Friday, January 12, 2018

The Burden of Sinners

A heartbreaking story unfolds in the middle of the book of Genesis, right around chapter 34. It comes on the heels of another heartbreaking story in the middle of the book of Genesis, although to be rather honest, we often see this first heartbreaking story and then celebrate the second as something righteous, even though the Scriptures themselves tell us it was no such thing. 

And it's a story being played out again and again and again even in modern Christianity.

Let's set the scene: Jacob has returned to his homeland, bringing with him the wives, handmaids, and children that he has acquired in his father's distant home, and one of his daughters is, well, beautiful. The men of a neighboring people discover his beautiful daughter and desire her, so they take her. In modern parlance, we recognize that when they took her, they actually raped her. This is the first heartbreaking story.

Then two of her brothers, the "heros" in our story, devise this crafty plan to take their revenge upon the sinners. They tell these men that there is no way they can ever intermarry with them, no way they could ever have the beautiful woman, because they are not circumcised. They are not among the faithful. They are not in the in-crowd of God's covenant. Of course, if they'd like to circumcise themselves, then the brothers say they are willing to talk.

So that's what happens - this neighboring people draws together all of their men, sets their sights on the incredible blessings and beauty of the people of God in Israel's household, desires those blessings and beautiful things, and circumcises themselves, every one of them. Three days later, while the men are still laid up in recovery, the sons of Israel storm in and slaughter them.

And this is the second heartbreaking story.

Now, this doesn't strike most of us as heartbreaking. After all, look at what they did to the beautiful, innocent daughter of Jacob. They are the most vile of all sinners, and they deserved every bit of the death that's coming to them. But do you see what really happened here? The sons of Israel used the goodness of God as nothing more than bait to condemn the sinners.

And we, far too many of us, are doing exactly the same thing.

It's no secret to us that we are surrounded by sinners, some we judge more deviant than others. Some we judge more undesirable than others. It's no secret that we have in our communities individuals who are seeking the good and beautiful things of God, even though we have judged that they do not deserve them. 

When this happens, painfully often we end up putting a high price on membership for the sinners. We put a high price on conversion. We demand they excruciate themselves (a word, by the way, that comes from the same root as crucifixion, which, by the way, Jesus has already done for us) and then, just when they are on the edge of truly turning toward the good and beautiful thing that we have promised them, we storm back in with our judgments and declare, essentially, "just kidding."

Just kidding - there's no place in God's kingdom for you, sinner. Just kidding - there's nothing you can do to get us to love you, let alone trust you, sinner. Just kidding - all of the good and beautiful things in all the world are not for your kind, you SINNER. Just kidding.... 

Then we condemn them to Hell anyway, these men who have gone to the greatest extremes to try to get a little bit of the good and beautiful life that we have. These men who are aching, literally aching, just on the outskirts of the covenant, where we have kept them, only teasing them with a way in. We draw them near to the good and beautiful, then cut their throats when they're already bleeding. 

And then...and then we say that this is good. And then we clap and celebrate, for we have avenged God's good and beautiful, we have saved it from the stains of these sinners. Forget, of course, all the blood on our own hands. Forget, of course, that we have just become the very sinners we despise, only we call ourselves, of course, heroes. 

But we are no such things. Look at the way that Jacob, the father, the patriarch of God's people, responds to his sons. He tells them outright, tells them plainly, that what they have done is no good thing. They have stained his name, put a mark on his family, put a target on his back, and demonstrated that what seems good and beautiful, what was meant to be good and beautiful, may be no better after all than the sinners knocking on the door in the first place. No, he tells his sons, this was no good. This was no good thing.

It still isn't. 

It's still a heartbreaking story. 

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