Sunday, December 13, 2015

Reflections for the 3rd Week in Advent, Part 1

Monday – Balaam

Balaam is one of the Biblical characters who seems deliberately designed to provide a bit of comic relief. He was a prophet hired by the leaders of Moab and Midian to curse Israel as the Israelites were approaching the Promised Land. Obviously, the area's current inhabitants didn't want to be kicked out of their territory, and after hearing about the miracles surrounding Israel, they were pretty nervous about that very thing happening in the near future.

God told Balaam in no uncertain terms that he was not to take the bribe, but the Moabites and Midianites persisted. Finally, God told Balaam to go with messengers but to do only what He told him.

God was actually pretty miffed about the whole thing. After all, the Moabites and Midianites were trying to buy off one of His prophets. Apparently, Balaam wasn't completely deaf to their appeals (the promise of all that silver and gold was probably starting to turn his head), so God decided to send him a vivid directive. 

An angel of God appeared on the road in front of Balaam, but the prophet couldn't see him. The donkey Balaam was riding did, however, notice the angel, and he turned off the road and went out into a nearby field. Balaam was perplexed and annoyed as he guided the donkey back onto the road. The poor donkey decided to try to go around the angel, but he scraped Balaam's leg against a wall in the process. Finally, the beast realized there was no way to pass the angel, so he lay down in the road. 

By this time, Balaam was just plain angry, and he struck his donkey. The animal looked up and (aided by God, of course) asked his master what he had ever done to him to deserve such a beating. Balaam was so mad that he didn't seem to notice that his donkey had just spoken to him. He merely answered the beast, berating him and threatening to kill him. The donkey asked Balaam if he had ever acted like this before, implying that there was a reason for his behavior this time. Balaam had to admit that his donkey had never done such things in the past. 

At that point, God opened Balaam's eyes and let him see the angel. Balaam immediately repented of his actions and admitted his sins. God once again told the prophet to speak only what He told him to say. 

As Balaam looked over the Israelite camps, he spoke blessings rather than curses, proclaiming God's great deeds on behalf of Israel and foretelling a great King Who would one day arise to rule Israel and the whole world. 

God used Balaam, His reluctant, stubborn prophet, to supply yet one more prophecy of the Messiah Who was to come. Balaam didn't know what his words meant, but he went home a better man, appreciating the power of God and the love He had for the Israelites and all people. One can also imagine that he treated his donkey with great kindness from that point on.

Tuesday – Reluctance 

Yesterday we met God's reluctant prophet Balaam. Today we hear Jesus tell us a parable about reluctance to follow God's will. A father, Jesus explains, told his two sons to go out and work in his vineyard. One son stubbornly refused, actually telling his father, “I will not.” The other son replied with a compliant “Yes sir.” 

The first son, however, felt guilty about his denial. He changed his mind and headed out to the vineyard. The second son apparently had no intention of actually obeying his father, in spite of his agreement, so he went about his own business. 

“Which of these two,” Jesus asks, “did his father's will?” His audience quickly identified the first son as the one who was truly obedient in the end. Like Balaam, this young man chose to do his father's will even though it took a while. 

This parable and the story of Balaam offer great hope to those of us who are often reluctant followers of God. Our God is a God of second changes. He accepts a repent heart even after it was a stubborn heart. He accepts obedience even if it is a little late. He would rather we turn from our first path and act in accordance with His will than say we will follow Him and then not do so. Our God loves us even in our reluctance. 

Wednesday – Are You the One?

In today's Gospel, John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to Jesus with an important question: “Are You the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 

Why in the world would John ask this question? After all, he was the one designated to prepare the way for the Messiah. He was the one who had known Jesus his whole life (being a relative and all). He was the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan only after putting up a fuss that Jesus should be the one baptizing him instead. He was the one who saw the dove descend upon Jesus after His baptism and heard the Voice from Heaven saying “This is My Son, the Beloved, with Whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). He was the one who testified that Jesus was the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He was the one who humbly proclaimed that he wasn't even worthy to bend over and untie Jesus' sandal strap.

How could John wonder Who Jesus was? Could he really have had any doubts that Jesus was truly the One Who was to come? 

If John did wonder, then he was very much like the rest of us. We've all experienced Jesus' love. We've all listened to the testimonies of faith of centuries of people. Some of us have even seen miracles, and all of us have received answers to our prayers. But sometimes we still doubt. We still wonder. We still question. We are still human and weak and frightened and insecure. 

Perhaps that why John asked his question. He wanted to let us know that we aren't alone. Everybody's faith gets weak and shaky sometimes. John knew, however, that Jesus would answer his question and thereby shore up his faith and everyone else's faith at the same time. In His response to John, Jesus invited all of us to look at the great works He had done: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised...” 

Jesus knows that we often struggle to believe, so He shows us Who He is in ways we can understand. His deeds confirm His words, and His words explain His deeds. So when we doubt and wonder and fret, we merely need to turn to Jesus and ask Him to show us, yet again, Who He really is. He amazing ways.

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