OT: Ex. 28: 1-43
Well, believe it or not, I actually have a bunch of thoughts about today's reading. First of all, I think I really need an illustrated Bible! I need pictures to understand what is going on. What is an ephod? What does a breastpiece look like? What was that decision-making thing Aaron was to wear on his chest? How did that work? Without any good mental pictures to go on, most of the reading sounded like, "finely twisted linen blue purple red gold stones edge bell pomegranate ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ." Reading it all while tucked snugly in my bed probably didn't help either!
But even though the description went right over my head, I did get some basic concepts. One basic idea was that God had big plans for Aaron. Using the elaborate get-up He had designed, God was literally going to clothe Aaron with "dignity and honor" (2). God had pictured and appointed Aaron as a very representative figure. He was to represent the people of Israel to God. He was literally to have the names of the tribes mounted on his shoulders (no pressure, Aaron). And, in some ways, he was to represent God to the people. He was an intermediary. Plus, he was to be set apart. Literally, Aaron was to have a big sign on his forehead that said, "Holy to the Lord" (36). Good grief! Like I said, God had big plans.
Meanwhile, while God is on the mountaintop describing His lofty dreams for Aaron, you know Aaron is at the bottom of the mountain melting down jewelry right now. He has already forgotten his identity; he has already forgotten that he is a child and follower of a mighty, sea-splitting God. Instead, he is busy trying to appease the people by making a golden calf for them to worship. Some priest.
It reminds me of when Jesus changes Simon's name to Peter, which means "Rock." Ha! Yeah, that's what I think of when I think of Peter up to that point: a rock. (Random movie quote: "I'm an oak, alright." Whenever I read Jesus' name change for Simon, I always think, "He's a rock, alright" in the same sarcastic tone of that movie quote.) The point is, I am often shocked at the difference between God's mountaintop vision for His people and the reality of their actual lives. Aaron was no priest, and Peter was no rock. But God's plans were bigger than their reality. And He made them what they would have never been on their own.
As Christians, we bear some striking similarities to Aaron. We, too, are representative figures. We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God was making His appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:20). No pressure! Like Aaron, we are a "chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" of people belonging to God (1 Pet. 2:9). And yet, like Aaron, our day to day lives are so often a mockery of our calling. The difference between God's vision for us and our reality can be downright depressing.
I thank God that He has given us His Spirit to transform us. I thank God that He doesn't give up on me, but that He instead continues to purge me of my selfishness, my pride, my impatience, my hard heart. I thank God that He continues to refine me and make me into a true ambassador, a holy priest. I do feel like I am being transformed. And though I have so far to go, I take heart in how far God has brought me. And I look forward to the future, for "'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him'--but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit" (2 Cor. 2: 8-10). I am amazed by what God's Spirit has revealed through His word. And I look very forward to becoming the type of person I have read about there.
NT: Matt. 25: 31-26:13
Time for the sheep and the goats! I have read that this is the clearest picture we have been given of Judgment (since Revelation makes my eyes glaze over, I can't vouch for the truth of that statement, but it sounded convincing at the time:)). And it is interesting to note that in our clearest (or at least one of our clearest) pictures, the sole basis upon which our judgment rests is our treatment of those less fortunate. It is a bit confusing to me to see the part Christ plays in the judgment scene here. He does not play the role that I seem to remember the epistles describing. He is not standing in front of me, so that God sees Him instead of me. Instead, Christ is portrayed as the King before whom we stand. (I think He is the "King" here and not God, because He says, "Come you are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance..." in verse 34). So Christ stands between us and God (like my previous mental picture), but He is facing us and telling us where we are going, based on our treatment of people on earth. That is...interesting to me.
The idea that whatever we do for "the least of these," we do for Christ is also pretty profound. I am reminded of a line from a Caedmon's Call song that says, "And the least of these look like criminals to me/So I leave Christ on the street." I think that is the daunting part. So often I have this really idealistic of picture of "poor people" being like Oliver Twist or something. Like, they are these helpless, innocent people. But let me be honest for a second (and really general): have you ever tried to work with poor people? I mean, have you tried to really help them besides just giving them money or a hot meal? I have, and it is maddening. I know that saying that makes me a bad person, but I'm just going to be honest. It is a gut-wrenching, emotionally draining process that very rarely produces the results that you want. Maybe I've just been doing it wrong, but I have been trying for years, and that has been my general experience. During that process of seemingly unending frustration and tears and prayer, this passage has provided me with much sustenance. I remind myself that God's vision is bigger than mine and that every emotional investment that I make in a person who can never "pay me back" is in fact an act of worship to God. And "even if I am being poured out like a drink offering...I am glad and rejoice" (Phil. 2: 16-17). Our job is to plant and water the seeds. God makes them grow. I am also beginning to see the value in thinking for the long term. We had a teen live with us for over a month in early 2006, only to watch him leave and join a gang. We hadn't heard from him since. Just last week, he called Greg out of the blue, wanting to come to church and get counseling with his girlfriend. Who knows what will come of that?
Okay, I'm getting off track. The point is, I take comfort in believing that, in providing shelter for that young man, we were providing shelter for Christ. Those thoughts help me whenever I meet yet another member of "the least of these" who approaches me with their bottomless pit of need and seeming unwillingness to let Christ fill it.
Oh, my. There is SO much to say about the anointing at Bethany as well, but, speaking of Oliver Twist, this blog is quickly approaching novel length....
Psalm 31: 9-18
What struck me most about this psalm today was verses 11-12: "Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends--those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery." There is a type of trouble and pain that is so great that the average person cannot even comfortably observe it. I have felt this way before. I have known people who are going through something so horrific that it is painful even to be around them. You just don't know what to say. It makes you uncomfortably sad even to see them. And so you avoid them. When Mike died, I was briefly on the other side of this. I was overwhelmed in a good way by the outpouring of support from my friends and family, but as the initial shock and subsequent rally had passed, I also experienced what it was like to make people uncomfortable by my presence. It was like they didn't know what to say. I sat among a group of Christian women a week after Mike's death. It was the first time I had been back with them. And not one person mentioned anything about it. Nothing. I guess it was just too awkward and uncomfortable for them.
I am honestly not faulting them at all. Like I said, I have been in their position. You feel like the pain is too great, too personal to even say anything. So you just say nothing. It is during those experiences that God truly becomes our refuge and strength. I learned that He is the only one who can wade into that pain on a consistent basis without being worn out by it.
Proverbs 8: 12-13
"To fear the Lord is to hate evil." Sometimes I don't think I hate evil enough. And when I do hate evil, I tend to mistake people for the evil instead of hating the true evil one.