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Ridiculous!

Commentary
The parable of the man who turns away the midnight caller? Ridiculous! The idea that God would find a way to restore a broken relationship with people who will not obey simple, life giving commands, is absurd. No. Ridiculous! The idea that someone would choose vain and empty philosophies and catch phrases after entering a relationship with the true and eternal God? Ridiculous!

Hosea 1:2-10
There’s something comforting about a story that follows a predictable course. We can relax and watch it play out. The standard for the romantic comedy is that a mismatched couple meets, it’s obvious they’re unsuitable for each other, and by the end of the show they’re standing hand in hand at the altar. Then there’s the mystery. A crime is committed, the trail seems to lead nowhere, but the detective spots a clue no one else sees, and soon the plot that seemed to be unraveling reweaves itself into a strong cord that ties together all the loose ends.

But when we’re watching something predictable and beginning to drowse on the couch a sudden plot twist can make us sit up in our seat and take notice! Suddenly the clues point to the detective. The mismatched couple is even more mismatched than we thought! Suddenly things get interesting.

The prophet Hosea proclaims the word of a Lord to a complacent people during the peaceful and prosperous time of Jereboam II. Who needs a prophet at a time like this? Who wants to hear that the Lord demands justice and mercy! The word of the Lord comes to Hosea to live out his proclamation. Marry a prostitute named Gomer (the name means Harlot), and have children named God Punishes, No Pity, and Not My People. Tell the people to prepare for doom.

Well, isn’t this just what Moses and Joshua told the people? Choose this day who you will serve? Serve the Lord and live! Disobey the Lord and die!

This is the drama we’re used to. Now whether this drama is real — that is, Hosea really gets married and gives his children these very odd names, or if this is a drama that he speaks aloud, but the prophet’s words point to an understanding of history in which the Lord is the faithful husband and God’s people are the faithless spouse. Kick her out. End of story.

Except woven throughout this drama is the Lord’s inability to forget the divine love for the people! The child Not My People will be renamed Children of the Living God.

Ridiculous! I know which way the drama is supposed to go. People get what they deserve!

Take a second look at the script. Those names don’t mean what we think they do. Jezreel, the first child, does not mean God Punishes or God Plans Destruction, but God Sows! God is sowing the seeds for a bountiful harvest. And Gomer may not mean Harlot, but Fulfillment. God’s plan for history will be fulfilled. We are Children of the Living God and despite the wayward paths of our growing pains, we will grow into the people we are meant to be because God is patient, loving, and kind.

Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
It’s not in the movie version, but the stage version of Godspell, a musical based on the Gospel of Matthew, begins with a number called “The Tower of Babel,” in which competing philosophers, secular and Christian, ancient and modern, explain the universe, competing verbally with each other and end up building a veritable towering pile of, well, babble!

Then, as a shofar blows, there sings a single clear voice — “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” Slow at first, and sung solo by one cast member, the number speeds up in tempo, and soon all have joined in, but the words do not change — a simple “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” In the midst of philosophical clutter, this simple message of the good news (and that’s what the old English word Godspell means) of Jesus the Christ!

The apostle’s letter to the Colossians is not addressing problems with the conduct of the Christian community — it deals with their struggle with competing philosophies, Pagan and Jewish, that has ensnared them — kidnapping them and carrying them off like captives, when they had been set free in Christ. References to “matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths (2:16)” may refer to those who want the believers to hold fast to certain interpretations of requirements in the Hebrew scriptures, much as in our day some Christians insist that their denominational practices are the only proper way to honor Jesus. References to “philosophy and empty deceit, …human tradition,” and “…elemental spirits (2:8)” may seem irrelevant to us since we no longer worship at the altars of pagan gods and are not Stoics, Epicureans, Dualists, and Gnostics, at least in name, but wisdom and insight that can be helpful is sometimes also placed on an equal footing with Christ.

Now maybe Christianity was a hard sell because of the outrageous nature of its proclamation. The Christ who is Lord is also the Jesus who was crucified. The most ridiculous thing is also the truth of the universe on which our hope is placed. There is a man stripped naked and nailed to a cross to die in agony and shame — and that’s our hope. That’s the source of life and light. It is outrageous, unbelievable, and true. But as we learn in Colossians, it is Christ, the crucified one, who nailed our former obligations, our debts, to the cross and in the process it was the powers and principalities that were stripped and made a public spectacle. It’s just the opposite of what it appears to the larger world.

The Roman world was ruled by the Roman Emperor, but there were many others with titles of lordship, like king and governor and procurator, and the like. The first century Christian outrageously believed that none of these held a candle to the real Lord, the crucified Jesus.

We have other allegiances as well, that are worthy of attention. Family, friendships, future, nation, humanity — ourselves for that matter. Maybe a club, an author, a television show, a sports team. Each of these may have a legitimate claim on our attention. But ridiculous as it sounds, Jesus Christ is Lord, and our political party, our partisanship, and our hobbies could take us captive if we’re not careful.

Luke 11:1-13
Sometime over the intervening centuries between Luke’s composition of his gospel and the time in the early seventeenth century the King James scholars cracked open their Greek New Testaments to translate Luke into English. Some nameless scribe realized that Luke’s shorter version of the Lord’s prayer did not match the longer version found in Matthew, and decided to correct the matter by figuratively cutting and pasting Matthew’s version into Luke. Or maybe the scribe was running on automatic and wrote out the longer version without thinking about it. Either way, the oldest manuscripts of Luke have the shorter version, and those much, much later have a version of the Lord’s Prayer that matches Matthew word for word.

So when mild mannered University of Chicago scholar Edgar J. Goodspeed published “The New Testament: An American Translation” in 1923, journalists accused him of “jazzing up” the Bible by shortening the Lord’s Prayer. In point of fact he was simply going back to the original manuscripts and restoring the version that Luke wrote.

What’s different? God is addressed as “Father” without the “Our.” The phrase “Who art in heaven” is omitted as is “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The prayer that we not be led into temptation is not followed by “but deliver us from evil.” Most interesting, however, is that Matthew’s language is literally economic. “Forgive us our debts.” Our sins are compared to economic debts, perhaps comparing them to the literal debts that are to be forgiven in the Jubilee Year. Luke’s is theological — “Forgive us our sins.”

So some medieval scholar decided to fix scripture because they couldn’t imagine Jesus might pray a prayer differently according to the occasion, but was somehow less divine for showing a little variety?

Well, if people would actually read their Bibles they wouldn’t say ridiculous things, but many who carry around that thick, heavy book and say, “My Bible says this,” or “My Bible says that” haven’t actually read the thing.

Wait, it gets better. And even more ridiculous. Because what the disciples might have been asking is, “How do we pray correctly so we get exactly what we want exactly when we want it?” Kind of like magic. Say the right words. Get the right result. That sounds ridiculous. But there are some Christians who believe they can control God by praying correctly.

When it comes to prayer and getting what we need (which can be a little different than what we want) we need to trust that God will answer. Jesus tells a little parable about a man with unexpected guests who bangs on the door of a neighbor because he needs to feed them, and this neighbor at first refuses. In many ancient and modern cultures an unexpected guest is a wonderful blessing. Not only would the host be delighted by the knock at midnight, but the neighbor would have been delighted to help! Those who first heard Jesus speak would have laughed at the ridiculous idea that someone would have told their neighbor to go away! And that a father would give snakes and scorpions instead of fish and eggs would have seemed just as ridiculous. This is funny stuff. So is the idea that God would fail to hear us and turn us away!

Maybe we’re the ridiculous ones, who think praying the right words gets us the right thing, while turning away God’s desire to reward us abundantly in this life with our grumpy insistence that it’s the wrong time and the wrong place. Pray for God’s will, and we’ll be blessed by greater things than what we planted in our Amazon wish list.
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