My cousin Ellen, who lives a great distance from our once big, close, Catholic family, recently wrote that she has trouble understanding and sharing the Bible with those who don’t believe it. To her, the Old Testament God seemed punitive, not connected to Jesus all that much. So, in a rather playful yet serious burst of reflection (leap-frogging through scriptural time), I tried to off my take on Tale and Truth. As Catholic girls raised in the 50s, we heard of Noah and young David, then memorized the Rosary Mysteries. THE BIBLE as a whole? Not so much. So let me offer this hop-scotch through the Bible act as PART II of my evolving STORYTELLING Ministry this Advent:
During a meeting with Moses, God describes God’s self as I AM. So let’s imagine I AM creating the world in steps. FYI, the Church now sees creation as metaphorical – not 6 literal days. Finally, God rested, teaching us to stop and rest, savor the gifts of I AM. Genesis shows us God through creation’s beauty, its majestic evolutionary ways, its stars and black holes and – then – in several stories with some sweet, lovable, but misguided, egotistical people. Genesis is an amazing dance of human and divine – our likeness to yet chosen separateness from God. In this first book we see God yearning for humanity and humans not quite trusting in God’s providence. Eventually God chooses Abraham and Sarah, offering these two very old people the impossible – descendants as numerous as the stars. Thus, our ancestors in faith, the Hebrew people begin. (The Muslim people too but that story doesn’t unfold for many years.) God’s initial covenant sounds something like: I’ve chosen YOU to carry the message. I AM is all powerful (not that I’ll fix your every woe), nurturing, providing Teacher. I’ll LOVE YOU without limit, send prophets and elders galore, make you prosperous beyond your imaginings. All I ask in return is keep turning to me…NOTICE I’m here. THANK me for creation. RESPECT that I am your guide. And God sent deliverance from oppression, rules for the road, even a promised milk and honey land.
But…for those good but miss-the-mark humans, that was just too good to be true. Soon they were whining, “Can’t we just have a KING – one who FIGHTS for us and wins? Brings us wealth and the spoils of war? You know, like all the other tribal people? Can’t you hear God sigh? Our great I AM, our Mother/Father/Mystery/Wisdom/Parent shook God’s head and said…OK, if that’s what you really WANT. Don’t say I didn’t warn you (through Samuel, God’s spokesman at the time). Human kings can be pretty horrible when they forget I AM! So Saul became the first king that the PEOPLE chose and God said, “OK I’ll bless that king, but he’d better remember I AM. Saul turned out to be not all that devoted to God. (He grew jealous at just the sight of young David and tried to KILL him! You can understand how God did not like that!)
Yet, God saw something special in young David, Jesse’s youngest boy, out there in the fields playing his lyre. So I AM thought, “This one just might make a truly great king.” David, like some humans, got full of himself and made some less-than-wise choices (Bathsheba). But, God’s teacher Nathan set David straight, and he turned to God (good move!) wisely and humbly saying, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” He wrote the top ten songs to God we call Psalms, and straightened himself out. So God gave David a brilliant son named Solomon who, again humbly, asked for WISDOM! God thought, “Good choice! Just maybe this king thing WILL work.” But Solomon got greedy and arrogant. He thought he’d be famous for THE BEST EVER TEMPLE for God and turned lots of God’s chosen people into slaves to build it. Then he taxed to death the rest to balance the budget. Not so wise. He also partied with concubines galore. Frankly, after that, hardly any earthly king could keep the Hebrew people close to God for a very long time.
The rest of the Old Testament is full of nasty kings, partying and fighting and foolishly building gold statues to OTHER gods like Baal, messing with “sacred” prostitutes and even sacrificing children. BAD IDEA! Poor I AM is now sighing and frowning. Wouldn’t YOU be? God started sending prophets to say, “You don’t get it! Where’s the LOVE AND RESPECT God asks for? Where’s the help for the poor, widows, orphans? And what is it with these not-even-real gods! God commanded us to spread the word about I AM, the only one!
Soooo finally God called some prophets to give a picture of what a truly great king looks like…NOT militaristic, NOT partying wildly (though he will have some good times with friends), NOT warring with factions, NOT overly stuck on himself or even on the law. God’s prophets warned the people and a lot of destruction came to wake the people up. Part of the message was “Imagine God sending a new kind of KING, as a shoot from Jesse’s tree, from the line of David, yes, but a king who will be about LOVE. Yes, LOVE of God and LOVE of others, especially the poor and downtrodden. Why, lions will lay down with lambs. Children will play with cobras. This King will be about justice and service and kindness and peace. THIS KING will GET GOD, see God as the Providential FATHER that I AM has always been for his people. Akin to David and Solomon and the better Kings (Hezekiah and Josiah), he will humbly lead like a Good Shepherd and bring back the lost of the fold.
So God sent Jesus, who truly GOT GOD, who is God, who became GOD’s WORD to the world. Jesus’ whole life spoke of what God wants for and from his people – LOVE. God had made humans hard-wired for communal, loving living! God made them to be generous not greedy, service-minded not overly-selfish, hopeful not despairing. (Not that despair is wrong, it’s just a feeling.) God simply wanted people to TURN TO GOD. Jesus did. NOTICE I AM with you! Jesus did. CRY OUT for help. The humble, broken, Jesus did and showed us how to stay connected to God.
Honor God as Father. Keep Holy God’s name. REST and turn back to God as the commandments long taught. Don’t get overly picky about humanly designed laws, lording them over those who struggle. Don’t cheat the poor. Walk with them. Stay humble. See the children as teachers of innocence and purity. Allow yourselves to be vulnerable. Depend on God. Turn to I AM for all your fears and needs. SEE the widows, the lame, the blind, the demonized. Never turn away in disgust or fear. Offer compassion toward the down-hearted. Lend a hand till they are out of trouble. Walk WITH them, as God has always walked with you. KNOW the Father. Be still and listen in prayer. Give thanks. Sing. Dance. Play the lyre, as David did. You don’t need another King. Remember my promise: YOU are MY PEOPLE and I AM your God.