Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Monday, March 2nd: 1 Kings 19:1-8; Psalm 32; and Hebrews 2:10-18. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Sometimes a biblical story can get you to scratch your head and wonder. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m not a fan of blind faith. For example, I read in yesterday’s newspaper, yes, actually news-paper, not online, that Pope Francis is continuing the supervision of the Legion of Christ religious order, and that he has ordered them to continue their rehabilitation efforts. It’s already been ten years, but the founder’s cult-like influence within the order, the Pope believes, has not yet been eradicated. Terrible things were done and they were covered-up and allowed because of blind faith. Faith and thinking, and even faith and questioning, are not mutually exclusive. I actually believe they nurture each other.
Today we are asked to read a story about Elijah. Elijah is God’s prophet at a time when Israel was energetically unfaithful. Their faith had been corrupted and they were worshiping other gods, and this sacrilege rose right up to the level of the king’s palace.
Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest. Baal lost. Yahweh had proven dramatically His power and presence. Yahweh’s prophet Elijah had been validated just as dramatically. The people could not ignore what they had seen. The evidence was clear.
And yet … Elijah orders the execution of the 450 prophets of Baal. What was to be gained? Nothing except vengeance. 450 people were murdered in righteousness gone bad.
This is where I have to scratch my head and wonder. After witnessing the miracle of 1 Kings 18, Elijah fears for his life when Queen Jezebel promises to kill him as he killed the prophets of Baal. Elijah has witnessed fire coming out of the sky and consuming sacrifice and stone altar, and he’s afraid of Jezebel’s threat?
I wonder if it is because Elijah has distanced himself from the certainty of Yahweh’s presence and protection. Does God not feel close to him at this point? Elijah’s certainty before the slaughter of the 450 is clear, but did his slaughter of his religious opponents push God away? Is he now any different than Jezebel who wants him dead? Does the name of the god in which savagery is committed make it justifiable?
I’ll leave you with that question, but on top of it I’d like to draw our attention to the writing in the Epistle to the Hebrews. I appreciate the theology of this unknown author. He stresses the intimate connection between Jesus and humanity based on our shared human nature. Rather than connect at our lowest common denominator as exemplified by Elijah’s perverted righteousness, that all too human justification of vengeance in a god’s name, Jesus connects with us by taking on the cost of such righteous excess in our God’s name.
Jesus is God’s perfect revelation. Jesus brings God directly and personally into our world. Jesus is the central point of connection between God and us. And in Jesus God is willing to suffer in order to stand with us as we suffer. Elijah’s victory leads to wrath. This is countered by Jesus’ victory through suffering: “… [God] should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings … Because [Jesus] himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” Ours is a crucified God who stands in diametrical opposition to destructive righteousness. When we suffer, know that Jesus stands with us because He suffered. This at-one-ment of the cross is a Lenten idea worth some of our time and consideration.
Faith, love and chitchat.
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