Bread – Passive

July 30, 2010


Readings for Friday, July 30th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Judges 5:1-18; Acts 2:1-21; Matt. 28:1-10
    Psalms 69, 73
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Why am I passive?  Why are we passive?  This is a question which has concerned me as I survey my and our current state of affairs.

It is a question which concerned Deborah in our Old Testament reading today.  In our reading in Judges, Israel has been under the control of a Canaanite king, King Jabin, for twenty years.  Deborah, a prophetess, told Barak to form an army and to battle Jabin, because God would assist him (Barak) to defeat Jabin.  Barak balked and said, basically, "I’ll go if you go."  In response, Deborah told Barak that it would be a woman who would receive the honor of killing Jabin’s chief general.  Barak then went out and gathered 10,000 Israelites.

The attack on Jabin is successful and Israel is now free from the yoke of Jabin.  To commemorate the occasion, Deborah sings a song, which is the reading today.

In the song, Deborah praises the fighters, which she notes only came from a few of the tribes of Israel.  She laments the absence of the other tribes, their passivity in the face of the Lord’s command to go to war, to become engaged in what was going on.  She says things like "In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart.  Why did you stay among the campfires….?…Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan.  And Dan, why did he linger by the ships?  Asher remained on the coast and stayed in his coves."  Judges 5:15b-17.

Deborah never answers her own question.  While some of the tribes in Israel were risking life and property to rescue Israel from cruel oppression, other tribes stood by, passively.

Perhaps the "why" can be discerned from the song.  Perhaps Reuben represents those of us who are paralyzed into passivity by doubt, by intellectual debate, by our contemplation of alternatives.  Perhaps Reuben’s "much searching of heart" is no more than intellectual foggery about what should be done.  Perhaps it is no more than the substitution of our thoughts for God’s thoughts, hearkening back to our original sin in Adam when the serpent said "Did God really say…?"  Perhaps our passivity is related to our not really believing God, or our doubt that we heard God accurately, or our intellectualization of the fight we are in, or our succumbing to the attraction of the question "Did God really say?"  After all, if we can ask the question "Did God really say…" then we must take the time to search our heart for the answers, and in the time it takes to do that maybe God will take care of the problem some other way.

Perhaps the "why" of our passivity can be discerned from the position of the tribe of Gilead, "beyond the Jordan."   I just received a magazine called "Voice of the Martyrs" in which the trials of Christians in Islam-dominated countries were chronicled.  The progression of my thoughts went from horror to anger to thanking God that it was "over there" and that I lived here.  My passivity took over because I was "beyond the Jordan."  How many times have we been passive to the cries of our neighbors, because the problems are "beyond the Jordan" – in the next country, in the next state, in the next city, in the next church, in the next neighborhood, in the next house, in the next bedroom?

Perhaps the "why" of our passivity is that we are in a place of safety ourselves and are afraid to leave.  The tribe of Dan stayed close to its ships, ready to vacate the place of trouble on a moment’s notice, and the tribe of Asher "stayed in his coves," in the restful place.  After all, why be bothered with the grit, the grime, the deprivation, the ugliness, the horror and, to say the least, the possibility of loss of life, liberty, and property in war when we can just stay home and stay cozy?

Or perhaps the answer to the "why" of our passivity can be found in our inability or our unwillingness to take hold of the truth contained in our reading from Matthew today, that "He [Jesus] is not here [in the tomb].  He is risen, just as He said."  Matt. 28:6.  Perhaps we are unwilling or unable to believe, really believe, that He has conquered death and that He has fulfilled His promises to us.

Or perhaps the answer to the "why" of our passivity can be found in our unwillingness to take hold of the gift of the Holy Spirit promised and delivered in our reading today in Acts.

Living the life of a Christian as we have been called to by our Lord is not a life of passivity and safety – it is a life of engagement in love and in truth with a world which really likes neither but which needs both.  It is a life of engagement with our children, with our spouse, with our friends, with our neighbors, and with our enemies.  There is no safety in engagement and often no "niceness."  There is, however, love of the richest kind, where one man lays down his life for another.

Come Holy Spirit!

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