Day 32: True Reconciliation
Illustration: Juliana Crownover
Reconciliation doesn’t mean we all agree. It means we find ways of disagreeing – perhaps very passionately – but loving each other deeply at the same time and being deeply committed to each other. That’s the challenge for the Church if we are actually going to speak to our society which is increasingly divided in many different ways.[i]
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
Opening Payer (St. Francis of Assisi)
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.[ii]
Old Testament Lesson
This is what covenant renewal looks like. God’s servant, described as Israel in the preceding verses, becomes an agent of renewal for the entire world. The people, who have been in rebellion against God, are restored to an on-going covenant relationship. Except, this time, the renewal is not just for Israel, but extends to the Gentile nations as well, thus reflecting the expanded scope of the New Covenant. The issues that had been oppressing the people – hunger, thirst, heat, bad leaders and captivity — will all be reversed. People stream from all directions to come near, thus fulfilling the original intention that Israel was supposed to be a light to all nations. Even the land is healed. Restoration has come, both physically and spiritually. This provides a beautiful picture of what it is to be freed from sin and to be restored into covenant relationship with God.
49Thus says the LORD, at a favorable time, I will answer you and on the day of salvation, I will help you and watch over you and give you as a covenant to the nations to restore the land and to inherit a desolate property, 9saying to prisoners, “Come forth,” and to those in darkness, “Come out!” They will graze beside the roads and find pasture on all the heights. 10They will not be hungry or thirsty. The burning heat of the sun will not consume them. The one who has compassion will lead them; he will lead them beside springs of water. 11And I will turn all the mountains into a road and I will build up my highways. 12Look, these are coming from far away! Look, others are coming from the north and west, still others from the land of Sinim, from the east and south. 13Exult, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth, the mountains break forth in rejoicing because the LORD has shown mercy to His people and compassion to the afflicted.
14Then Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; Adonai has forgotten me.” 15Does a woman forget her nursing child so as not to have compassion on the offspring of her womb? Even if these were to forget, I wouldn’t forget you.
New Testament Lesson
Jesus is in town for the Festival of Tabernacles (the major fall religious festival). During this Festival, the Jews would invoke the imagery of Zechariah 14.7-8 which describes a time of renewal when there would be no more day or night because the glory of the Lord would shine in the darkness. In the last chapter of the Bible, this same imagery is picked up to describe the renewed creation after Christ’s return (Rev 22.5). This is the essential background for Jesus’ statement that He is the “light of the world.” Jesus, then, is the true Tabernacle, the one who has come to set His people free from their bondage and oppression.[iii] Jesus resists the religious leaders who are oppressing the people and charges that they have no genuine relationship with God. Since Jesus and the Father, together with the Spirit were all involved in the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, they are the essential elements of the recreation of the world as well. Thus, when Jesus, the true Tabernacle, offers His body for the world, He is fulfilling the Messianic expectations embedded in the OT Scriptures.
12Then Jesus again said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me will by no means walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13So the Pharisees said, “If you testify about yourself, your testimony can’t be confirmed.” 14Jesus answered and said to them, “If I testify about myself, my testimony is solid since I know where I come from and where I‘m going. But you don’t know where I come from or where I’m going. 15You judge according to external appearances. I don’t judge anyone. 16Even if I do judge, my judgment is valid since I don’t do it alone, but with the Father who sent me. 17Even in your own Law it’s written, ‘By two or three human witnesses is something established.’ 18I am the one who testifies about myself and the Father who sent me testifies about me.” 19So they said to Him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me you would know my Father.” 20Jesus said these things by the treasury while He was teaching in the Temple. But no one arrested Him since His hour had not yet come.
- God’s promises of restoration in Isaiah use dramatic language. It sounds like everything will be turned around. How do you reconcile what Isaiah promises with what we see in our world today?
- Israel was originally supposed to be a light to the nations (Isa 49.6). They were supposed to have such a close relationship with God and be blessed so much that everyone would want to be just like them. Why did that original plan not work out particularly well?
- Whether we like to admit it or not, many of us judge according to external appearances. In what ways do you do that? Why does Jesus say this isn’t the right way to evaluate things?
- Jesus insists that to know Him is to know the Father. Yet he also seems to indicate that there is a distinction between the Father and Him. This is the basis for the Trinity: that there is one God, who eternally exists in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What practical difference does it make to be Trinitarian?
Reflection by Kevin Dodge (email)
As we begin to inch closer to the end of Lent, our texts are beginning to change direction. We have done much examining of sin. We have had to come to grips with our own tendency to abandon our relationship with God for the things of the world. We have been given the opportunity over and over again to repent.
But Lent should not be all doom and gloom. We have to remember the promises that God is offering to us as well. On the surface, of course, the promise of Easter is resurrection. But, as we’ve explored over the last couple days, we are still here on this earth. Our loved ones still die. The very fact that we’re walking through Lent again this year suggests that we have not conquered the problem of sin. This seems endless and depressing. What good does the promise of resurrection hold when we’re suffering today?
The reason Lent should be a quiet season, but not necessarily a depressing one, is we also need to be reminded of what God has in store for us. This beautiful picture of reconciliation with God is on display in our OT passage from today. Despite all their sin, rebellion and obstinacy, God promises restoration for his people and for the nations (many of whom had been allied against him).
There are seemingly no qualifiers to this. The offer is universal. Redemption goes out to the nations and crowds of people stream in from the four corners of the earth. This promise of restoration is far more dramatic than the small, somewhat disappointing return of a remnant of exiles from Babylon described in Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai. The most optimistic estimates are that no more than ten percent of the Jews in exile returned from Babylon. If this is the return Isaiah is looking for, it would have been a very strange fulfillment.
It’s better to understand that this has not happened yet in its fullness. God and his people have not been completely reconciled yet. Yes, Jesus’ work on the cross laid all the necessary groundwork for redemption. There is nothing more He has to do to make atonement for our sins. All we’re missing is Him. We need and long for Christ to return to set in motion what Isaiah was envisioning.
Once we get to our NT passage, we encounter the present reality again. There’s terrible resistance to God in our world today. As we’ve seen so far in Lent, there is also terrible resistance to God in our own hearts. Christ has left us with these wonderful promises of restoration, but they seem almost too good to be true given the present realities we grapple with every day.
So what’s to be done? Keep wallowing in our misery? Isaiah gives us our marching orders, ‘Come forth!’ and to those in darkness, ‘Come out!’ If Jesus is the light of the world, the true Tabernacle, then what He’s calling us to do is to return to the light. There is no need to walk in darkness when the light shines all around us.
When Jesus says that he doesn’t judge anyone, this seems directly to contradict what He said on Tuesday that the Father had given all judgment to Him (John 5.22). We should realize that the nuance that comes with the word judgment is “condemnation.”[iv] What Jesus is saying is that He condemns no one. Anyone is freely able to come to Him and be in relationship with Him. But, as we see from Jesus’ warnings to the religious leaders, they are condemning themselves.
Jesus is not trying to say we will not face judgment. The promise is simply this: Those who are faithful disciples in a covenant relationship with Him will not be condemned. They will survive the judgment to come. Those who resist Him, and refuse to do His will, will be condemned.
Thus, while the scope of the promise of restoration and redemption is universal, the application of it is particular. Once again it seems to matter greatly to Jesus what we really love. It matters what we do with our lives.
Lent is a time for us to take a spiritual inventory and see how we’re doing. It’s a time to pray, to fast, to slow down and ask hard questions of ourselves. Some of what we’ll find is dark and ugly. But, if we look up, we just might find that despite all our shortcomings, God loves us anyway and desires to be in relationship with us. Reconciliation with God is possible for those who truly desire it.
- Practice Indifference
Are you indifferent about whether you will have a long life or a short one, whether you’re rich or poor, whether you’re popular or unpopular or whether you’re “successful” or not? Indifference does not mean apathy. It simply means that we are willing to accept whatever God gives us (or takes away). Indifference is a great spiritual blessing because it leads to greater freedom. Spend some time meditating on what things you’ve become attached to. What would it take to become more indifferent about the outcome?
[i] http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/pages/reconciliation-.html, accessed 12-17-2015
[ii] The Book of Common Prayer, 833.
[iii] Hays, Reading Backwards, 87.
[iv] Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, 345.