Today’s readings refer to evils and misfortune. The prophet Micah rails against land fraud, and “those who plan iniquity” and cheat people out of the land allotted to their ancestors. And today we have our own troubles concerning land and property and mortgages. Greed and fraud distort our use of the world’s natural resources – especially oil and water. Today’s Psalm sings about bad people and their victims, the “afflicted … caught in the devices the wicked have contrived.” Today, too, we suffer because of those without conscience or compunction, whose mouths are “full of cursing, guile and deceit .. mischief and iniquity.” .”
The Gospel also opens with wickedness. Jesus has just cured a man with a withered hand, and now the Pharisees, supposedly the upright leaders of society, are considering how “to put him to death.” Moving on, he heals people who follow him, but he tries to avoid publicity. Matthew cites the words of another Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, who proclaimed that God’s chosen servant “brings justice to victory.”
In recent days I’ve experienced two kinds of misfortune. First the Omaha area suffered a major storm of high velocity winds (over 90 mph), rain and hail, causing at least two deaths, widespread damage to trees, homes, cars and gardens, and for some, many days of no electricity. But with the bad results of natural forces, we also saw charity, courtesy and patience – and neighbors helping neighbors.
Then came the afternoon when we returned home to find our back door broken and many items stolen from our house. The worst losses belonged to a colleague: a laptop computer and a paper file of business reports that had been brought to us for delivery the next day to our campus. The laptop held notes from several weeks of research abroad and the draft of a professional essay – files not backed up anywhere. We felt hurt by the damage to our house and the loss of our own possessions, but the blow to our colleague, who had entrusted his work to us, was most painful, most unjust. Where’s Jesus now, the one who “brings justice to victory”?
“Do not forget the poor, O Lord,” sings today’s Psalm refrain. Victimized by evildoers, collectively or individually, we feel “poor” even though we’re not literally so. Having our door broken and losing family heirlooms makes us feel poor; getting the door fixed and replacing necessary items makes us actually somewhat poorer. Our friend’s loss of both property and ideas means also a loss of time and perhaps opportunity – things far more valuable than can be tallied on a police report.
In times of misfortune, in the face of genuine evil, our faith and the Scriptures tell us: the Lord is with us. Jesus Christ moves among us and heals. This, our faith, is not a dream of magic to prevent or revenge burglaries and other crimes, or even to hold back storms or floods – or death. The Scriptures and our faith in Christ offer no false promise against the bad things that do happen to good people. Any one of us can be the victim of crime, or suffer some other bad thing – the traffic accident, the house fire, the miscarriage.
Yet I also have felt the healing power of the Risen Christ in the sympathy of people who heard about the burglary in the days following. I pray that my colleague will be supported by both his Christian faith and the concern and kindness of good people as he labors to replace the research and writing stolen from him in my home.
And as today’s readings remind us, as Matthew and Isaiah have said, in the name of Jesus Christ we will have – no, not insulation from the world’s evils – instead, we have HOPE.
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