Monday, March 14, 2011

Devotional for the Sixth Day of Lent

Happy are those who consider the poor;
the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble. 
The Lord protects them and keeps them alive;
they are called happy in the land.
You do not give them up to the will of their enemies. 
The Lord sustains them on their sickbed;
in their illness you heal all their infirmities. (Psalm 41:1-3)

Why do you boast, O mighty one,
of mischief done against the godly? 
All day long you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor,
you worker of treachery. (Psalm 52:1-2)

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise shared the same things . . . (Hebrews 14a)

It isn’t difficult to have an enemy. As long as you have something to lose or protect, there will be enemies, both real and imagined, ready to take what you have. Whether it is a competitor in business, an opponent in politics, a nation across a border, or a neighbor across a fence, enemies remain a possibility in human relationships. And where there are enemies, there is drama.

This kind of drama requires a person to allow the enemy to take up rent-free space in our heads. You have to be vigilant about enemies, because they plot destruction. Therefore, you have to look for the signs, all the time, whether they are there or not.
Psalms 41 and 52 both speak of this kind of drama. There are enemies who love evil, ones who plan to heap destruction upon the righteous. But Psalm 41, before it laments about enemies, opens with a celebration of those who care for the poor. There is something different about them, and the Lord protects them.

Think of the difference: Those whose lives are oriented around the fear of enemies can only think about enemies. Those who consider the poor are not being threatened by anyone; they are giving away what could have been protected, and in doing so they identify with those in need rather than with the ones who might forcibly steal and destroy. The orientation of life changes from an orbit of fear to an orbit of love.

The writer of the book of Hebrews describes Jesus as sharing the same flesh and blood as the rest of the human race. This is an important concept in Christian faith, because we believe that in Jesus, “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). In some inexplicable way, God, in and through Jesus, shared our human existence. In Jesus, God fully identified with us in our fear, our poverty, our brokenness, and ultimately, in human suffering and death. This is not God lashing out in a rage at his enemies, but God near and at hand, understanding everything about our weaknesses and sharing them with us.

Fear is not only a visceral response, it is also an identity. It creates closed fists and high walls, with strategies to keep enemies at bay. But God doesn’t summon us to fear. We are summoned to order our lives around the One who identifies and cares for us in a way that is only glimpsed when we care for the poor. In all of our drama, it is we who are the poor, and it is God who opens his hand to us in the person of Jesus.

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