Sometimes we see more clearly by contrasting two possible directions
Article linked to the TLW Bible study post for June 27, 2021.
This article is based on the set readings listed in the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday, June 27, which are:
OT: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 — David honours his former persecutor
NT gospel: Mark 5:21-43 — Healing miracles for those generally excluded
NT letter: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 — A call to be generous to those not like us
It can be a challenge to understand God’s priorities. He often works in ways that are not intuitive to us. We are used to the ideas of earning and rewarding and qualifying. Remember those exams? You were marked and given a grade score. And your first job? You worked hard and hoped to be noticed and given more responsibility and a raise. You changed jobs, and the interview was about your achievements and experience. You retire and move to a village — but don’t think of expressing a view or standing for the PCC or chapel committee until you have been there a LONG time and earned the right!
This builds up a sense of entitlement in us. The problem is, God seems to work in quite the opposite way. Someone with no apparent entitlement — someone we wouldn’t single out for a reward — gets an extra helping of God’s goodness.
Here are three pictures of ‘opposites’ that help us to grasp the true nature of God’s generosity in giving, not what has been well earned, but what is undeserved.
1. David chooses to remembers the good in someone who cruelly persecuted him
King Saul was a disappointment, to God and to his own people. They wanted a figurehead, an example, a man of courage and prowess, a good ‘shepherd’ for the people of Israel. Instead, they found themselves at the mercy of a tyrant’s whims and tempers. David, who was best friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan, had to go into hiding for his own safety. Samuel had anointed him to be the successor when he was still a youngster, but he had to wait out long years, patiently evading a jealous king’s attempts to murder him.
Now, a decade or more later, Saul’s mismanaged campaign against the Philistines had gone badly wrong, and a battle on Mount Gilboa had turned into an Israelite rout and both Saul and Jonathan lay among the dead.
You might think that David would be tempted to celebrate the turn of fortunes in which his tormentor had met his come-uppance. But no — Saul was his king and loyalty was one of David’s values. So was forgiveness. So he composed a song of lament:
David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son Jonathan, and he ordered that the people of Judah be taught this lament…2 Samuel 17–20
…”A gazelle lies slain on your heights, Israel. How the mighty have fallen!
“Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon…”
In this poem he expresses everything he can find that is GOOD about this man - and, of course his friend Jonathan.
“Saul and Jonathan - in life they were loved and admired, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.2 Samuel 1: 23–25
“Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul, who clothed you in scarlet and finery, who adorned your garments with ornaments of gold.
“How the mighty have fallen in battle!
David had needed to learn to keep his heart clean from resentment. Now the fruit of that is seen. This is an example of God’s grace working in his life, and it teaches us that injustice and betrayal will occur - God allows that - but it is also an opportunity to grow in God-like grace.
2. Jesus is moved by need and desperation, not social conventions
Next, we join the throng that accompanies Jesus early on in His Galilee ministry, where we will see two healing miracles - and both concern women.
An important and respected man called Jairus has the charge of one of the lakeside synagogues - a significant stake in the life of the comunity. Normally, people would be pleading with him for some favour; However today it is Jairus who is soiling his expensive robes by falling at the feet of Jesus and begging him to come and lay hands on his daughter who is seriously ill.
He pleaded earnestly with Him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put Your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”Mark 5:23
Jairus has seen how the words and touch of the Master can restore and heal. Jesus set off with him to his house, but before He got very far, He sensed something in His Spirit and turned around to ask, “Who touched my cloak?” It was a strange question to ask in a jostling crowd.
Now a second person falls at his feet, trembling with fear and clearly ashamed for what she had done. Despi te the crows, she tells Him her story and it is an embarrassing and personal one. Her condition classed her as unclean and she should not have been out near a crowd, let alone touching the Master and making Him unclean as well. But her desperation had taken over her sense of propriety. He is sure to be angry at such lack of respect…
She is shocked in another way by His words.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”Mark 5:34
She has already felt a change… and the Master has just addressed her, respectfully, as ‘daughter’ — one who belongs to the family of God! Her desperate lunge to catch his cloak has brought her not one precious freedom, but two.
Word comes not to bother the teacher - the child is already dead. And the sound of the mourners’ wailing can already be heard.
Jesus speaks to the synagogue leader, firmly but kindly.
Don’t be afraid; just believe.Mark 5:35
These are words he will never forget. Neither will the disciples and others within hearing. They reach the commotion around Jairus’ property and when Jesus tells the mourners that their performance is premature, they ridicule Him. But He shoos them out of the house and enters with Jairus and his wife and three of the disciples to where the child is lying.
He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum” (which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up’). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.Mark 5:41-42
We often let our sense of what can or can’t happen, get in the way of what God is doing in a situation and our capacity to believe it. Our measure of hope, or hopeless must be informed by heaven’s perspective.
One who approached Jesus was a community leader with a position and a reputation. He pleaded earnestly with Jesus. The other was a woman, overwrought by a sense of her own shame but desperate enough to risk public rebuke as she pushed through the crowd. Both had the unforgettable experience of receiving God’s love and grace.
3. Learning to echo the grace of God in sharing what He has given
The next scene in this story opens in Corinth, where the Christians who are the church there have just received a letter by their founding apostle, Paul.
As they read it out, they hear that He is praising them, and challenging them at the same time:
But since you excel in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you - see that you also excel in this grace of giving… I want to test the sincerity of your love…1 Cor. 8:7-8
The problem is, the collection that they started was not for Greeks like themselves but for the relief of Jews in far away Jerusalem. Jews who had no style and didn’t even know the basics of good public speaking! But they were brothers… and the Corinth fellowship has a lot of qualities, like Paul said. Some of the teachers had put it about that Paul really wanted the money for himself, like the other travelling orators. But that didn’t square with what Paul was saying:
I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.1 Cor. 8:8-9
He reminded them that the previous year, they had been the first to hold a special collection. Now he is saying, they should finish what they started. The goal is equality - their plenty supplying the need this time. Next time it might be the other way round.
Paul might be lacking in style as a speaker, but now he is talking about the ideals of friendship like a Greek.
As the the new Greek disciples debate what he has written among themselves — no hasty decision without a proper debate! — the truth of his message becomes clear. Everything is God-given. And as God keeps on giving, it’s good to be always.giving it away.
That’s the grace of God. Generosity — not just in measurable things, but such generosity of spirit to forgive and not to count our failings against us.
To treat us so much better than we are, because His gracious goal is to grow us to be ready for heaven, and He is already getting pleasure from how the finished article will turn out!