Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The readings for the second week of Lent come from key moments of adversity in the history of Israel. They also contain some important lessons for the adversity we face in the history of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the All Things New planning process.
We hear from the prophet Daniel. The action in the book of Daniel is set in the time of the Babylonian Exile (the 500s BC), though it was written during a much later crisis of persecution (167-164 BC). In the midst of adversity, Daniel focuses on the open confession of Israel’s sins and the hope for God’s mercy.
We hear from the prophets Isaiah and Micah. Both were writing at a time when Assyria had destroyed the northern portion of Israel, and when the Assyrians were threatening Jerusalem. Their focus, amidst adversity, is on the impending judgment of God followed by the hope of forgiveness and restoration.
We hear from the prophet Jeremiah, whose prophetic ministry occurred during the great national disaster of the Exile. Specifically, we hear that the people are plotting Jeremiah’s death because he’s telling them the hard truth about their unfaithfulness and its consequences. Interestingly, that same day, we hear Jesus’ third prediction of the Passion in the Gospel of Matthew. In the midst of adversity, Jeremiah places his life in the Lord’s hands, just as Jesus will in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Finally, we hear from the book of Genesis about how Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers. But, in one of the great twists in the lectionary, after hearing that Joseph was sold for 20 pieces of silver, the Psalm has us proclaim: “Remember the marvels the Lord has done!”
I’d like to pause there on that twist. I think it contains a key lesson for us as we go into the next step of All Things New.
Psalm 105 focuses on how the Lord was at work: not in spite of the adversity of Joseph but right in the midst of it. Recalling the famine that would later strike the land of Israel, it says: “[The Lord] sent a man before them, Joseph, sold as a slave.” If not for the adversity of Joseph, Israel would not have been saved from famine; because of the adversity of Joseph, Israel was saved.
Looking back at the rest of the prophets we read this week, we see a similar lesson: The Lord was present and working right in the midst of the adversity Israel experienced in its history. Their history, again and again, was uncomfortable. But, again and again, it followed this pattern: Times of adversity always contained the seeds of greater blessing. It’s as though the whole history of Israel foreshadowed the cross, in which the greatest adversity became the greatest blessing.
There are two ways to handle adversity. One is with a bitterness that refuses to enter into it. This is understandable: adversity is hard! But it’s also unfortunate. It misses the seeds of blessing that God plants within adversity.
The other way to handle adversity is with a conscious surrender. We go with God into the dying of adversity, because we’re confident in the rising that follows.
Are we heeding the lessons of salvation history as we face our own adversity? I think that is worth pondering as we go through All Things New.