Psalm 119:145-176 (Morning)
Psalm 128, 129, 130 (Evening)
In our reading from Numbers, Balak, the king of Moab, is fit to be tied. He’d spared no expense in bringing in one of the best prophets for hire in the business, Balaam, for the sole purpose of cursing Israel. Yet what does Balaam go and do? Suddenly, this so-called prophet who previously never had any scruples before when it came to “Give ’em what they paid for,” suddenly has developed divinely induced call to speak what God has told him to say, rather than what people want to hear. That’s a pretty big deal for Balaam , given his line of work. After all, his entire reputation and livelihood was based on being an Oracle to deliver the goods favorable to the client’s point of view. Instead, Balaam blesses Israel.
Balaam’s story is a reminder that any of us is susceptible to hearing God’s call to change the way we understand things. Not that Balaam particularly received this call very well at first, mind you. He really did work on trying to get out of it–mostly by trying to avoid the task in front of him. But as my donkeys Sylvia and Topaz would tell you, once you’ve been schooled by a talking long-eared equine, how you see the world can change pretty quickly. There was simply a place where Balaam realized he just couldn’t say the things Balak wanted him to say, and retain any sense of decency for himself. Tough realization for him, but not an impossible one.
Balaam serves to remind us that none of us are immune to having to re-evaluate any of our formerly closely-held beliefs. In fact, it’s happening all the time to all of us, whether we like it or not.
It’s interesting to be pondering this passage in light of the recent news my own bishop publicly declared his support for same sex marriage after 4 couples were married in the St. Louis, MO, Mayor’s Office, despite a ban on the same in Missouri. Yet this isn’t the only place where the institutional church, and/or those who represent it, have begun to move from an exclusive stance to a more inclusive one. It wasn’t that many years ago that the church would have upheld the practice of suicide victims being buried just outside the cemetery fence…or prevented divorced people from getting remarried…or refused to have baptized an infant not born out of holy wedlock.
Many of us in the larger community of believers have had our moments, spanning a large variety of topics, where, like Balaam, we’ve come to hear God speaking to us in a different way. This different way is not always going to be well received. We are going to see in our readings over the next few days that Balak still won’t quite be ready to give up on the notion that he can hire Balaam to get that curse on the Israelites that he so very much desires. We’ll also discover that Balaam’s new truthful streak won’t always carry over to inducing better behavior in other ways.
Hearing God’s call for us is a difficult and dangerous proposition indeed, and although it’s usually best discerned in community, there are also times that we hear from unpopular prophets.
When is a time you experienced God opening the possibility that you might be called to re-evaluate a formerly closely held belief? When is a time you were called to speak or hear an unpopular truth?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid