Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Devotional for the Thirtieth Day of Lent

You know the insults I receive,
 and my shame and dishonor;
 my foes are all known to you. 
Insults have broken my heart,
 so that I am in despair.
 I looked for pity, but there was none;
 and for comforters, but I found none. 
They gave me poison for food,
 and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalm 69:19-21)

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.” (John 6:41-44)

Psalm 69 contains a reference that is usually characterized as prophetic in that it points to Jesus. While it was written long before Jesus’ time, it refers to one who is suffering and is given vinegar to drink, just as Jesus would one day be given vinegar (actually, cheap wine) as he suffered on the cross. There are a number of such prophetic references in the Old Testament, and Christians have long cherished them as prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus.

Most if not all of these prophetic texts originally refer to Israel. They speak to an Israel that suffers, is mistreated, and so on. While there is great value in recognizing the prophetic quality of these texts, there is something else to consider: Within these prophetic links, we see God, in and through Jesus, fully identifying with the life of Israel and ultimately with the entire world.

The psalmist speaks of insults and shame. We see Jesus suffering those same things. When Jesus is dying on the cross he cries out the utterly lonely words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) These words are often interpreted as Jesus crying out in isolated despair, which may have been true. But he was also quoting from a familiar Psalm (22), as Israel cries out in exile. In his suffering and death, Jesus identifies with the people to whom he was sent and who have rejected him. In and through Jesus, God fully identifies with all of us.

I believe that this is important. God is sometimes viewed by people as being distant and crafty, orchestrating disasters, pain, suffering, and loss for some mysterious and unknown purpose. Yet, in Jesus, we see God entering fully into human life, suffering, and death. This is no distant God who does not relate to us, but one fully engaged with all that it means to be human.

Some friends of mine just suffered the tragic loss of a loved one. Will we see God as the one who has set this up or allowed it to happen in order to do something that is incomprehensible to us, and that could only be acheived by this dark event? Or will we see God entering fully into the pain of this loss, grieving with us on the one hand, but also receiving the one who has left us with joy and eternal love?

We think of God being King, of being “in control,” and so we wonder why things like this happen. Is God not strong enough or not willing enough to stop tragedy? I believe that God is indeed King, but he rules over a broken and desperate world, where sin, suffering, and death are still active. But in Jesus, who fully identifies with our wounded condition, those oppressors of human life have been confronted and disarmed, and they will no longer have the last word. The God who is with us, the God who shares our tragic existence, will one day silence and destroy those enemies.

In the meantime we are drawn to him, and in the last day, he will raise us up.

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