Psalm 63:1-8(9-11), 98 (Morning)
Psalm 103 (Evening)
We don’t often draw a reading from Haggai in the Daily Office (well, after all, it is a pretty small book) but it’s important to remember that his prophetic voice comes from a different place than many of the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. For many of the Old Testament prophets, the voice comes from a place of authority, and often from a time that the Hebrew people have some control of their destiny. Haggai is speaking to literally a remnant of the people, formerly exiled, now returning to a desolate, ruined version of the former greatness they once knew. It’s sort of like people in New Orleans returning home from Katrina. Not everyone who was with them before, returned home. Home is unrecognizable. Yet Haggai has the audacity to prophecy the ability to rebuild a temple with greater spendor than its original splendor, and a frutiful homeland, at a time when the area has been stricken with drought.
You can just hear people going, “Really? You’re asking me to rebuild and grow things in this drought stricken place, filled with evidence of our failure?”
Yep, he is. God has a real habit of that. We hear these messages from God today if we dare listen.
“You want me to start over after I’ve declared bankruptcy?”
“You want me to give my heart to this person/these people/this cause when I feel so heartsick and broken right now?”
“You want me to help these people when no one helped ME?”
“You want me to remain in this parish family after this awful thing happened and these horrible people did THAT?”
We see the counterbalance in our Gospel reading today, in a part of the Good Samaritan story we don’t always notice because we are too intently focused on the commonly talked about parts of the story. It’s the part where the Samaritan entrusts payment to the innkeeper. “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend beyond these two denarii I’m giving you.”
My inner skeptic often thinks in this reading, “How does he really know the guy will use the two denarii on this injured man–how do we know he just won’t pocket the money and toss him in the street?” Likewise, were I the innkeeper, I’d be thinking, “Yeah, right, this Samaritan guy is going to pay me what I spend. NOT. I’ll never see THAT guy again.”
Ultimately, it’s about mutual trust in the face of overt disbelief. I think sometimes we choose to trust and move forward simply because we have no place else to go, or the alternative is to remain in a ruin. Had we had some sense of power and control, we would choose not to trust, simply because the odds don’t look good.
I remember a time I was at that place in the Great House Remodeling at my place. I literally had saved for eleven years to have the cash on hand to do the remodel so I did not have to borrow money to do it. Once my contractors gutted my house down to the frame, it was clear it was going to take more money than I had saved. I bounced around between despair (“It was a mistake to undertake this; what kind of stupid thing have I done? I’ve just wasted this money,”) and shame that maybe my friends were right–I should have simply razed the house and built a new one. (“It’s not like that house is some sort of historic show house, Maria; it’s an old crappy farm house that was originally a four room Depression era house. You’re just trading an old crappy house for a better looking crappy house.”)
How could I articulate the overall picture of what rebuilding this ruin was to me? How could people even begin to understand that rebuilding this house was as much about this house as a metaphor for my life, and God’s call for me to rebuild the only life I had? The truth was I couldn’t; I could only press on. As it turned out, between a combination of some unexpected financial windfalls, and the grace that a busy, overworked contractor’s schedule provided, that stretched the project out for 18 months, it all worked out. I was still able to afford to finish it and pay cash. I really did end up in a house that was “better than its original splendor,” and it still cost me less than building a new one.
I look back now and realize that this was not a project in and of itself, but a training exercise for the next thing God would call me for that, once again, would require starting out with less than I thought I’d have, and trust enough to press forward.
What is God calling you to plant or build in the middle of a drought? Where are the places God is asking you to hand over the two denarii you have and trust that the rest will be resolved?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid