Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Difficult Stories-Hard Questions

This week's scriptures are Jeremiah 31: 15-17 and Matthew 2: 16-23

Last night was our first Bible Study focusing on the scriptures for the coming Sunday. As we were leaving, Alan looked at me and said, "I want to see what you do with this one."

Though it was not intentional timing, our first time together focused on one of the most troubiing passages in the story of Jesus' birth and infancy: the 'Slaughter of the Innocents.' In fact, until quite recently, Matthew 2: 16-18 was not even included in the Lectionary readings.

The passage is troubling on a number of levels. It raises questions about evil-the murder of helpless children simply because they are under the age of 2 and live in the wrong place. About the relationship between God's power and our free will-how could God let such a horrible thing happen. And about the fact that this kind of horrific, ugly tragedy continues to occur in our time; from ethnic cleansing in Bosnia to the killing in Darfur to the current violence in Kenya. This passage is not an isolated incident either, but an example of the ongoing expression of the viciousness of corrupt power throughout history. In fact, it wasn't even an isolated incident in the life of Herod, the king who ordered the slaughter. Compared to some of the other atrocities he initiated or ordered, this story is small potatoes.

Nor does one have to go looking for large scale events to find examples of this kind of traumatic event. Caesar Augustus is reported to have said, "you'd be better off being Herod's pig than his son." How many of us grew up knowing (or know now) families about which the same kind of statement could be made. Corrupt power and violence are not limited to kings and governments.

As we struggle with these questions, let me remind you of the questions I posed about studying scripture in the first blog I wrote here:

1. What does this passage tell us about the nature of God?
2. What does it tell us about the human condition?
3. How is this story, my story?
4. What does it call us to do or be?

Though the folks who compiled the Lectionary readings may have wanted to avoid this passage, scripture is notorious and wonderful for its refusal to avoid the difficult and the disturbing. This passage is one of those that cries out for us to look with brutal honesty at the world we live in and to respond as God's people in this time and place.

As Baptists, believing in the 'Priesthood of All Believers,' we know that my sermon on Sunday won't tell you how you have to answer those questions above. You have to do that for yourself. In fact, our theology as Baptists requires that we answer these questions for ourselves-and respect the answers that others come down with as well. What will happen Sunday is that I'll share with you some of the places my wrestling with this scripture has taken me. I hope and believe that this reflection will be helpful to your wrestling as well.

Finally, my thanks to the folks who showed up last night and struggled with this difficult passage together. Your comments, questions and reflection are a real gift to me, both as a pastor...and more importantly, as a fellow Christian seeking to understand and live out the Gospel's call to us.

Hope to see you Sunday.

1 comment:

NJPL said...

Sorry this has taken me so long. I didn't check into our web site until now. I have missed some wonderful things I can see as I read. I will try to check regularly from Prague and add my 2 cents worth. Blessings on you as you prepare these Sermon notes. Nancy