Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sitting Around, Going Nowhere

Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die?”

                        2 Kings 7.3

State of Siege

The Israelites are in a state of siege. Enemies camp outside their walls and block their food supply. Their leaders have no reliable means to overtake the enemy, nor are they inclined to broach a peaceful compromise. Walls they built for protection now imprison them. Dwindling stockpiles bring on malaise—a sort of Death Row mentality that transforms a once vibrant community of faith into listless people sitting around, going nowhere.

God sends Elisha to tell the king the food shortage will end and markets at the city’s gate will reopen in 24 hours. The king’s most trusted advisor questions this. “Look,” he says, “even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?” He apparently believes God will provide for His people, raining down manna if necessary. It’s this business about the markets reopening in plain sight of the enemy that worries him. Elisha answers, “You will see it with your own eyes, but you won’t eat any of it!” The advisor’s faith falls short because he expects God to see the problem as he does, from the inside out. But there’s a new plan afoot. God intends to end this crisis from the outside in.

Stuck in the Middle

While Elisha speaks to the king, four lepers size up their situation. Religious law labels them as undesirable and bars them from the city. They hover at its gate, relying on charity from people who fear them. Without the market traffic, their income dries up. They’re stuck in the middle—lost between warring factions. Yet their isolation buys freedom. Nothing to lose gives them options. “Why stay here until we die?” they ask. Sitting around, going nowhere isn’t viable. They can go into the city, where there’s no food. But starving to death where you’re not wanted is no better than starving alone. Their best alternative is approaching the enemy. “If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die,” they reason.

As night falls, the lepers move out, unaware God is unleashing an uproar that sounds like an army of Israel’s allies riding to her aid. The enemy flees in panic and the lepers enter the camp to find plenty of food. Their first impulse is to hoard it, but then they say, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we’re keeping it to ourselves.” Armed with their astounding discovery, they’re welcomed in a city that once banished them. The markets reopen the next morning. One final irony: the skeptical advisor lives to see God’s promise fulfilled yet, as Elisha predicted, he doesn't taste God's provision. Crowds rushing to plunder the enemy camp trample him to death.

Exercising Options

GLBT Christians and other ostracized believers can strongly identify with the four men. Exclusionary religious laws force us to sit outside the gates, depending on the kindness of conscientious, courageous people. Meanwhile, the church is under siege, trapped by walls of self-righteousness and bigotry allegedly erected for its protection. It’s cut itself off from the world and the exchange of ideas it needs for nourishment. Stranded in no man’s land, we starve. But, like the lepers, rejection blesses us with options. We should exercise them.

Rather than hover at gates that won’t open for us, by faith we move out in search of spiritual sustenance. Our Father safely leads us to provision. Finding there’s more than enough, we say, “This is a day of good news and it’s not right to keep it to ourselves.” Millions of our brothers and sisters sit locked inside traditions and taboos, slowly dying of spiritual starvation. Their leaders expect God to look at the church’s turmoil like they see it, from the inside out. But there’s a new plan afoot. It may be that God intends to end this crisis from the outside in—and we may be the ones He uses to make it happen. We can’t sit around and go nowhere, hoping the standoff will end soon. We can’t sit here until we—and countless others—die.

Why sit at the gates until we die, when we can move out on faith in search of spiritual sustenance? And when we find it, why not take the word back to countless other starving souls?

(Tomorrow: Giving and Gathering)


Leonardo Ricardo said...

Thank you.

Border Explorer said...

You've put a powerful exegesis on that passage. Thanks.

Tim said...

Leonardo & BE, thanks for your kindness.

I really wrestled with this one and posted it with some reluctance, thinking it wasn't as clear on "paper" as it was in my head. Yet I couldn't shake the timeliness and feeling of urgency behind it. Your comments greatly ease my concern.

Blessings to you both.