Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 19; 150, Ezra 10:1-17, Acts 24:10-21, Luke 14:12-24
Do you find today’s passage from Ezra at all unsettling?
After the Israelites had returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, they confessed to Ezra that they had not observed the Mosaic law’s prohibition against marrying outside their faith. Many of the men of Israel, including the priestly class, had taken wives – and by association their foreign gods – from the various cultures surrounding them. Ezra organized a meeting of these men, and they decided all the foreign wives and their children would have to return to their own lands.
Much commentary on this passage assumes the men of Israel would have continued to support these women and children or that God somehow provided for them, but there is no scriptural evidence for this wishful thinking. We don’t really know what happened to them. Maybe they were watched over, or maybe they grew destitute. God is not answerable to us, but framing this event in divine justice doesn’t erase the potential toll of human suffering.
So what are we to do with this story, besides dispassionately shrugging it off as something which had to be done?
Perhaps this cautionary tale drives home the message that we can’t expect God to clean up our messes for us, and that cleaning them up ourselves can have devastating repercussions for real people. Will they be repercussions we can live with? Surely the men of Israel, even the ones who never saw those wives and children again, never forgot about them.
Coming clean with a spouse after an affair, confessing to a family member we’ve been stealing from them, and turning ourselves in after a hit-and-run are examples of doing the right thing after we’ve already done the irreversible wrong thing. The bitter consequences for us and the people we’ve involved or betrayed may be severe and lifelong, no matter how sorry we are. That’s on us, not God.
It’s sometimes tempting to dodge responsibility with a YOLO attitude. There’s even a Christian version, where we pursue a pharisaical, self-satisfied righteousness that is blind to the harm it causes others.
Doing the right thing may seem difficult at the time, but atonement will be worse, and not necessarily just for you. Let’s think beyond “right now” to “Right. Now.”
Comfort: You are capable of making good decisions.
Challenge: God forgives us, but when other people don’t it’s our job to respond with grace and love.
Prayer: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14).
Discussion: When are you prone to make bad decisions? What can you do to change that?
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