Collateral Mercy


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 147:12-20, 1 Kings 18:1-19, Philippians 2:12-30, Matthew 2:13-23

Many action and suspense movies have something in common which, when you think about it, is pretty disturbing. As they follow the hero or heroine from one dangerous situation to the next – be it natural disaster, shootout, or car chase – the body count of disposable and background characters climbs. As long as our main character (and perhaps a love interest rendered increasingly inappropriate by the mounting death toll) survives to the end, we’re meant to feel good has triumphed. Granted these movies are fictional, but doesn’t entertainment reflect our cultural priorities?

Of course this trope was well established long ago. When God inflicts three years of drought and famine on the land to punish King Ahab, the story focuses on the prophet Elijah and the one widow who survives to shelter him while countless unnamed people (who neither married Jezebel nor worshipped foreign idols) die miserably. And after the magi decided not to tell Herod where the infant Jesus was, “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under.” But Joseph has a dream to flee with his family to Egypt, so Jesus survives so … that ended well?

For the most part history remembers generals and not foot soldiers; sole survivors and not the unfortunate and numerous departed. You and I are probably going to die uncredited characters from central casting.

But the adult Jesus – the Jesus who ate with the drunks, the sinners, and the disreputable – had some good news for us extras: God loves us just as much as the featured players. Heck, he says it’s the least of us who will be first in the kingdom. The collateral damage and slaughtered innocents? God suffers along with every one of them. Does that make their suffering more fair? Not by human standards at least. But it does make it remarkable. Christ reveals (or possibly just reminds us of) a God whose mercy and compassion operate on both the largest and smallest of scales.

Whether we shape the fate of nations or barely survive day-to-day, God is with us.

Comfort: You and your suffering are not insignificant to God. 

Challenge: In entertainment and news, pay attention to who is affected but neglected.

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for loving the least of us as much as the greatest of us. Amen. 

Discussion: Most of the time do you feel like the hero/ine of your own story, or a player in someone else’s?

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