O PRISONERS OF HOPE

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Zechariah 9:9-12, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Nate Hosler

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
 He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
    and the war-horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
    and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
    I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
    today I declare that I will restore to you double.

O prisoners of hope! You will likely recognize the Messianic strain. This riding triumphant and victorious—humble and riding a donkey shows up again. Matthew 21 references the first part as Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphant and humble on a donkey in fulfillment. The hope of the prisoners of hope is pinned on him. Jesus, the Messiah, the revelation of God, rides in ushering the kingdom of God, which is not the same as others. “He shall command peace to the nations…Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope.” Jesus is the revelation of God. The revelation of God changes things.

When standing on the Mt of Olives, the direction from which Jesus road this donkey one can see a gate blocked shut. The Ottomans recognized that the entrance of the Anointed One, the Messiah, would be through the Golden Gate, and it is thought that for this reason it was sealed for the third and final time in 1541. This is taking the revelation seriously—perhaps not appropriately, but seriously.

Sarah dies at 127 years old. Abraham wants to bury her and there is a back and forth about him paying or not paying for the land. In the end, he pays and buries her in Hebron. This place is still revered as the “Tomb of the Patriarchs” – This site has been a place of struggle. The structure is a divided worship space. Massacre of worshippers in of 1994. Occupation of Hebron from the Six-Days war of ’67.  Christian Peacemaker Teams have been working there for years. History, particularly religious history—the sites of revelation—continue weigh down on the land.

Abraham then calls a servant and says go get my son a wife but from among our people—which, since he followed God’s call to go from his homeland, is not just down the street. The servant loads camels, which are either included in the text anachronistically, or were some of the earlier domesticated camels (At least according to the archeological notes in our Archeological Bible) and sets out on his mission.

There are several verses that would seem to fit a particular pious/romantic sort of genre. A sampling of these verses:

“ I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the girl to whom I shall say, ‘Please offer your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’

15 Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah, … coming out with her water jar on her shoulder. 16 The girl was very fair to look upon..” 

The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.”

 While describing the passage at dinner to our neighbor Fabian on Friday—Jenn described the servant’s asking for water and Rebekah’s response—Fabian, nearly unprompted, noted that it sounded rather suggestive.  Our college had version of this. At least the joke was that people went there to find a spouse and since everyone was there training for ministry there was a particular way of talking. Now of course, many of you know that Jenn and I met almost immediately and even got married while still in college—so given this reputation and how it went for us, we (at least for a while) felt the need to say that this stereotype was not us. For one, when I came to school I was dating someone back in Pennsylvania. She even stayed in Jenn’s room while when she came for a visit the first semester. Additionally, upon arriving on campus I was feeling rather grumpy about needing to meet an entirely new group of people after shifting communities about 4 times in the two years between high school and college (being an introvert and having lived in the same spot my entire life up until this point made these moves quite tiresome).

So, my first (joke) point is–Pious romanticism is biblical-what I hear in this passage in some way  feels like a pick-up line or TV drama but inflected through a very particular spiritual vocabular. This was the joke—which had some truth in it from college—so instead of a questionable line about ___it was about prowess in biblical interpretation or perhaps instead of a cheesy line about destiny it is about God intending for us to be together. More generally (and more seriously), however, the narrative does two things. It gets us further along the journey of God fulfilling the promise to Abraham and Sarah that they will be made a nation (ya’ gotta have babies) and more specifically God revealing and leading the way into finding a wife for Isaac—which is the next step in this promise after the birth of Isaac. God reveals the way forward.

God reveals the way.

God reveals the way but we don’t always (often?) hear it.

Our Matthew passage has always felt literarily pleasant or at least brings up a nice if somewhat cryptic mental image. A group of children in a market place fluting and urging to dance. It would seem odd that I’d never quite focused on it but as I focused on it this week the very simple teaching became clear. The passage reads,

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.’

The response of the hearers did not match. To fluting or piping one dances. To dirging one mourns. The next section lists cities where teaching happened, noting that even the most infamous example of Sodom and Gommorah (which were burned by fire from heaven for not listening in Genesis 19), saying that if the things done in these cities were done there, they would have listened and repented.

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 

God reveals.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Jesus is the revelation of God. God reveals. This is not general insight. But, as seen in Genesis, it is not necessarily only in some sort of esoteric subject matter. There have been a number of books and articles written in the past 10 (?) years considering the creative process. Though I was quite interested, I was apparently never quite interested enough to get around to reading any of the actual books but merely hit a few articles. What seemed to be a central debate or fascination was the possibility that there was either something inside certain people (say a type of creative genius) or that there was a type of “secret” trick to having a sudden flash of insight versus those who asserted that the “insight” came from focusing on a problem or subject matter for a long time. Though the insight might come in a particular moment it is because one has become intimately connected to the situation, subject, or problem.

There is a fine line between persisting through challenges and stubbornly not changing or stopping long after this or that is no longer viable, feasible, or a good idea. Of course, the insight might be seeing that in fact hope is not lost. Or recognizing that we are now just burning our last bit of resource. In a movie, it would be the hero pushing through and in the end, being victorious—in real life this might just be failure.

But what does the Spirit factor into this? How does God’s revealing play into this?

A few weeks ago Micah suggested and then invited those who take part in planning worship to meet to discuss and think about next steps as a church. We met on a Saturday morning and I was not feeling it. He rightly noted that there had been some definite changes in the past months and that though we have been getting to a more stable place it seemed critical to take a step back and reassess. I went into it feeling tired and discouraged. Afterwards I felt a distinct lightness of spirit.

On Tuesday night we embarked on a heavy conversation about the future of the soup kitchen. I began feeling extremely tired and discouraged. Again, as we finished, I felt a distinct lightness of being. Was this the Spirit nudging? Was it the simply the prospect of relief from something or a decision that creates anxiety? Was it clarity after looking a “problem” for a long while? In Zechariah, the coming of the humble king—who we now know as Jesus—reveals. In Genesis, the servant of Abraham is sent to find a wife for Isaac, and Rebekah is revealed through her answer to his request for water. In Matthew Jesus exhorts paying attention and responding rightly to the revelation of God. God reveals. Let us wait and listen. The passage concludes,

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

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