mark’s to feast on Chesapeake Bay crabs and to honor one among us as “Crab of the Year” who exemplifies, embodies an eccentric sort of irritability, a cantankerous kind of tenacity, expressed publicly and, most importantly, motivated by a soul-deep care and heartfelt concern for our community.
This past week, in preparation, I reread a contemporary translation of an ancient Aramaic text found in 1945 in an earthenware jar with other treatises written on papyrus near the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi. By the hand of an unknown author, this fragment, purporting to follow the Jesus story as recorded in Mark’s gospel, is entitled, The Testimony of the Crabby Disciple, a portion of which I share with you today.
Jesus is a tough act to follow! I remember when he called us. First, Simon and Andrew who were casting for fish, James and John, mending their nets. Then, the rest of us. We all stopped, dropped what we were doing and followed him. What were we thinking? To this day, I can’t say, except that there was something charismatic about him, in a rugged sort of way.
I hate to be crabby, but everything hasn’t been perfect. Jesus called all of us, but he likes Peter, James, and John best. (I see why he keeps Judas Iscariot at arm's length. You can't trust someone who never looks you in the eye. But I wonder how Andrew, Simon’s brother, feels about being excluded from the inner circle. Me? With all of my inclusion and abandonment issues, I feel left out!)
Nevertheless, at the beginning, all was well. The parables. The miracles. The crowds.
Then he decided to go home to Nazareth. I expected a huge welcome. I also wanted to learn more about him. He can be rather enigmatic; genial one moment, guarded the next. I’ve asked him lots of questions. About him. All I get is God-talk: “The kingdom of God is like this. The kingdom of God is like that.” Going to his hometown, I planned to talk with those who really know him.
At first, the townsfolk were amazed. He was at his spellbinding best. They “Oohed” and “Aahed” at his teaching. Then one by one, they grumbled, “Who is he to speak to us like this! Don’t we know him?” Talk about familiarity breeding contempt. Exasperated, he said, “Prophets are without honor in their hometown.” Somebody in the back of the crowd yelled, “Who said you were a prophet?” That really ticked him off! I hated to be crabby, but I said, “Let’s go!”
We left and went to surrounding villages where Jesus continued teaching. One day he told us to count off one through six to go out two-by-two and do what he’d been doing. No one spoke up, so I did. “Excuse me?” I hated to be crabby, but after Nazareth, I didn't want any trouble. But he gave us that look. This was a command, not a request. I got paired with Peter, who has real control issues. Always taking charge. Dealing with him was tough enough, but then Jesus told us to take nothing: No food, money, or extra clothes. I hated to be crabby, but I said, “Would you please excuse me?” He gave me that look.
The trip wasn’t bad though. Everyone didn’t welcome us, but most did. We taught. We anointed the sick. Some were healed! We even cast out demons! Peter and I were thrilled! We couldn’t wait to tell Jesus! By the time we got back, the others were there, too. Peter spoke up and took all the credit! The way he told it, I wasn’t even there. But I was too tired to argue. Even if I had complained, Jesus probably would have said something like, “Fuggetaboutit! It doesn't matter who gets credit as long as it gets done.” I hate to be crabby, but that’s easy for him to say. He does miracles everyday!
Jesus then told us to go to a deserted place to rest. “Thank you, Jesus!” But the people followed us. When Jesus saw the crowd, something inside of him lit up. Must be the extrovert in him. He began to teach. God, that man can talk. I hate to be crabby, but there are times when I wish he’d shut up. A few hours later, he was still talking! And we were still tired. Hungry, too. So was the crowd. “Jesus, (I wasn’t the only one this time; we all said), will you please tell the people to go? They’re hungry!” He said, “You feed them.” We all complained. He gave us that look. All we had were five loaves and two fish. But he took them, blessed, broke and gave them to the crowd. I still don’t know what happened. Did he give each person only a morsel? Or did others, seeing his generosity with little, share their provisions? Or did he multiply the loaves and fish, maybe making crab cakes? I don’t know, but somehow all were fed. Leftovers, too! I scanned the crowd and stopped counting around 20,000. I hate to be crabby, but the authorities always lowball crowd estimates. They reported only 5,000. Whatever!
Then Jesus told us to get into a boat and go to Bethsaida. Finally, he would dismiss the crowd and catch up with us later. The water was choppy. It was slow going. Then came the wind. We were getting nowhere. I was bailing as fast as I could, but the boat was swamping. I also got seasick. I hated to be crabby, but it was alright for Simon and Andrew, James and John. They’re fishermen and used to this. Not me! I was screaming, “Help! Somebody! Anybody!” “Shaddup!” they yelled, “O ye if little faith!” But they were scared, too. Suddenly, out of the mist and over the waves, we saw a figure, a phantom walking on the water. Scared the ---- out of us! Then we heard a voice, “Fear not, it’s me.” It was Jesus! He stepped in the boat and the storm ceased!
All is calm now. Everyone is relieved and happy. Except me. I’m a wreck and I’m mad! I hate to be crabby, but I want to ask Jesus, “What in heaven’s name…nah, what the hell took you so long?”
As soon as we get to shore, I’m leaving! I bet he’ll try to convince me to stay. And, truth to tell, I do believe this journey is going somewhere. Something marvelous, some miracle of miracles is going to happen. Maybe it’s already happening. I can feel it. And I really don’t want to miss it!
The disciples were on a journey. So, are we, St. Mark’s, as we continue our trek toward renovation of our space with all the attendant anticipations and anxieties that we’ve experienced so far.
On this Crab Sunday, we celebrate the courage and commitment it takes for one to be one’s self in community – to be and to become both one’s own person and part of a people. Crab Sunday also recognizes the role of humor in our communal life. A necessary commodity in times like these.
Humor doesn’t mask difficulty, but it can make it easier to bear. The difficulty of wondering how we will endure, survive the transition from current space to constricted space to new space. Wondering what all this means about who we, as individuals in community, are and will mean about who we will become.
Humor helps us keep perspective. Some things are important. Some things are not. And both things daily, sometimes indistinguishably, damnably are joined together.
Humor helps us laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously. Those moments when we argue as if our view is the only one, all others being false or foolish and those moments when we, hyper-critically, are unfairly hard on ourselves.
Humor helps us live with the ambiguity of change as “new occasions teach new duties, (and) time makes ancient good uncouth.”
Humor helps us make peace with paradox. Often, it is only when the constancy and stability of our lives (which, although desirable, can become false gods) are disturbed by change – unsettled, knocked, laughed off the pedestals upon which we have placed them – that we can continue our journey.
The disciples were on a journey. We, too. And, truth to tell, I do believe this journey is going somewhere. Something marvelous, some miracle of miracles is going to happen. Maybe it’s already happening. I can feel it. And I really don’t want to miss it!
 From the James Russell Lowell poem, "The Present Crisis" (1845).