WEEK 10 — March 11, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
MOTHERS

 

week 10

 

The Tenth Christmas

 

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong.
Luke 2:39-40a

“The Hidden Years”: That’s the name some people give to the first thirty years in the earthly life of Jesus our Lord and Savior.

We know a great deal about events surrounding his birth. We know a great deal about events surrounding his death. We know a great deal about the three years leading up to the cross and the empty tomb. Other than that, . . . we really know very little about the life of Jesus.

Only once in those thirty years does Scripture lift the veil and let us see Jesus as a boy. This, of course, is the well-known story about the trip to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve, as related in Luke 2:41-52. Other than that, . . . silence.

Pious imagination has long been at work, trying to fill in the gaps. One ancient story tries to tell us that when Jesus and his playmates were making toy birds out of clay, the little birds made by Jesus sprouted feathers and flew up into the sky. That sounds to me more like a fairy tale than it sounds like the childhood of our Lord. Many other legends about the Boy of Nazareth seem equally fanciful.

Yet . . . human curiosity still longs to know more about “The Hidden Years.”

What was Jesus really like as a boy? We know he did not live a pampered life: In adulthood he was known as “the carpenter.” We also know he did not live a solitary life: Christians have differing ideas as to the exact meaning of Biblical references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters, yet all agree that he grew up in a family setting.

Ten years after the birth of Jesus, what did Mary most remember about that extraordinary event? When Jesus was a ten-year-old, to what extent could Mary see anything unusual about her firstborn son? Remember, at the time of “The Tenth Christmas,” it was still two years before the boy Jesus would linger with the teachers in the Temple; it was still twenty years before the man Jesus would begin his public ministry of preaching and teaching and healing.

The Bible tells us that Mary was a thoughtful person; she “treasured” things and “pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). The Bible also tells us that Mary was specifically warned, in connection with the young Jesus, that a sword would pierce her to the very soul (Luke 2:35).

What follows is not just another fanciful legend, trying to fill in the gaps that Scripture has left in “The Hidden Years.” Rather, it is a Bible-based poetic meditation, reverently wondering what might have been going through Mary’s mind when Jesus reached his tenth birthday.

                    “My, how tall he’s grown!”
Mary stood and watched him lift
a block of cedar, idly thrown
beside the bench. How strong, how swift
his sun-browned arms, his sturdy hands!
How quick when Joseph gave commands!

                    “Soon he’ll be a man.”
Mary wondered where he went . . .
that tiny Babe whose life began
in stable for her chamber lent.
Not long ago? Ten years, ten years
of pondered hopes and piercing fears.

                    “Not a Babe today.”
Mary smiled to see him run —
half boy, half man, half work, half play,
his shadow stretching in the sun
past chasing playmates, teasing friends,
past saw and plane and ox-yoke ends.

                    “What will come of him?”
Mary slowly shook her head.
The memories would never dim:
The shy young shepherd by her bed,
the myrrh, the kneeling noblemen,
the Egypt road and home again.

                    “Father, use my Son!”
Mary wiped her eyes, her cheek.
Had his work for God begun?
How to know it? Where to seek?
Only God sent grief and joy.
Only God could guide her Boy.

O Lord, help all of us as parents who believe in You today to realize what Mary had to realize long ago: The future of our children lies in Your hands, not in ours. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 9 — March 4, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
MOTHERS

 

week 9

 

Dr. Luke Interviews Mary

 

Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. . . . His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Luke 2:19, 51b

How do you suppose Dr. Luke met Mary the mother of Jesus?

We’re virtually certain they must have met, because Luke’s Gospel gives us many details about the early life of Jesus that are found nowhere else in Scripture. Apparently Luke never met Jesus in the flesh. From whom, then, did he get his information? Who but a member of Jesus’ earthly family? And who would have known more about it than Jesus’ mother?

If we needed a “smoking gun” as circumstantial evidence to strengthen our belief that Dr. Luke must have interviewed Mary, then the two verses quoted above virtually give it. Luke 2:19 and Luke 2:51 are almost like ancient footnotes, in which the writer of the Third Gospel carefully documents his sources.

So the question arises once again: Where did they meet – this urbane Gentile physician and this uneducated Jewish woman from rural Galilee?

On the cross Jesus entrusted the care of his mother to “the beloved disciple,” who is generally believed to have been John Son of Zebedee. Strong tradition places the Apostle John’s later life at Ephesus, that great Greco-Roman city in western Asia Minor. If John indeed lived there, then did Mary live there as well?

Tourists in today’s Turkey are shown a place near the ruins of Ephesus which is alleged to be Mary’s home. Historical proof for this identification is well-nigh non-existent, yet the possibilities are intriguing.

Dr. Luke most probably went to Ephesus. The use of the pronoun “we” in Acts 20:13-16 proves that he at least got as close to it as Miletus, where Luke’s traveling companion, Paul, had arranged a meeting with the elders of the Ephesian congregation. If Paul could have arranged to meet the Ephesian elders, isn’t it likely that Luke could have arranged to meet one of the oldest and most respected members of the Ephesian church?

However it may have happened, we can thank God that it did. Humanly speaking, if Dr. Luke had never interviewed Mary, we might never have known about the stirring events that surrounded the birth of Jesus. We might not have had the one priceless story from Jesus’ boyhood which is related in Luke 2:41-52.

Luke must have been a remarkable individual. To grasp the measure of his uniqueness, see also “Women Tend to Trust the Doctor” (week 77 of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS). In imagination the following Bible-based poetic meditation takes us inside the mind and memory of that sensitive physician/writer, as he tells us how he got those blessed details we love to read again – every year at Christmas time, and other times as well.

Being a physician gives me insight into life;
people share their thoughts with me,                                                                                          their times of pain and strife.
Maybe this is why I thought to take my quill in hand,
writing down the story so that all may understand.

Mary knew some things that no one else had heard about,
facts of Jesus’ early life before he moved about,
ere the wondering world had seen how wonderful was He;
no one else had guessed the blessed secret: Only she.

Mary was no longer young, but yet her mind was keen;
readily she told me all that she had heard and seen:
Fears before the Baby came, great hardships at his birth,
shepherds sharing angel songs that told of peace on earth.

Then she told of going to Jerusalem one year,
searching for a missing Boy with mingled hope and fear.
Carefully I marked it down to make the scroll complete,
writing for the centuries the memories ever sweet.

Thank you, God, for Dr. Luke and all the rest of those who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write down the stories of Jesus, so that we can still read and hear and sing and treasure them today. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 8 — February 25, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
MOTHERS

 

week 8

 

 

Hephzibah, King Manasseh’s Mother

 

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for fifty-five years. . . . His mother’s name was Hephzibah. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.
2 Kings 21:1-2a

 When I was a child, it was not uncommon for a girl, a church, or a Bible class to be named “Beulah.” In Sunday School we used to sing an old-fashioned hymn about “Dwelling in Beulah Land.” The Scriptural source for that quaintly archaic name is Isaiah 62:4, a prophetic word about the holy city of Jerusalem:

“No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.”

Footnotes at the bottom of the page in my Bible confirm that “Beulah” means “married,” while “Hephzibah” means “My delight is in her.” There used to be girls in God-fearing families named Hephzibah, too, sometimes even churches and Bible classes as well. Yet in all of the Bible there was only one person named Hephzibah. She was a queen, the wife of King Hezekiah.

Hezekiah was one of the best kings who ever reigned in Jerusalem. In fact the Bible says that “There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him” (2 Kings 18:5b). Married to such a praiseworthy ruler, Queen Hephzibah must have been an admirable Bible character as well.

And yet . . . the son of Hezekiah and Hephzibah was none other than Manasseh, who turned out to be the worst king of them all.

How could such a thing come to be?

Why do bad children happen to good parents?

In our own extended family we used to puzzle over that. Cousin Baker and Cousin Mattie were two of the loveliest Christians I ever knew. Cousin Baker faithfully served as Sunday School superintendent; Cousin Mattie taught a class and played the organ.

This devoted Christian couple had two sons. Oh, they didn’t turn out as bad as King Manasseh did: As a matter of fact they weren’t bad at all, . . . just idle and careless. Each of them lived a long life, yet neither of them made much of a contribution to society in general, let alone to the cause of Christ.

Why did it happen? How did it happen?

In the case of King Hezekiah and Queen Hephzibah, the Bible gives us a couple of tantalizing clues. A comparison of dates and ages shows that Hezekiah was already 42 years old before Manasseh was born. Had he and Hephzibah been hoping and yearning many long years for a boy? When their prayers were finally answered, did they lavish too much love on their only son and heir?

To find another clue, we must turn to another source, for the book of 2 Kings doesn’t mention it at all. According to 2 Chronicles 33:10-20, King Manasseh in his later years fell on hard times. Because of this, he finally turned back to God.

Do you suppose that as long as she lived, Queen Hephzibah kept on praying for her son’s repentance and return? (I’m sure Cousin Mattie did so for her two.)

Probably you too have known some godly mother who has agonized over an ungodly son. Think about her – along with Queen Hephzibah – as you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation:

Perhaps we should have named him something different.
A name can make a difference, so they say.
We chose a noble name, a son of Joseph’s:
We said “Manasseh!” on his naming day.

Perhaps we spoiled him; he was long awaited.
King Hezekiah thought he’d have no heir.
For seventeen long years he reigned in sadness,
his childlessness a curse he had to bear.

Perhaps we showed the boy too much attention;
we praised him overmuch, indulged each whim,
surrounded him with all that makes life easy;
we never reckoned what this did to him.

Perhaps we pushed too hard to make him pious.
King Hezekiah loved and honored God,
but young Manasseh turned away from God-talk:
He laughed and said, “Religion’s rather odd!”

Perhaps we should have foreknown what would happen,
once young Manasseh mounted to the throne:
He desecrated holy halls of worship;
he honored foreign gods above our own.

Perhaps the Lord must chasten him severely
before he’ll see the folly of his way.
Perhaps one day he’ll turn his back on evil.
I pray that I may live to see the day!

O Lord, have mercy on all the erring sons and anxious mothers in our world today! In the name of Him who was both Son of God and son of Mary. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 7 — February 18, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
MOTHERS

 

week 7

 

The Crown Prince’s Mother :  King Jeroboam’s Wife

 

“When you set foot in your city, the boy will die. All Israel will mourn for him . . . . He is the only one in the house of Jeroboam in whom the Lord, the God of Israel, has found anything good.”
1 Kings 14:12b-13a, 13c

The Bible mentions briefly many characters whose stories can stick in your memory, even though we’re not even told their names. One such person is the wife of King Jeroboam.

The Bible tells us that Jeroboam was a man of great ability; that’s why Solomon appointed him as head of a large labor force. But when Solomon heard about the prediction of Ahijah the Prophet that Jeroboam would also become king someday, Jeroboam had to run for his life to Egypt. Once Solomon was dead, Jeroboam returned to lead a liberation movement among the ten northern tribes.

Who was King Jeroboam’s wife? The Bible doesn’t tell us. She must not have been particularly outstanding for piety or purity, if the verse quoted above is to be believed: There was only one person in the whole house of Jeroboam “in whom the Lord . . . found anything good,” and she wasn’t the one.

Yet it’s hard to read the story related in 1 Kings chapter 14 without feeling a twinge of sympathy for King Jeroboam’s wife. She had borne Jeroboam a son, a crown prince whom they had piously named Abijah, “The Lord Is My Father.” But then young Prince Abijah had fallen ill.

More than one Scriptural account pictures King Jeroboam as a devious man. Rather than straightforwardly asking for an oracle from Ahijah the Prophet, he told his wife to go in disguise, taking with her gifts of bread, cakes, and honey. Perhaps Jeroboam suspected that the prophetic message would not be promising if Ahijah knew from whose family the inquiry had come.

But all attempts at deception and subterfuge failed. Ahijah was already old and blind; yet he knew who King Jeroboam’s wife was and why she had come.

Can you imagine a mother’s heartbreak at being told that her beloved young son will die? Some mothers meet that shattering experience in an emergency room, some in a doctor’s office. King Jeroboam’s wife experienced it at the house of Ahijah the Prophet.

Can you imagine with what dread the crown prince’s mother made her way back toward the royal palace at Tirzah? The prophet had said her son would die when she entered the city. Yet – how could she stay away, when her boy lay ill, waiting for his mother to return?

Ahijah’s dark prediction came true to the letter. Young Prince Abijah, the only godly member of his family, died before his mother could see his living face again.

Numbers 14:18 tells us that God sometimes “punishes the children for the sin of the fathers.” That was true in the days of King Jeroboam and his wife. It is still true today.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation has been worded as if being spoken by the mother of the doomed young prince. Read it in an attitude of prayer:

We named him “The Lord Is My Father,”
Abijah, our firstborn, our joy,
the crown prince, delight of our household,
a gentle and good-natured boy.

Of course I, his mother, would say that.
But others? They loved him as well.
And King Jeroboam adored him
more dearly than mere words can tell.

One day Prince Abijah felt sickish;
the next day he took to his bed;
the next, he was burning with fever
and hardly could lift up his head.

My husband said, “Find the old prophet.
Disguise yourself. Ask him to tell
what future days hold for our family,
and when our dear son will be well.”

By now the old prophet was sightless,
but yet he saw through my disguise.
“Your husband’s whole family will perish!”
he thundered. “Yes, everyone dies!”

I thought of Abijah, and trembled.
That fearsome old man shook his head:
“Your boy is the best of the family,
but what of that? Soon he’ll be dead.”

I hurried back home. It was useless:
He died as I walked in the door.
A proverb: “Long life goes with goodness.”
I don’t believe that any more.

O Heavenly Father, raise up more strong and godly parents in our present-day world! Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 6 — February 11, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
MOTHERS

 

week 6

 

“I’ve Lost Three Sons,” Bathsheba Mourns

 

The child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David . . . became ill. . . . On the seventh day the child died. . . . Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon.
2 Samuel 12:15b, 18a, 24ab

Bathsheba is one of the most unlikely people to have ever been included in the human genealogy of Christ Jesus our Lord. Immodest, adulterous, scheming, she was hardly an admirable character. Yet God used her in his long purpose.

In preparing this series of Bible-based meditations, I wasn’t sure whether to put Bathsheba in the section subtitled “Mothers” or in the section subtitled “Enterprising Women.”

Certainly she was enterprising. There was no excuse for King David’s spying on a married woman and then taking the wife and murdering the husband. Yet the age-old narrative drops a few hints that Bathsheba may have borne some of the blame as well.

In the first place, why was she bathing at such a place and time and in such a manner that a peeping Tom could easily gloat over her beauty? Also, that part of the ancient chronicle which describes the king’s amorous ploy seems to change the subject in the middle of a sentence. Yes, David sent for Bathsheba, . . . but the record also states that Bathsheba went to David – not that she was brought to him by force.

Many years later, when David had grown weak and senile, there are strong indications that Bathsheba plotted with Nathan the Prophet to make sure her son Solomon would succeed to the throne. And after David was dead, she plotted with another royal son in hopes of helping Prince Adonijah achieve his heart’s desire.

If Bathsheba was indeed an enterprising woman, perhaps even a designing woman or a scheming woman, then she paid bitterly for her questionable deeds. Her firstborn son, conceived out of lust and adultery, died as Nathan prophesied he would.

Then she bore young Prince Solomon, and life must have seemed good again. Once the new king had been crowned, he treated his mother with great deference and honor. When she would ask to speak with him, he would have a second throne set up beside his own.

But then, . . . when Solomon in all his glory was reigning as king of Israel, to her horror Bathsheba discovered an aspect of her son’s character that must have chilled her to the bone. Prince Adonijah had asked her to do him a favor. She may have been quite innocent in passing along his petition, but she was extremely unwise in doing so. For King Solomon’s response was savage: Far from humoring his mother’s request, he condemned his own half brother to death. (Read 1 Kings 2:13-25, if you’ve forgotten the details of this rather sordid story.)

That is the context in which the following Scriptural meditation has been put into the mouth of Bathsheba. She may well have felt that it was not just one son she had lost: It was three.

How much do you suppose she blamed herself for the multiplied sorrows of her later years?

How many other mothers do you suppose there are, who have lost their sons in life as well as in death?

“I’ve lost three sons,” Bathsheba mourns.
           “One son in life, two sons in death.
            In sorrow now I draw my breath.
A bitter bloom my crown adorns.

“My first loss? O, that child of lust,
           conceived in stealth, concealed by lies.
           Ah! All too soon my baby dies,
as Nathan prophesies he must.

“My second? Not my child in truth,
           yet dear as any son to me.
          I spoke for him: The king’s decree
then struck him down in vibrant youth.

“My third – how can it be expressed?
           This tyrant king, who deals out death,
          once drew his halting infant breath
while cuddled close upon my breast!”

Spare us, dear Lord, from losing our children either in life or in death. Teach us how to show compassion for parents who suffer such bitter losses. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 5 — February 4, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
MOTHERS

 

week 5

 

Hannah’s Hopes

In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord. And she made a vow, saying, “O Lord Almighty, if you will look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.”
1 Samuel 1:10-11abcd

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the proper definition of marriage. Some people say it should be restricted to one man and one woman. Others are vociferous in demanding a wider definition.

How about one man and two women? Would that be an acceptable definition of marriage in today’s atmosphere that prides itself on tolerance and diversity?

Some people have tried to justify polygamy by the frequent mention of it in the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet the Bible plainly shows again and again that polygamy breeds strife:

• Remember Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.

• Remember Jacob, Leah, and Rachel.

• Remember Gideon, whose legitimate sons were slaughtered by the child of his mistress.

• Remember King David, whose jealous children by different mothers committed incestuous rape and murder.

• Remember King Solomon, whose many wives “led him astray . . . and turned his heart after other gods” (1 Kings 11:3b, 4b).

So it was also with Elkanah, Peninnah, and Hannah. Apparently all three of them were good people, pious people. Year after year all three of them went to observe the sacred feast at Shiloh, that ancient shrine of the Lord God of Israel. Yet those annual visits brought nothing but bitterness to Hannah. Each time Elkanah doled out more of the sacrificial meal to Peninnah than to Hannah, she was reminded that her co-wife had children while she had none.

Surely you know the story; it was one of the earliest Bible stories I ever remember being told to me by my parents. Yet not every aspect of that story is appropriate for childish ears.

After Samuel was brought to old Eli the Priest at the shrine in Shiloh, the boy’s life there might not have been all sweetness and light. The inspired account is frank in stating that Eli’s sons, who also served actively as priests, were dishonest and immoral men. Surely Hannah must have worried about their influence on her vulnerable young son. Surely she must have questioned Samuel closely when she brought him his newly-stitched robe each year.

What did Hannah hope for Samuel? Do you suppose she ever dared to hope that he would become a seer and a king-maker among the people of God?

I lived in hope for many years —
      hoped for a son so long,
my hopes were almost choked by fears:
      Was hoping somehow wrong?

In desperation then I made
      a bargain with the Lord.
“Give me a son!” I glibly prayed,
      “and I will keep my word:

“That son I’ll surely consecrate
      in service at your shrine.”
In hope I settled down to wait
      for one who would be mine.

Be mine? Ah, only for awhile,
      and then be sent away.
Through tears I tried to shape a smile
      to leave with him that day.

And now in hope I live again.
      I hope from year to year,
my son, while living with those men,
      will keep his conscience clear.

I hope the robe I’ll make for him
      will fit his growing frame.
He grows so tall, so strong and slim;
      he’s never still the same.

All mothers live in hopes, perhaps,
      of what the future brings:
The lads we dance upon our laps
      may consecrate new kings!

Bless, O Lord, all mothers and fathers who live in hopes. Bring their hopes to glad fruition in accordance with your will. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 4 — January 28, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
MOTHERS

 

week 4

 

Old Sarah Reminisces

 

Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?” Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.”
Genesis 18:12-14

I’ve known a few people for whom childlessness was a choice. I’ve known many more for whom childlessness was a curse . . . or to say the least, a great disappointment.

One of my sisters did not conceive as quickly as some young married women do. I remember her speaking feelingly of meeting old classmates with their babies who pointedly asked, “And what’s the matter with you, Mary Frances?” Later on my sister was blessed with four children, many grandchildren, even great-grandchildren.

Yet not all would-be mothers are so blessed: Some of them go through life without ever bearing a child, perhaps without ever conceiving. How often do you think they must feel out of place among women who talk of teething and diapers, of school lunches and field trips?

Sarah must have known that kind of heartbreak – many times, through the years and even through the decades. She tried to find surrogate sons: first her husband’s nephew, then the child of her maidservant. But nothing could fill the void in her life.

However we may interpret the number of years stated in the Book of Genesis for the ages of Sarai/Sarah and of her husband Abram/Abraham, it is clear that Sarah considered herself to be, and others also considered her to be, well past the age of childbearing.

My wife had only one brother, 18 months older, and only one sister, 18 years younger. What a surprise that younger sister was . . . and how much joy and excitement she has brought into our family!

Old Sarah must have felt something of that same kind of disbelieving joy when she laughed at the prophetic words saying that she would finally bear a son. Reread the story in chapters 16, 17, 18, and 21 of Genesis. Then as you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation, recall the searching question posed in Genesis 18:14: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Haran, my Abram’s brother,
died young but left an heir.
I’d borne Abram no other;
we took Lot in our care.
I looked at Lot with longing;
I wished he were my son.
(The memories come thronging
when life is nearly done.)

Each time I’d see a baby,
I’d feel new hope, new joy:
Next year, next season, maybe
I too would nurse a boy.
It’s hard when human hope fades
as years pass one by one.
The years stretched into decades, . . .
and still I had no son.

At first I thought my handmaid
could take my place in bed;
the child she bore would be laid
upon my lap instead.
And yet . . . should Hagar’s offspring
usurp the place of mine?
That’s why I sent her wandering;
she’ll not spawn Abram’s line!

Strange visitors seemed certain
that I would bear a child.
I laughed behind the curtain
at prophecies so wild.
But now . . . it seems I’m feeling
a stirring in my womb.
Is God at last revealing
from barren soil a bloom?

Suit a special blessing, O Lord, both to parents and to those who are childless. Help all of us to know that each one of us can be included in the family of faith. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 3 — January 21, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SINGLES

 

week 3

 

Eighteen Weary Years: The Little Old Lady

 

“Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the sabbath day from what bound her?” Luke 13:10

 

The Bible does not use the words “little” or “old” in describing a certain woman whom Jesus healed on a never-to-be-forgotten sabbath day. The Bible does tell us (in Luke 13:11) that the woman had been bent over for 18 years and was unable to stand up straight. Whatever her stature might originally have been, this long-term condition in itself would surely have made her look “little” in comparison to others. As to “old,” she could hardly have been a dewy-eyed maiden if she had already suffered such an affliction for nearly two decades.

There are other reasons for using “The Little Old Lady” as the title above. Robbie Trent, a friend and mentor who has long since gone to be with the Lord, once wrote a children’s book based on the healing described in Luke chapter 13, and she entitled it The Little Old Lady.

And then there’s Annabel, who for many years was a member of our church. Annabel is badly bent over from osteoporosis. She has to make a special effort to look you in the face. Yet she makes that effort often, for she was one of the brightest and most cheerful of all those we would meet on a Sunday morning. Far advanced in years, Annabel still has a keen mind. In our small group we used to delight in hearing her prayers – for our missionary son, among many others.

The Scriptural story of the woman who had been bent over for 18 weary years also brings to mind another story: The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas, popular reading for Christians of an earlier generation. One of the characters in this novel is a young woman, a radiant believer whom Jesus has healed. The interesting thing is, he didn’t heal her twisted body, but rather, her soul and spirit that had become twisted with bitterness and self-pity.

Divine healing can take many forms. It is not always complete. In our own day Joni Eareckson Tada has not experienced physical healing, yet the Lord has blessed her and blessed many others through her.

Why are some people healed from physical ailments and others aren’t? I don’t know, . . . but in the case of the little old lady who had been bent over for 18 weary years, there are several clues:

• Jesus met her at a worship service. Despite her physical infirmity, she still made the effort to join in with God’s People at God’s House.

• Once she had been healed, the little old lady immediately praised God.

• This remarkable healing provided a teachable moment, when Jesus could explain that people are always more important than rules. If you’ve forgotten that part of the story, read Luke 13:14-17.

Now prayerfully read the following Scriptural meditation . . . and think about the little old ladies whom you may know:

Eighteen weary years . . .
    Never standing straight,
       bent into a round,
          dragging crippled weight,
             eyes turned toward the ground.

Eighteen weary years . . .
    Always looking down.
       All along the street,
          all around the town,
             all I see is feet.

Eighteen weary years . . .
    Many a weary mile.
       Never once have I
          seen a friendly smile,
               seen the wide blue sky.

Eighteen weary years . . .
Days and seasons wane.
       Yet I never change —
          body bent in pain;
             does it not seem strange?

Eighteen weary years . . .
    Sabbaths come and go.
       To the house of prayer
          tottering I go,
             seeking comfort there.

Eighteen weary years . . .
    Now I hear a Voice:
       “Woman, you are free!
          Praise God and rejoice!
             Lift your eyes and see!”

Eighteen weary years . . .
    Now I celebrate:
       “Neighbors, look at me!
          See? I’m standing straight!
             Jesus set me free!”

O Great Physician, we thank you for this healing; O Master Teacher, we thank you for the teaching it brought forth. Heal us, we pray, and teach us how to be channels of healing for others in the family of faith. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 2 — January 14, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SINGLES

 

week 2

 

“Fire in My Bones!” : Jeremiah the Prophet

Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.
Jeremiah 20:8-9

Jeremiah the Prophet may not have been a physical ancestor of Jesus of Nazareth, but he was surely a spiritual ancestor. When Jesus asked his disciples to tell him who the crowds thought he was, the disciples named three prophets of the past. All three of them had rather fiery personalities: Elijah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist.

Too easily we over-emphasize the sweet side of Jesus: “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” Yes, he was all of these. Yet he was also the one who said, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49). That sounds like something Jeremiah might have said.

Spiritual descendants were actually the only kind Jeremiah ever had: God specifically forbade him to marry or have children (Jeremiah 16:1-2). That’s why the fiery prophet has been included along with other “Singles” in this section of MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS.

The Book of Jeremiah is one of the most interesting parts of the Bible. It contains many personal anecdotes, many gripping narratives. Yet it is sometimes passed over in our Bible reading because it is not arranged in chronological order. Sometimes it’s hard to be sure what’s going on, because time and place and circumstance seem to skip around from chapter to chapter.

The Bible-based meditation that follows has deliberately been written with robust, rolling rhythms like an old-time ballad. It seeks to pull together several of the striking events in the life of Jeremiah. As you read, note how strongly Jeremiah stood up for the Lord and for the Lord’s message — even when that message was unpleasant to hear, even when people persisted in punishing the messenger. (Remember that not everything our Lord Jesus said was pleasant to hear, either; nor was it always peacefully received.)

After reading this Bible-based poetic meditation, maybe you’ll be ready to get out a commentary or other aid to Bible study so that you can re-read the Book of Jeremiah itself with clearer understanding. (If you wish to read in order the parts of Jeremiah on which this meditation has been based, here is a list of chapter and verse references: Jeremiah 20:7-9; 1:4-6; 1:17-19; 1:7-10; 20:1-6; 38:1-6; 36:17-23; 36:4-8; 36:17-23; 11:19-23; 38:14-28; 38:1-6; 38:7-13; 20:7.)

Fire in my bones!
Fire in my bones!
God’s message burns like a fire in my bones.
Priests in their pride,
kings on their thrones,
none can extinguish the fire in my bones!

Called in my youth! Called to speak truth!
How can I speak when I’m only a youth?
When first I heard
God’s burning word,
God said, “Be bold! You will trumpet my truth!”

God’s hand reached out and put words on my tongue.
I could not speak them, for I was too young.
“That’s no excuse!” cried the voice of the Lord.
“Go where I send you! Speak boldly my word!”

Priests tried to silence me. Thrown in the stocks,
beaten and sore, my feet fastened with locks,
still I delivered the warning I’d heard:
“Death and destruction for spurning God’s word!”

Everyone mocks! Locked in the stocks!
Why be a prophet when everyone mocks?
Yet still I heard
God’s burning word:
“Speak what I say, even there in the stocks!”

Once when the king gave my enemies leave,
down in a mud-hole they left me to grieve.
Once when my words were inscribed on a scroll,
would the king heed? No, he burned up the roll.

Shut in my house! Trapped like a mouse!
I’ll send Baruch in my place to God’s House.
Still the Lord’s word
burns to be heard,
though burnt to ash by the king in his house.

Even the priests of my own native town
plotted to kill me, but I faced them down.
Once the king quizzed me in secret. I pled,
“How can I hide what the Lord God has said?”

Thrown in a pit! Left there to sit!
What is my wrong? What sin did I commit?
God’s burning word
still must be heard,
though muck and mire choke me down in this pit.

Saved by a slave! God can still save!
Pulled from the pit by the hands of a slave!
Still burns the word –
loud though unheard:
“Death and captivity! God will not save!”

Fire in my bones!
Fire in my bones!
God’s message burns like a fire in my bones.
Priests in their pride,
kings on their thrones,
none can extinguish the fire in my bones!

My loving Lord, if there is someone — in my own family or in the wider family of faith — whose fiery or uncomfortable words I need to hear, O give me the grace to listen! Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 1 — January 7, 2015

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
FAMILY and FRIENDS

 

week 1

 

From Such as These Christ Jesus Came

 

A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar . . . . David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.
Matthew 1:1-3a, 6

Through the years, through the centuries, Christians have struggled with the idea that Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully divine. Perhaps we’ve grown used to knowing or hearing about people who deny the divinity of Jesus. Yet historically speaking, an equally hurtful heresy has been to deny the humanity of Jesus. Even in New Testament times there were those who denied “that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2-3).

How could it be that the eternal Word, the incarnate Son of God, the Savior of the world, could also have become a fully functional human being? We shrink back from thinking that Jesus knew all the struggles, all the ordinary things, all the daily drabness that we experience. How can we hold steadily in our minds the blessed truth that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine?

One way to do this is to turn now and then to the Book of Hebrews and remind ourselves that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Another way to do this is to make a careful study of Jesus’ earthly ancestry.

The first chapter of the first book in the Bible begins with the magnificent sweep of creation. The first chapter of the first book in the New Testament begins with a list of names – a genealogy, a family tree.

Who were Jesus’ ancestors, humanly speaking? What kind of people were they? If we could have known them personally, would we have judged that all of them were worthy to be included in the human heredity of our Lord and Savior?

Many of Jesus’ ancestors were indeed good people, . . . but they weren’t all good, and even the better ones weren’t good all the time. Many of them did and said things that seem strangely out of character with the Sinless One who would become their earthly descendant. Some of them broke one or more of the Ten Commandments – even “You shall not commit murder” and “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:13-14).

A variant version of Jesus’ family tree is given in the third chapter of Luke’s Gospel, and it traces his genealogy all the way back to Adam. Is this intended as a way of linking Jesus with the entire human race? Do you find it hard to think of our gentle and loving Lord Jesus as being related to Attila the Hun? to Tamerlane? to Adolf Hitler? to Joseph Stalin? to Osama bin Laden?

As you work your way through this series of Bible-based meditations, you will hear the voices of many of Jesus’ earthly ancestors. In addition you will hear the voices of other Bible characters, including several of Jesus’ contemporaries and several of his first followers (who were also his distant relatives, according to Luke’s genealogy). You may well be surprised to note many similarities with people of today. And you may well find these people to be people much like yourself. (Perhaps “For Such as These Christ Jesus Came” or “To Such as These Christ Jesus Came” would have made a good title for this devotional, too.)

Begin by reading the following poetic meditation about the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah considered as a group. Remind yourself that for your sake and mine, for your salvation and mine, the eternal Son of God was willing to become a human being, willing to live among other human beings, willing — like them and like us — to be bound by time and place.

From such as these Christ Jesus came:
             Abraham, Sarah,
                Isaac, Rebekah,
                   Jacob and Leah,
                      Tamar and Judah,
      Rahab and Ruth and great David the king,
      who toppled Goliath with brook-stone and sling:
             Monarchs and patriarchs, women of faith
             who loved God and trusted Him, faithful till death.

From such as these Christ Jesus came:
             Sarah and Abraham, tellers of lies;
             blind Isaac got an unwelcome surprise:
                 Rebekah and Jacob kept from him the truth;
                 Rahab, a prostitute; and then there was Ruth,
                       native of Moab, where idols were known;
                       David, who waded through blood to the throne,
                       killed a man, took the man’s wife as his own;

Leah and Tamar got husbands by stealth;
Jacob by trickery built up his wealth;
             Judah first plotted to kill his own brother,
             then to enslave him; that’s worse than the other.

From such as these Christ Jesus came:
who knew no sin, yet suffered shame
             to save all folk of sinful birth —
             all born, like him, on sinful earth.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for making Jesus “who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas

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