Readings for October 22, 2017
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Sometimes people make bad choices – and God’s people are no exception. The Israelites failed in the appointment of judges (poor choice) and cried out for their own kings (regrettable choice), after which those kings and the people failed to listen to God’s prophets (ill-advised choice), then were forced into exile from their land, leaving their fields and their cities in ruin (consequences of poor choices). Still, the Israelites grumbled about God’s choice to anoint Cyrus, the ruler of the conquering foes of Israel, and one who did not know God. But God reminds all of us that He is not the one who makes poor choices, “I am the Lord and there is no other” and affirms His choosing Cyrus, “whose right hand I grasp…I have called by name.” God chose a non-believer to anoint as leader of His Chosen People. And this anointed non-believer, Cyrus the conquering foe, allowed the Israelites to return to the lands and begin rebuilding their nation.
The Gospels continue the storyline of questioning God’s choice. God’s Anointed One, Jesus, is not what the Jews had in mind when considering what the Messiah would or could be. At least Cyrus, a successful warrior king, had the title and the power to merit his anointing. But Jesus? A carpenter’s son? A poor traveling preacher and his ragtag group of working-class sinners? Particularly to the religious and community leaders, Jesus did not appear to be the One who could lead them out of the captivity of the Roman Empire and to the political sovereignty they believe they deserved as God’s Chosen People. They laid a trap they thought sure to unmask this so-called Chosen One, asking, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to those who oppress the nation of Israel?” It was a cunning trap, attempting to force Jesus to choose between the oppressed and the oppressor. Jesus’ reply is masterful in that it both foils the trap and succinctly points to his message of salvation: return to God what is from God and rightfully belongs to Him, and let go of the material things of this world, which distract from God. The salvation of God’s people is not about political might or material gain but about giving praise and thanksgiving, as Psalm 96 proclaims, “Give the Lord glory and honor.”
I know in my heart to give glory and honor to God, but in pursuit of instant and personal gratification I find it easy to question why God makes the choices He makes or offers the choices He offers. In fact, I even question why God gives me choices at all. In Deuteronomy, God tells the people He has “set before them life and death” and suggests rather strongly that they “choose life” (30:19). But those outcomes, life or death, are not always obvious in the choices available. Often it seems I face a choice between “might be good” and “looks good to me,” one of which may turn out to be not quite so good after all. And, really, why is death even an option? I want to choose life and it just would be a whole lot easier to do so if that were the only choice I had. Maybe that is the sticking point – I want the easy answer, the obvious choice, to be set before me. Yet the God of wisdom knows a choice of one is not a choice. And the God who is love also knows that love is always and can only ever be a choice.
Intuitively, I understand that true and honest love can never be forced. Yet the shiny things and hustled pace of life can cloud my judgment. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul points out that I have what is necessary to make the right choice. Like Cyrus, I have been “chosen” by God. And, He provided the tools I need to make the right choices. The Gospel has not been revealed to me “in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” God gave me the instruction manual (Word), the hammer (power), the duct tape (Holy Spirit) and the nails (conviction) to choose life. God chose me to choose Him. “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son” so that I might have eternal life (John 3:16). God so loved me that he gave me the opportunity to choose an eternity with Him, the author of life and love. I can choose because I am loved. Doing so, I can properly “sing to the Lord … telling of His glory … giving the Lord glory and praise.” In choosing love, I choose life. In choosing life, I choose love. It is an unbroken circle, starting with God choosing me and made complete by my choosing God.