Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 42; 146, 1 Kings 16:23-34, Philippians 1:12-30, Mark 16:1-8 (9-20)
American humorist Sam Levenson once said, “You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.” Ahab, king of Israel, could have benefited from this advice. Like his predecessors Omri, Jeroboam, and Solomon, he allowed himself to be seduced by the lure of foreign gods. He built altars and other places of worship to the god Baal in part to please his wife Jezebel. We can blame Jezebel for corrupting him, but Ahab had plenty of bad examples to learn from. The author of 1 Kings even says Ahab did these things “as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam.”
Ahab doubtlessly though he was different. We like to think we – both in the sense of our individual selves and in the sense of whatever tribe we identify with – are somehow exceptional. We explain away our own shortcomings and failings by blaming our circumstances (or even painting them as virtues), and vilify other people for the exact same flaws by blaming their character. While this tendency may just seem like relatively harmless hypocrisy, it can become dangerous if we really start to believe we are not capable of doing terrible things.
American exceptionalism is no exception. When we look at world history and current global events full of ethnic strife, civil unrest, economic injustice, and other ills but insist “that could never happen here,” who are we trying to convince? Not long ago – as recently as the early twentieth century – a eugenics movement based on ethnicity and perceived intelligence was a real issue in the United States. As a result, forced sterilization was still legal in some states into the last decade, but most people have forgotten all about what was once a hot topic of conversation everywhere from church luncheons to bridge clubs. Convincing ourselves racism, authoritarianism, and theocracy are beasts which could never breach our shores only tempts us to explain away the footprints they’ve already left on the beach. Every human being is as fallen as every other one, and under the right circumstances we are capable of justifying terrible things.
Our broken nature can be a difficult thing to face, not simply because it’s unpleasant, but also because some religious leaders have inflicted psychological damage by wielding it clumsily and without mercy. Yet only by dying to ourselves through an admission of that brokenness can we overcome it by finding new life in Christ. Admitting we – in both the individual and corporate senses – are as subject to human nature as anyone else keeps us honest and gives us empathy. Following the risen Christ teaches us the limits of human nature are no match for the redemptive power of the resurrection.
Comfort: Christ’s love and lessons help us rise above our baser instincts.
Challenge: Read It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.
Prayer: God, I offer up my broken self, trusting you to make it whole. Amen.
Discussion: Is it possible to love your tribe and still see its flaws?
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