Street Theater

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” – Hosea 1:6-10

The “She” referenced at the top of this passage is Gomer, the “wife of whoredom” God commanded Hosea to marry.

There is a lot packed into these five verses. The names, for instance: “No Mercy” and “Not My People”. Implied in those names is some astounding obedience by Hosea – he actually had to name his kids these horrible names. See, some of the prophets got to just prophesy, but certain lucky ones were commanded to do some gut-wrenchingly difficult street theater for the people. Among this latter category are people like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea. Hosea’s obedience to the street-theater commands of the Lord involved marrying an unfaithful woman and naming his children horrific names of abandonment.

God enacts in this real life familial story what seems to me to be one of the major themes of the Old Testament: terrible judgement for unfaithfulness followed by amazing restoration by God’s grace. In a way, and I’m not trying to trivialize this, God’s dealings with Israel in the Old Testament are a form of street theater for us, and also for the host of principalities and powers watching in amazement. He repeats over and over in this long history of his people the story of sin leading to rejection and judgement leading to amazing, uncalled for, unexpected grace, restoration, and belonging.

It’s real, but it’s also a picture in many dimensions of what was coming, soon.

Enter the Word made flesh, living mercy, coming to his own people. You see, in Christ the sin is absorbed, the rejection he takes as his own, and the divine wrath falls on his shoulders, his head, his hands, his feet, his back, his side. The amazing, uncalled for, unexpected restoration and grace that flows from this is delivered to us, forever restored to the Father.

And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”

Amazing Grace!

“Go and learn what this means”

From today’s reading of Matthew 9-10

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13 (ESV)

So much of the opposition and astonishment of the religious leaders toward Jesus can be boiled down this way: You don’t look or act the way we thought you would look or act.

He didn’t. He didn’t on purpose. What are we to make of this?

Jesus could have been more sensitive to the needs of the Pharisees for a messiah who was more like them. He would certainly have enjoyed more support for them if he had engaged in a righteousness that aligned more closely to theirs.

But that would have been shooting way too low. Jesus used the religious leader’s righteousness as a yardstick of what “falling short” means. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees . . .”

Teachable moments abounded in Jesus ministry. He continuously confounded the pious onlookers: “Doesn’t he know what kind of woman she is?” “How come you don’t ceremonially wash?” “Healing on the sabbath? Don’t you care about the law?” “Why don’t you or your followers fast?”

“Why are you eating with them? Don’t you know how bad that looks?”

To all this Jesus replies “Those who are well have no need of a physician”. The irony in this statement is that both Jesus and John the Baptist before him had communicated repeatedly and emphatically to the religious leaders of that day that those leaders were not well. But they didn’t have the ears to hear it. Yet Jesus, in his grace and patience, continues teaching.

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’” Mercy becomes anemic in the heart of the self-righeous, self-made man, and must be re-awakened. Otherwise we will fail to recognize Mercy embodied when he is standing right in front of us.

Thank you Lord for being our Immanuel, for being with us! Thank you for coming and befriending sinners such as we are. We had no power to attain you, so you came and attained us. We are all of us, each and every one, a lonely Matthew, sinful and needy and poor. You, friend of sinners, have come and spread a feast for us in the presence of our enemies, anointed us with the royal oil of your Holy Spirit, and filled our cup to overflowing. What manner of love is this?

May we never bar the way of escape for others. May we never cut the chords of grace for others once we have received it for ourselves. May we never look upon another human being and think “not one of us”. And, Lord have mercy! – may we never judge you for going where we fear to go and mingling with those we fear to mingle with.

May humbled hearts receive your teaching: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’”

Thank you so much for your mercy upon me.

“Come, let us return to the LORD;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant;
there they dealt faithlessly with me.
Gilead is a city of evildoers,
tracked with blood.
As robbers lie in wait for a man,
so the priests band together;
they murder on the way to Shechem;
they commit villainy.
In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing;
Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled.

For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed,
when I restore the fortunes of my people. – Hosea 6 (ESV)