Monday, November 23, 2015

All Grace

Now he had been summoned to meet the king. He trembled at the very thought. He had lived out these years in obscurity, away from the attention of the court, and , ever since he was old enough to understand such things, he had hoped that his existence was forgotten. He knew what kings did; in order to secure their throne they would routinely kill all potential rivals. To be the descendant of a previous king was to have a sentence of death hanging over you. The only chance of living out your life in peace was to be overlooked and forgotten about. He had dared to think, for a while, that he might have got away with it. Now it seemed that his only hope was to plead for mercy. What threat, after all, was a cripple to a king?

History was against him. The former king, Saul, was his grandfather, and Saul, at first kindly disposed, had become the enemy of David, the current king. How he had harried and harassed him! Once he had thrown a spear at him. More than once he had ridden out into the wilderness, pursuing David and his men, seeking to destroy them, even though David had never lifted a hand against him. Mephibosheth shuddered at the memory of the tales he had been told all his life – tales of anger and madness where the stubborn will of a desperate king sought only destruction and despair. They were only tales told, he had been only five when his grandfather, and his father, Jonathan, had died in battle. He knew that David had written a famous lament for them; but he also knew enough of the bitterness of life to know that it is easier to lament the dead than to bear with the threat of the living.

But now there was no choice. The king’s men had come to fetch him, and he must go with them. Doom and misery rode in his heart all the length of the journey, and when he was brought into the king’s presence he fell on his face in fearful homage.  “Behold, I am your servant!” he cried out, consumed by terror.

But the king was not stern at all. He had no desire to harm Mephibosheth; instead, he wished to honour him. For him there would be no grim dungeon or executioner’s sword. Instead, for the very sake of those whose connection should have been his death warrant (namely his father and grandfather), he was to receive great honour. The property of his family was restored to him, along with servants to till the land for him, and he was to eat at the king’s table all the days of his life. His eyes, which had remained dry from his determination to hide his fear, now overflowed with tears of wonder. “Who am I that you should show me such kindness?”
 He went forth in gladness, his fears stilled forever. But there was a new question in his heart. What kind of king treats his enemy as a son, and calls him to come and sit with him at his own table?

Monday, November 09, 2015

The Sword

She did not know what the old man meant. Not really. Not then. But for the past nine months she had been walking through a thickness of miracles, wading so deep at times that she could scarcely manage breathing, so she knew better than to ignore what she was told. In one sense she was walking the path of everywoman, bearing a child in pain and fear, then loving it so deeply that she feared it would break her, carrying always in her mind, as closely as she held the child who, only a few days earlier had been part of her very flesh --  yes, THAT close! – the knowledge of the frailty of life, the fragility of that tiny thread of breath that raised and lowered the tiny chest. But, in another sense, she was walking a path no other woman before or since had trod. Only a few other women had ever had their child’s birth foretold by an angel (and none with such astounding promises). No other woman had borne her child in a virgin womb, no other woman’s child had been greeted at birth with a sky massed with exultant angels. It was a lot to take in.

So, like the words the angel had spoken, these words, too, were tucked away to be considered later when their meaning was made plain. But they were disturbing words to be told in the midst of her joy: “… and a sword will pierce your own heart too.” She could only repeat, in her heart, the words of her reply to the angel, the words that were her only guideline for the strange path that lay ahead: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

There were pains along the way. There was the pain of their flight to Egypt, leaving everything familiar behind. There was the pain of losing him that time in Jerusalem (and his response still filled her with discomfort when she thought of it). There was the pain of his leaving home to go forth in ministry, a ministry she still did not wholly understand. There was the pain of watching him make enemies of the very men, the religious elite of Israel, who should have been his sponsors. And there was the bewilderment of seeing him alienating his followers, reducing their numbers rather than increasing them.

Then came the terrible day when the sword was unsheathed. It was a sword that looked like a barbarous crown of twisted thorns. It was a sword that looked like those long, cruel, murderous spikes that the Roman soldiers called nails, and drove wickedly through his hands and feet. It was a sword that looked like the terrifying darkness that hid the daylight while he died: her desolation made universal. And it was a sword that looked like the long spear that was thrust to confirm his death, and the great, bitter stone that was rolled across his tomb. And she stood there, and she watched it all in a pain beyond all weeping, in a place where it seemed the angels would never sing again
 She did not know until the Sunday that there was a greater song to be sung, and a glory that would flood through every gaping hole where the sword had wounded her so deeply.