Monday, April 11, 2011

A Devotional for the Thirty-Fourth Day of Lent

The Lord showed me two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the Lord. This was after King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the artisans, and the smiths, and had brought them to Babylon. One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. And the Lord said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.”
Then the word of the Lord came to me: Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. (Jeremiah 24:1-7)

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (John 9:1-3)

Right after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, I met a man near New Orleans who had lost everything he owned—his home, his business—when the storm hit. His family was safe, but he remained in the area, attempting to assist family members whose homes had been destroyed. He told me that he and his wife had been talking about God and church lately, but had taken no new steps of faith in their lives. He suggested that this was how God decided to get his attention. My friends and I tried to help him see that God probably didn’t decide to wipe out the entire Gulf coast just to get the man to clean up his act.

The people of Israel might have been thinking along those lines when everything came crashing down for them. Even though there were people, such as their king and other leaders, who had led the nation astray, there were others who remained faithful to God. Even so, everyone suffered the consequences of the nation’s sin. Jeremiah points out the God was fully aware of this, and rather than let the faithful ones languish in exile, he promises them a future in which they will know him and carry the true identity as his people.

Jesus’ disciples wanted a reason for the blindness of the man they encountered. For them, the man’s condition had to be a result of someone’s sin. But Jesus counters that belief when he says that there is no connection, but rather that this was an opportunity for God’s works to be revealed.

But wasn’t there purpose in the man’s blindness? After all, Jesus does say that the man was born blind “so that.” However, all people are born so that God’s works might be revealed in them. This man’s blindness pushed him outside the respectability of the Jewish community. Most would assume that God had cursed him. Now this blindness would be broken so that God’s intentions for the world would be shown to all. Through the man God would show that sickness and disease would not have the last word in God’s kingdom; those who were perceived to be at the margins of faithfulness would be drawn to God’s center.

There is a puzzle to God’s faithfulness. While good people suffer as frequently as bad people, God enters into those painful realities to bring hope and promise to those who will turn to him. We often see suffering as the equivalent of a lightning bolt from heaven (cosmic antics attributed to Zeus rather than to the God of the Bible), when it is part of all earthly brokenness. But God still enters in, and his faithfulness trumps all grief.

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