Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 16th: 2 Chronicles 20:1-22; Psalm 105:1-42; and Luke 13:22-31. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Who do we choose to listen to? In the chapters preceding today’s 2 Chronicles passage, we read that King Jehoshaphat of Judah had aligned himself with King Ahab of Israel. The Israelite king enticed Jehoshaphat to join him in an offensive war, but the Judean king first wanted to inquire of the Lord through the prophets. 400 prophets all voiced the same message that God would be with them in their endeavour. Jehoshaphat must have sensed their eagerness to please the king because he asked if there were any other prophets who had not gathered.
There was one Micaiah son of Imlah, but the Israelite king did not like to turn to him “‘for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.’” (2 Chronicles 18:7) Jehoshaphat persists and sure enough Micaiah prophesies disaster, and sure enough his lone prophecy is fulfilled while that of the 400 is discredited. The Israelite king dies in battle and Jehoshaphat escapes, learning a very hard lesson in the process.
When we pick-up this story in today’s reading, armies are preparing to attack Judah and Jehoshaphat assembles the nation at the Jerusalem Temple. During this gathering, we are told: “Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the middle of the assembly. He said, ‘Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you: “Do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s.”’”
The author of the Books of Chronicles rewrites the earlier history of Israel and Judah with a more pious airbrush. He emphasizes the Temple and its worship and also the role of the Levites, leading many scholars to presume that the author may have been a Temple Levite. Jehoshaphat learned the lesson the hard way to be wary of insincere sounding prophets, but he readily aligns his policy with that of Jahaziel apparently because of Jahaziel’s bona fides, which makes perfect sense coming from the author of Chronicles. And sure enough Yahweh secures a great victory over Judah’s enemies.
This sounds like good advice. In the dilemma of deciding between true and false prophecy, trust the prophet who seems sincere and whose credentials are impeccable. But then comes Jesus. Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem and in the Temple’s city the religious authorities will put Him to death, charging Him with blasphemy. The religious leaders condemn Jesus’ voice, a message Christians often call the gospel, the “good news,” and even the Word of God, as contrary to the will of God.
In today’s Gospel selection, Jesus advocates, “‘Strive to enter through the narrow door …’” That is, the one less taken, the unexpected, the unorthodox, the unfamiliar. The Nazarene carpenter is surely the “narrow door” when compared to the magnificent institution of the Temple. Jesus’ gospel challenges the religious authorities, which would appear to be opposed to the advice offered in 2 Chronicles. So we are back to asking ourselves how is it possible to determine the voice of true prophecy, of who do we listen to? How does a person searching for direction distinguish between Jesus’ narrow door and Jahaziel’s bona fides?
I wish I had a pat answer, but I do not. What I, personally, trust is the lived example of Jesus as the full and perfect lived revelation of God. I try to seek out the general outline and direction of Jesus’ ministry as revealed in Scripture because this is what I personally trust. I then judge the narrow door and Jahaziel’s bona fides accordingly.
And one of the certainties of the historical Jesus is His crucifixion. In Jesus God endures the reality of suffering and death as one of us. God, in Jesus, knows our fears, pains and even our doubts. And in Jesus God has spoken as clearly as God can possibly reveal that our only path to salvation is to help save ourselves by embracing the crucified Jesus’ message of non-violence and compassion. Jesus did not die for us to do everything for us. Jesus died for us as His last and greatest proclamation of His lived gospel on how we must live. This for me is choosing the narrow door in a world filled with violence, greed and power, and this gives me so much to think about during Lent.
May this season help all of us to wonder about God’s still-speaking Word and who we will choose to listen to.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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