This week was about opportunities. How we see them, how we take them- and it ends in a comic book!
Our first stop was Jeremiah 42. As we enter, the Babylonians are about to take Jerusalem, and that cowardly bunch in charge of things have been debating running off to Egypt to escape their fate. In fact, as Jeremiah reveals at the end of the chapter, they've already made up their minds, never mind it was the failure of Egypt to fulfill their trust that put them where they were in the first place. So they try to get Jeremiah to tell them that God approves their plan, but phrase it as, "Tell us what God says, and we'll do whatever you say." After ten days, Jeremiah lays out the options- either give up your plan, submit to Babylon, and live; or flee to Egypt where God's wrath will pursue you and take you down no matter where you go. The opportunity, then was to please God by doing what goes against your instincts and your fear- stand and face consequences. Of course, some of the group accused Jeremiah of playing politics and declared for Egypt anyway. Within 20 years, the soldiers of Babylon occupied Egypt.
Second stop this time is in Esther 2. We've been through the story in Esther 1 recently. Here, Esther becomes one of the women selected by the King's eunuch to apply for Vashti's queendom. The key here was that Esther never revealed herself as a Jew because of Mordecai's command, "For Esther obeyed the command of Mordecai as when she was brought up by him." (v 20). The result of this was that much later, when Haman the Agagite (which means he was a descendant of one of the kings Saul was supposed to kill but spared him) tried to destroy the Jews for his sleight at the hands of Mordecai, Esther had the trump card that saved her people. Her opportunity was to be placed in an unfamiliar position and wait for God's command. Her willingness and patience fulfilled God's will and plan.
Third reading is in Luke 1, in what we present and former Catholics call the Annunciation. Mary has just been told by the angel that she is to bear the Messiah- an impossibility to her mind, since she "has not known a man". Isn't it funny? Moses had a somewhat less impossible task given to him- to lead the Israelites from Egypt- and he was all, "But I stutter!, But they won't listen to me! But I don't know your name!" Isaiah was given the commission as a prophet and cried out, "But I am a man of unclean lips" Jonah took a ship outta town when the Lord called him to preach to pagan Nineveh. But Mary, faced with something more impossible, more unbelievable than any of them, did she cry out, or try to decline? What she DID say was, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." Her opportunity was the impossible task. As you can see, the opportunities the Lord is talking about are rarely comfortable, fall-in-your-lap type things.
Fourth reading takes us to 2 Kings17. Assyria has conquered Samaria (AKA Israel) and exiled the people. But now lions have invaded the area and are on a spate of man-eating. So some bright pagan priest figured out, "The God of this land is pissed, because we don't know His rituals" (paraphrased from v. 26). Solution? "Then the King of Assyria commanded, saying, "Send there one of the priests you brought from there, and let him teach the rituals of the God of the land." Then one of the priests they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord." (vv 27-28)
But despite his best efforts (or in spite of his not so good efforts, since they hadn't exactly curried God's favor before the exile), the priest got them to learn the rituals, but could not tear them away from the gods they worshipped. So, are we looking at the wasted opportunity of the pagans to know God? Possibly, but in theme I think we are more called to see the opportunity of the priest, to do God's will though nobody was listening. As God would tell Ezekiel later, this took the sin off the priest's hands ( and perhaps symbolically, Israel's) and put it on the pagans used to mete out God's punishment.
And that brings us to last night's reading, as I sat on my comic book strewn bedroom floor. It was Zechariah 1, and one of the two most important opportunities God gives us. The message herein is very simply contained in v 3, "Therefore, say to them, "Thus says the Lord of Hosts: 'Return to me,' says the Lord of Hosts, 'and I will return to you,' says the Lord of Hosts." The most important opportunity the Lord gives to us is repentance.
And the second? As I sat their meditating, I grabbed a comic book. It was a Marvel miniseries called The End; and long story very short, the basically evil main character finds a way to capture what he believes is the power of the Almighty. But once reaching it, no one contests him for it. He believes that there was never a "god", just disembodied energy there for the taking. So he takes it, and begins exploring the limits of his new "reality". As he reaches the very subatomic patterns that all existence is made of, he sees that there is something horribly wrong. A certain event occurred that is causing the patterns to degrade into chaos, and none of his newfound power, no erasing of what has been, can fix it. "Now I saw the oblique nature of the trap I had blundered into," he tells the reader. It wasn't that there was no "god", as he thought- but that God had stepped back to give him the opportunity to fix the problem. Though, of course the character never mentions it as such, he was given the opportunity to move from a state of disbelief to belief on his own- with such guidance as he could accept. Without this opportunity, none of the others come your way. And without these last two, the others are meaningless.
But you see, God gives those two opportunities to all of us. If you don't get it from your youth as Esther, you get it from those who know, like the priest in Bethel. And if you don't get it from the words of the prophets, as the leaders of Judah did, you'll get it from a comic book, or a newspaper article. you won't not be given an opportunity. But you do have to accept it.