The lessons are as follows, Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
These lessons are hard for the Church to hear, because they describe the mystery of God’s grace, the pervasive power of sin to affect even our best efforts and the continuing ambiguity and lack of simplicity, clarity and certainty regarding the present condition, current circumstance or critical situation. Read together as one lesson and you will see: (1) The difficulty of the present circumstances. Jacob is caught alone, fearful and uncertain in his trek from Beersheba in Canaan to Haran in Mesopotamia where Abraham had come from. Jacob travels alone through the trackless uncharted desert, not just to find a wife and build a family among Abraham’s kin as Isaac had done, but Jacob is also fleeing for his life from the wrath of Esau, whom Jacob had tricked out of his birthright and his blessing. Jacob was so fearful, so uncertain and so alone, that when he came to Bethel at the close of the day, all he could do was to lie down and sleep, resting his head upon a stone, the closest thing he could find to use as a pillow. There with elevated neck and head, uncovered, uncomfortable and uncertain, Jacob dreamed of God! Why is it that we are most aware of God when we become most uncertain about everything else? Crisis in circumstances is only the stage for a revelation of God. Jacob dreamed of a ladder, upon which angels from heaven were ascending to heaven and also descending to earth. Jacob saw the ladder as an inexorable and vital connector between the circumstances of people and the compassion, certainty and centrality of our God. “And the Lord stood beside him and said…” The crisis of your present condition is staging for a visit from God and God’s angels who only want to assure you that “you have nothing to fear but fear itself.” The promise that was given to Abraham and to Isaac is now given to Jacob. He will become a great nation. He will inherit the Promised Land. He will become a blessing to the nations; and here is an additional promise, not explicitly present in God’s earlier visitations to Jacob’s ancestors, namely, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15). Behind this pledge is the false belief in ancient religion that God was local and localized and thus limited to certain places. Here God reveals to Jacob that God is not local, not localized and not limited to time and place. This God pledges that God will be with Jacob wherever Jacob goes, and will not leave Jacob until God’s promise is fulfilled. The revelation is that God is not local, but universal.
Psalm 139 also presents us with the critical circumstances of the author. The author has been falsely accused of idolatry, disloyalty or apostasy against God. He is dragged into the temple court to face his accusers. His crisis is staging for a declaration about the “everywhereness” or omnipresence of our God, who is always on the move in pursuit of us who are prone to wander and stray from God’s presence. Here is the same pattern noted in Jacob’s case: Crisis and Revelation.
The same pattern can be seen also in Romans 8:12-25 where the suffering of the saints has caused some of them in the first century church to forget who they are, and whose they are. The revelation granted in the crisis of having a very short memory of God, is that when we call God, “Abba” or “Father,” we are awakened and reminded of the fact that even now in the present crisis, we are indeed the children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of God. The message is that we are to be patient and hopeful as God is busy at work with us and through us to change suffering into splendor, pain into power, grief into glory, death into deliverance and crucifixion into coronation.
The crisis in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 is the mysteriously pervasive problem and presence of evil in the church and in the world; and the saints are impatient with evil, and they are anxious to stamp evil out of the church and out of the world. But this condition is the stage upon which Jesus delivers a parable-picture that bids us to be patient with sinners and evildoers because:
- Any attempt to stamp out evil is presumptuously ignorant of the evil that is intertwined like weeds with the goodness of the goody-goods. Even at our best, we are tainted with egoism, self-worship, ambition and the tendency to arrogate the power of God for selfish purposes. The holiest among us are the most strongly tempted to be ‘holier than thou,’ and unwilling to pray, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.” Such a lack of humility is evidence enough of the unrighteousness of the humanly, self-styled righteous ones.
- Any attempt to separate the weeds from the wheat is immature and premature. There is a process of construction and reconstruction at work now. The time has not yet come to make the church or the world pure, because, at this point we are unable to judge between the weeds and the wheat. They resemble each other markedly. We will damage the wheat trying to fight the weeds!
- The task of judging and separating the bad from the good belong not to us but God and God alone!
We learn from all four lessons:
- There is a crisis.
- There is a God.
- There is a message of hope from God in the crisis to lead Jacob toward transformation and fulfillment, to lead the Psalmist toward justification and vindication, to lead the Church toward patience and reconciliation and to lead all us saints to a stronger hope in God that delivers us from the false hopes of the present circumstances. Our hope is yet unseen!
Read these lessons until your own hope rests in God, and in nothing less than God!
C. G. A.