Dathan could still taste the smoke. He woke screaming this night and every night, sweating even as he shivered from the cold. The dream was always the same. Fires boiling dark, putrid smoke through the streets. The inhuman screams of his flaming neighbors. The flash of sunlight as the sword passed through the body of his boy, his Hashub.
That was months ago and in another land. Now, in Babylon, he really was trying to make a new life, but it was so hard.
Yes, God had to punish his people for their sins. He could not disagree. It was justice. But Hashub who had studied the word of God, even accepting the words of that wild prophet, Jeremiah, why did God take him?
Jeremiah. Now he was saying Judah and Israel would be reunited and returned to the promised land; that there would be a new way of writing the covenant with God. No longer would it be enough to memorize the word, they would have to live it out every day. What did that mean?
Dathan crawled from his pallet and stood looking at the stars, his teeth tapping the rhythm of his chill. Even in this strange land God’s stars looked the same. He must truly be eternal.
The message of God through Jeremiah is that God has redesigned the marriage contract, even though His bride broke the vows. It is not a new contract, but one on the pattern of Hosea and his marriage to Gomer. God is husband to an adulterous people, yet He chooses to remain true to His commitment.
For our part, the new contract calls for us to internalize the Word of God. We can no longer do whatever we want through the week, then sing praises to God for one day. This marriage must be a full time commitment.
In the days of the old covenant, a man put in his 40 hours at work, putting up with a nagging boss and surly coworkers so that he could go home to a nagging wife and surly kids. He looked for any excuse to get out of the house.
Now, a man treats everyone as though they are angels of God.
The reading from Psalms 119 stresses the importance knowing the Word of God. But we must do more than just study. With the psalmist, we must say, I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. Now it is personal. God teaches me the right path. How can I turn from that teaching?
Paul gives Timothy and us a deeper understanding of instilling the Word into our lives. Timothy had an advantage of being taught the scriptures from childhood, but that was not enough. Without faith the scriptures are dead. Unless we use the knowledge every day, it will die within us. The Word is a living entity. Like a plant seed, it has to have a medium for growth plus daily nourishment. If we allow the Word to grow within us, the Word will take over and control our lives.
Modern Americans have been exposed to thousands of stories of alien life forms imbedding themselves into human bodies and controlling their activities, always for evil. Sometimes, the alien is portrayed as the devil and mere humans have no way of preventing his takeover. That is not what Paul is talking about.
God created angels to do the work and humans to be His companions. To be true companions, He gave us the same abilities He has to think, create, comprehend, and decide; especially to decide what is right. By the way, the devil cannot take over a person without permission, nor can God. God made us with our own defense system from outside attack.
Knowing what is right in this world is difficult. It’s a bit like hitting a moving target while riding in a moving target; or like some video games when the bad ones come from all directions and the highest score is hidden among them.
Oddly, life is like that video game. Playing the game for the first time nearly always results in being ‘killed’ early one, but the player figures out what went wrong and does it right the next time. We have the same chance to study the Word and apply it correctly the next time. Unlike a video game, we can never learn enough to make it to heaven on our own skills. If we could, God would not have needed to give us the Word.
At first glance, the reading in Luke might not seem to fit with the theme of the other three. Let’s take a closer look. These verses are part of a larger encounter which begins with another question from the Pharisees (17:20). ‘When will the kingdom of God come?’ Jesus short answer is: ‘The kingdom is within you.’ The translation of the Greek may also read, ‘The kingdom is among you.’
Either way, Jesus identifies himself with the Kingdom. When we take all his teachings together, The Kingdom is here and there, now and later, on earth and in heaven. If we accept the Word and let it guide us, we are walking in the Kingdom already.
Jesus then moves to the parable of the Judge and the Widow to illustrate the importance of daily contact with God. We generally think of prayer as giving God a list of the things we want, thinking that surely one or two will be granted. What we should want is to listen to God.
In Jesus day, the Temple collected money for the widows and orphans. Anyone who qualified could apply and receive assistance. But like most governmental operations, they had a long list of rules about who qualified and how to select those people and how much money they should get.
This story is about a widow who was not being treated fairly. Understand that a woman living alone in ancient Jewish society simply had no way to make money honestly. Generally, a widow would move in with family who would care for her, but that was not always possible.
This woman needed help and she would not be ignored. The judge tried to, but finally had to give in and grant the woman’s petition. Pray without ceasing.
But let’s look at the story from another angle. This reading is completely within the teachings of Jesus, so I’m not bending it too much.
The woman is God and the judge is you and me. God bombards us with petitions to do justice, but we try to ignore His words. Like the judge, we have greater things on our minds than the piddling justice thing. What the woman/God wants is for the judge/us to listen and obey.
It might surprise you to learn how often the Old Testament speaks of caring for the widows and orphans, or more often, not caring for them. Justice is not hunting evil doers. It is caring for the people we meet every day, watching for the little ways we can make their lives easier, always ready to give food, clothing, shelter, money, a warm smile, a hug.
Be righteous and do good.