Next Weekend, the scriptures point to the complex shape of religious life in the midst of tragic human existence that is shot through with injustice, sin, cruelty, intrigue, murder and inevitable death. In II Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33, the tragic story is told of the rebellion of David’s son, Absalom, who is killed by David’s trusted military chief, Joab. Absalom attempts to drive David from Jerusalem and take his father’s throne by force. Absalom is not successful. His thick, heavy hair gets caught in the branches of an oak tree where Joab finds him and kills him. David’s grief is so overwhelming that the readers of the Bible have sympathized with him for 3,000 years. Notice the five-fold use of the word “son” in David’s lament. We are not permitted here to reduce the tragic figure of a grief-stricken David to the sum total of his sins. Rather, we are encouraged to identify with David in his incredible loss and grief and pain. David is more than the “poster-child” for sin. He is also the representative of all who lose loved-ones and grieve deeply. Somehow, David manages to look to God through grief and to find hope beyond grief, which itself is not allowed to destroy the children of God.
Psalm 130 is David’s painful cry to God from the depths of despair, but he does not plumb the depths of anguish in vain. By the end of the Psalm, a man, bent double by sorrow, is strengthened to stand up in the hope that God creates even in the most tragic circumstances. We are all encouraged to “build our hopes on things eternal as we hold to God’s unchanging hand.”
Ephesians 4:25-5:2 is a basic primer on Christian ethics. We are taught to be whom we are essentially, the children of God and the saved of Christ. The imperatives of Christian behavior are the fruits that grow from the “indicative” of Christian identity. We tell the truth because we are a part of each other, and we cannot lie to others without deceiving and destroying ourselves. We are to be honestly angry when offended, but we are not to dwell on it but move beyond anger to forgiveness, because we ourselves have been forgiven by God in Christ. We are to shun evil talk and speak words that give grace and gentleness to existence because evil talk did not save us or instruct us. It was the gracious talk of the Gospel of Christ that lifted up our heads and called us into the new life of the Holy Spirit. We are to imitate God not in terms of wrath, authority and power, but in terms of love, integrity and grace, because we have been loved that we might love, blessed that we might bless, saved that we might rescue others and forgiven that we might make forgiveness a possibility in this hard age of vengeance and retribution. We in Christ are empowered to break the vicious cycle of relentless reciprocity. I repeat, Christian ethics call us to be whom we are essentially and primarily, the children of a God of love. Have you forgiven anyone today?
John 6:35, 41-51 continues the discussion about the bread of life. The bread of life is understood on three levels. First, bread is bread, money, power, justice, entitlement and livelihood. Second, bread is meaning, morality, instruction and truth. It is the moral obligation that grows out of one’s social situation. Bread is my God-given obligation to alleviate the hunger of the world. Thirdly, bread is Christ, himself, who wants not only to feed us but to be in us and work through us. The bread of life takes us onward from the level of having, to the law of sharing and thirdly to the life of being like Christ. Read with prayer and understanding.
C. G. A.