It's the time of the Christian season when we hear often about the most famous cursed silver in all of history - the thirty pieces of silver Judas accepted as the price to betray Jesus into the hands of the leaders of the religious folk. When he realized what he'd done, he tried to return the silver, but the leaders would not accept it because it was blood money. So Judas threw the money on the ground in a field where he hung himself and then, ironically, the leaders took it back.
They came to see the spectacle of his body, but they left with their hands on the silver they had just rejected. And now, they had to figure out what to do with it that would not put it to waste but would not put it on their hands, either. So they used it to buy the field in which Judas died and turned it into a burial place for foreigners, for outsiders.
And it's not the first time this has happened in the Scriptures.
All the way back in Judges 17, there is another story about cursed silver. This time, it comes from the house of a man named Micah, and it begins - not ends - with a confession.
Micah has stolen his mother's silver, silver that he heard her utter a curse over. Now, it's quite likely that she uttered the curse only after the silver had been stolen, in an attempt to exact revenge on the thief (who was unknown at the time). The way you would mutter to yourself, upon finding something of value missing, "I hope whoever took it has absolutely no use for it whatsoever." Because things are meaningful to us in ways that they just wouldn't be to others.
Anyway, it was no particularly small sum of silver, which is probably why Micah took it, but when he has heard his mother curse it, he can no longer take the guilt. He returns the cursed silver to his mother and confesses what he's done, and she takes it. But then, she gives it back to him and it becomes the fodder for an idol. The silversmith works his magic, and bam! the cursed silver becomes something to worship.
Which, by the way, was extremely illegal under the covenant of God with Israel, but this was the time of Judges, when "every man did what was right in his own sight." It's why God had to keep coming to rescue them.
Now, the reason you set up your own idol is because you feel disconnected from the worship of your people. You feel cut off somehow from the Lord. If you didn't, you wouldn't need the idol - who truly has the fullness of God and decides it is not enough? But Micah lived far away from where Israel worshipped, in a tribe that was turning away, and he figured he ought to have something with which to worship.
And his idol became the thing. Not just for him, but for many. He set up the idol in his house and then, a little later, when a Levite was journeying by, Micah went out and convinced the Levite to come and be a priest for him - to serve at the altar of his idol. That Levite became known around the area and when the men of the region decided that they, too, should have their own worship, they went and persuaded the Levite to come and be a priest to them - after all, it's better for one man to serve many men than to serve only one house, isn't it?
All of a sudden, we're hip-deep in idol worship in the heart of Israel. And all it took was some cursed silver and a group of men who felt on the outs - outsiders.
This is what I love so much about the Bible. (Well, one of the things.) First, we have this story about cursed silver that is freely taken and given, but comes with a cost and leads the outsiders astray. But then, several pages later, we have this story about cursed silver that came with a cost and is despised and unwanted, but it is used to give outsiders a place. It buys them a spot in the holy city.
That's the difference Jesus makes. Isn't it? That's what He's all about, what He's always been about. He takes these stories that we have, and He turns them on their head in ways we couldn't imagine. They take us from a house in Israel to a field in Jerusalem, from a man seeking life to a dead man hanging, from a way to go astray to a place to welcome in. And it's Jesus. He wasn't even there, and it's all Jesus.