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Poured from a Clay Pot (Part 3)

July 9, 2014

As I wrote in my last post, I had intended to expand upon the troubling disparity between the two worlds in which I now make my home. However other musings have overshadowed that undertaking for the moment.

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I find it amazing how I can be so familiar with a passage in Scripture, having read and reread it countless times, only to discover that I had missed something that should have been glaringly obvious. So it is with Jesus’ announcement of his “mission statement” in Luke 4.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

(Luke 4:16-21 ESV)

I had always understood this to be a direct quote of Isaiah 61:1-2, but in comparing it with those verses I find it differs to a notable degree.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor;

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

and the day of vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn.

(Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV)

Comparing the two, Jesus’ departures from the latter are obvious. He makes no mention of “the brokenhearted”, and his insertion of “recovery of sight for the blind”, I believe is from Isaiah 42:7. “To set the oppressed free” would seem to be lifted from Isaiah 58:6. These variances, however, do not change the thrust of Isaiah’s words.

Far more significant, I believe, is where Jesus stops—in mid-sentence. It would be a specious argument to point out verse divisions, since those did not exist until more than fifteen centuries later. Rather, what strikes me is the division of ideas. “The day of vengeance of our God” is not part of Jesus’ message. Rather, he states he has come “to proclaim the year of our Lord’s favour”—Jubilee. Redemption. A return to our rightful inheritance, to who we really are.

As John wrote: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)Why do we separate this verse from the ubiquitously familiar one that precedes it?

Considering the passages from whence Jesus borrowed, I am reminded that with the coming of Jesus our eyes are opened and we are pointed always towards the light of Christ and not back towards the darkness. And I can’t help but hear his admonition in Matthew 25 to care for him by caring for his people, for God desires our mercy much more than our sacrifice.

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  (Luke 6:27-28)

What a radical idea! Don’t seek vengeance upon our enemies. Bless them. Pray for them. Care for their needs as if they were our own.divider4 inksmudge

I have borrowed these words from a Christian blog I find worthwhile reading:

When you read the Gospels, Jesus is including the excluded, healing the hopeless, remaking Israel, reaching out to the pagan, overturning the religious professionals, redefining all the predictable terms, shocking those who know all the answers and, in general, making it unmistakably clear that the Kingdom isn’t just about forgiveness and “heaven,” but about the life we are living, and will live, both in the Kingdom here and now, as well as in the future.

I couldn’t have said it better.divider4 inksmudge

 

In accordance with a habit entrenched during my university days, when I read, I take notes. Perhaps I want to retain a fresh idea, add a quote to my file, remember a particularly elegant turn of a phrase, or integrate a word into my vocabulary. A few days (or perhaps weeks) later, I revisit these notes, discard what were merely passing fancies and save those that still resonate with me for future reference. Some breathe life into ideas that find a place in posts like this one.divider4 inksmudge

I don’t often read a lot of fiction, but this week I found myself riveted to the pages of Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. How I stumbled upon this book I don’t remember precisely, even though l have had it for only a couple of weeks at the most. I know I picked it up on an impulse, probably seeing mention of it on one of my crawls through the Internet. In any event, I knew almost nothing about it until I cracked it open. I have come to believe that often I am led to books, and as this one has turned out to be, they are most often gems.

The story opened up a whole new world to which I had formerly been oblivious. It chronicles Stalin’s deportation to Siberia of thousands of citizens of Lithuania during World War II, a deportation that was tantamount to genocide; a third of the population of that country was exterminated. Although her book focuses on Lithuanians, the author makes it clear that Latvians, Estonians and Finns suffered the same fate. It was not until the mid-1950s that survivors were returned to their homelands, only to find their homes, businesses, and in some cases even their identities, had been expropriated by Soviets.

The genesis of the story, the writer explains in the Epilogue, was the discovery of a jar during excavations for a construction project in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1995. This jar contained the written remembrances of one of the deportees, a young Lithuanian woman. The author’s impression of this girl was the embryo of the book’s protagonist.

Ms. Sepetys is a wonderful writer, able to bring her story to life in technicolor. Her memorable word pictures gave rise to pages of notes. In her Author’s Note she encourages her readers to further research the events behind her book, events unspoken of by the survivors out of fear of reprisals by Soviet authorities who had scrupulously hidden their cold-blooded treatment of these people from the world. To this day Russia denies that anyone was deported. I know I will honour her request.

She ends her Author’s Note with these words:

They chose hope over hate and showed the world that even through the darkest night there is light. …. These three tiny nations have taught us that love is the most powerful army. Whether love of friend, love of country, love of God, or even love of enemy—love reveals to us the truly miraculous nature of the human spirit.divider4 inksmudge

The themes of suffering, hope, forgiveness and sacrificial love that pervade Shades of Gray meshed seamlessly with my considerations of Scripture over the past few days. God speaks from everything and everywhere if we have ears to hear.

However, I believe it necessary to always hear all in the light of the entirety of God’s love letter to us. When we do not, we can’t see the forest for the trees.

 

 

 

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