Today’s readings all speak to hearing and seeing a vision that seems impossible in light of current circumstances. The Lord proclaims peace to us in the midst of chaos, war, and injustices. God sees a champion in us even when we see ourselves as losers. God promises wealth beyond measure to those who give rather than hoard despite the fact that hoarding seems the obvious path to wealth. “Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.” Can we hear it? Can we see it?
The story of Gideon encourages us to get moving even if the vision is not yet clear – but also encourages us to keep asking for clarity. God tells Gideon to go with the strength that he has – but is willing to spend considerable time with Gideon to assure him and prepare him for the work ahead. Gideon, for his part, is also willing to invest in discernment (an understatement we see as the story unfolds). While it only takes a few seconds for us to read “prepared a kid,” consider how time intensive that task was. Also, recognize that Gideon takes this time and takes the risk of giving up a goat, which probably was an important form of security for a struggling family, right in the midst of a crisis. When the encounter begins he is frantically rushing to protect wheat from a threatening enemy. His choice to leave the wine press and go slaughter a goat and prepare cakes does not make sense in terms of the existing circumstances. Existing circumstances would instead push him to continue beating out the wheat even more furiously to make up for time lost “day dreaming” about being a champion. Gideon hears and begins to act on what he understands in a big and risky way. God honors this commitment and continues to clarify and reveal a new vision of reality. Peter and the others gave up their livelihoods and families to follow Jesus in a big and risky way. Jesus assures them that their commitment is worth it with a vision of reality that goes beyond what seems possible in the existing circumstances.
Gideon’s story also reminds us that we tend to simplify stories of past triumph so that instead of inspiring us, they end up convincing us that no such victory is possible in our time. The shortened version of God’s past victory that Gideon held with God swooping in to rescue the Israelites from the Egyptians makes it all seem so clear and decisive. However, in the day-to-day experience of the rescue the Israelites experienced doubt, crises, boredom, and chaos along the way. In his book Soul of a Citizen, Paul Loeb argues that we often experience a similar disempowering impulse from simplified historical memories of victories over injustices in our own times. He notes that the Rosa Parks story may only take up a page in a history book and our simplified retelling of the story leaves the impression that Ms. Parks just decided to take her stand on a crowded bus one day and not long after that fateful day segregation was over – the battle won. We can forget the time that she invested in learning about civil rights and the time that so many invested in thinking and praying about strategies to bring about civil rights before that fateful day. We can also forget the many African Americans who walked miles and miles for months during the bus boycott that followed. All of this in the midst of set- backs and crises as well as everyday chores -- meals that needed to be fixed, rent to be paid, homework to be completed, and families to be raised. Meanwhile this struggle in Montgomery is just part of a much larger story of so many people inspired by a vision of God’s justice who were able to act courageously and persevere diligently despite the fact that their vision seemed inconceivable in the existing circumstances.
“Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.” Can we hear it? Can we see it? Can we leave our frantic threshing long enough to clarify our calling as part of bringing about this vision? Can we go in the strength that we have in confidence that all things are possible with God despite discouraging daily circumstances?
I will hear what God proclaims; the LORD–for he proclaims peace to his people, and to his faithful ones, and to those who put in him their hope.
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