Friday, March 25, 2011

Devotional for the Seventeenth Day of Lent

More in number than the hairs of my head 
are those who hate me without cause;
many are those who would destroy me,
 my enemies who accuse me falsely.
 What I did not steal
must I now restore? O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you. (Psalm 69:4-5)

“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)

Many years ago at my daughter’s middle school, a young male science teacher was accused of inappropriate sexual conduct by two female students. He was immediately suspended pending an investigation and the story of the accusations appeared in the local newspaper. After a few weeks of drama, the two girls confessed that they had fabricated the story and that the teacher was innocent. Regardless, the teacher’s reputation and career had been ruined in the process. I don’t recall seeing a follow-up story in the newspaper.

The psalmist objects to the possibility of restoring something he didn’t steal in the first place. It just isn’t fair to have to do that. However, when false accusations come, the accused is put in that position. To remain silent is to allow the forces of evil to have their way with you. It isn’t that the accused is without fault or error; God alone sees those things clearly. But false accusations are not part of God’s agenda; they are acts of terror and power that seek to destroy.

Jesus must have scandalized his opponents even though he acknowledged that they were ones who searched the scriptures. They were religious leaders, so why wouldn’t they do that? But Jesus went on to say that they “think” that eternal life is found in those sacred texts. These leaders had indeed constructed theological positions crafted from their particular interpretations of scripture, and they used them to falsely accuse Jesus of everything from blasphemy to demonic possession. Jesus knew the scriptures better than his opponents did, and he understood that they pointed to him, and in him was life. His accusers, however, would have none of that. They believed they had a corner on eternal life and were willing to lie and kill to secure their positions. In the end, Jesus was silent, and allowed the forces of evil to unleash their fury on him.

We who follow Jesus can find ourselves at odds with one another over all kinds of things, from doctrine to practice, from high church to low church, from one interpretation of scripture to another, from one political position to another. It’s one thing for us to challenge one another, to disagree with one another, and to seek to correct one another. It’s another thing to take our interpretations of scripture, doctrine, theology, politics, and practice, and start thinking that in them we have eternal life. When our positions become concretized and canonized, we can find ourselves, intentionally or unintentionally, making false accusations against those we should be calling brothers or sisters.

Perhaps we need a corporate discipline of confession that should precede every argument or debate that we have with one another. We can gather our notes, review our positions, confer with those who support us, and then come together and pray,

“O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.”

Then, after our disputes and discussions wind down, we would come to the Lord’s Table, sit side by side, brought together in common fellowship by the One who has invited us to come and dine. In doing these things, we might not have to restore what we didn’t steal.

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