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Archive for January, 2020

A sermon delivered at Faith Church, Mansourieh, Lebanon

26 January 2020

 

If you begin to type into Google, ‘Are there snakes in Lebanon?’, the computer will complete the sentence for you by the time you get to the letter ‘L’.

That means lots of people have wanted to know the answer to that question.

But by the time you’ve arrived at the letter ‘e’ of ‘Lebanon’, Google will also show you that lots of people have asked ‘Are there snakes in Lesotho?’ and ‘Are there snakes in ‘Lefkada’?’ and ‘Are there snakes in…’ several state parks in my country that begin with the letter ‘L’.

Lots of people are afraid of snakes, it seems. I have an intense interest in natural ecosystems and have several bookshelves groaning under the weight of books about the birds, the animals, and the trees and plants in the places I have lived. But even I must confess that I share a fear of snakes.

One of the most fearful moments of my life occurred many years ago as I stood in the surf off a beach in Costa Rica, where I lived, with one of my two small boys in my arms. I watched in horror as my younger son—just a toddler—walked on the beach towards where I could see a snake moving about the sand. Johnny was surrounded by many adults who could have rescued him—and eventually did—but none of them was paying attention. I watched, terrified by what I was watching as though in slow motion from out in the sea, too far away to get anyone’s attention, fearing for the life of my little boy.

Let’s listen together as our brother Rabih reads our Bible passage for today, Isaiah 11.1-9. Listen carefully for good news about snakes.

وَيَخْرُجُ قَضِيبٌ مِنْ جِذْعِ يَسَّى، وَيَنْبُتُ غُصْنٌ مِنْ أُصُولِهِ،وَيَحُلُّ عَلَيْهِ رُوحُ ٱلرَّبِّ، رُوحُ ٱلْحِكْمَةِ وَٱلْفَهْمِ، رُوحُ ٱلْمَشُورَةِ وَٱلْقُوَّةِ، رُوحُ ٱلْمَعْرِفَةِ وَمَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ.وَلَذَّتُهُ تَكُونُ فِي مَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ، فَلاَ يَقْضِي بِحَسَبِ نَظَرِ عَيْنَيْهِ، وَلاَ يَحْكُمُ بِحَسَبِ سَمْعِ أُذُنَيْهِ،بَلْ يَقْضِي بِالْعَدْلِ لِلْمَسَاكِينِ، وَيَحْكُمُ بِالإِنْصَافِ لِبَائِسِي ٱلْأَرْضِ، وَيَضْرِبُ ٱلْأَرْضَ بِقَضِيبِ فَمِهِ، وَيُمِيتُ ٱلْمُنَافِقَ بِنَفْخَةِ شَفَتَيْهِ.وَيَكُونُ ٱلْبِرُّ مِنْطَقَهَ مَتْنَيْهِ، وَٱلْأَمَانَةُ مِنْطَقَةَ حَقْوَيْهِ.

فَيَسْكُنُ ٱلذِّئْبُ مَعَ ٱلْخَرُوفِ، وَيَرْبُضُ ٱلنَّمِرُ مَعَ ٱلْجَدْيِ، وَٱلْعِجْلُ وَٱلشِّبْلُ وَٱلْمُسَمَّنُ مَعًا، وَصَبِيٌّ صَغِيرٌ يَسُوقُهَا.وَٱلْبَقَرَةُ وَٱلدُّبَّةُ تَرْعَيَانِ. تَرْبُضُ أَوْلاَدُهُمَا مَعًا، وَٱلْأَسَدُ كَالْبَقَرِ يَأْكُلُ تِبْنًا.وَيَلْعَبُ ٱلرَّضِيعُ عَلَى سَرَبِ ٱلصِّلِّ، وَيَمُدُّ ٱلْفَطِيمُ يَدَهُ عَلَى جُحْرِ ٱلْأُفْعُوَانِ.لاَ يَسُوؤُونَ وَلاَ يُفْسِدُونَ فِي كُلِّ جَبَلِ قُدْسِي، لأَنَّ ٱلْأَرْضَ تَمْتَلِئُ مِنْ

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1–9 ESV)

Scripture presents Jesus to us in many ways.

Here, the Old Testament prophet, writing eight centuries before angels would announce Jesus’ birth, glimpses Jesus ahead of time.

Now I’m convinced that he doesn’t yet see Jesus with the clarity of those of us who are privileged to live on this side of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But he sees him, nonetheless.

The prophet sees Jesus as a ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots’. Did you hear that in verse 1 of Rabih’s reading?

Jesse was David’s father. David of course has been dead for two hundred years when the prophet writes these words. Worse yet, Isaiah knows that David’s royal line will very soon be cut off. What little remains of ancient Israel will be king-less and lost in Babylonian exile.

Their whole world will have ended, and all the promises of God—apparently—will have been lost along with their land, their temple, and their king.

Isaiah writes from close proximity to this tragedy. Yet the prophet also sees that, out of that cut-down towering tree that was David, a little shoot—a tiny branch—will surprise us by emerging.

This will be an unexpected new son of David, the one we know—although Isaiah did not yet know him by name—as our Savior, Jesus.

With a beautiful poetic touch, Isaiah describes him in three way: First, by his endowment. Second, by his conduct. Third, by the results of his rule.

First, let’s look at Jesus endowment … his magnificent saturation with the Spirit of God.

وَيَحُلُّ عَلَيْهِ رُوحُ ٱلرَّبِّ، رُوحُ ٱلْحِكْمَةِ وَٱلْفَهْمِ، رُوحُ ٱلْمَشُورَةِ وَٱلْقُوَّةِ، رُوحُ ٱلْمَعْرِفَةِ وَمَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ.وَلَذَّتُهُ تَكُونُ فِي مَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ، فَلاَ يَقْضِي بِحَسَبِ

And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:2–3 ESV)

The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon this ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse’. The expression in the language of Isaiah is a rich one. It speaks of the kind of resting that saturates a location. We could think of the way thick, billowy clouds sometimes roll over your Lebanese mountains and come to cover … to rest upon … the valleys in between those magnificent ridges.

When the Spirit rests upon a person in this way, there can be no shortage … no deficit … no need of more of the Spirit.

Isaiah counts seven aspects of this Spirit, drawing upon words that have become famous in the Old Testament for intelligence, perception, and strength. This new son of David will be supremely endowed with these qualities. He’ll see correctly … he’ll perceive accurately … and he will act effectively. There’s no distracting him, no confusing him, and no stopping him.

You can almost hear Isaiah’s ancient listeners, their kings taken from them, crying ‘Hallelujah!’ when they anticipate this new root, sprung from the stump of Jesse. I hope it makes you say ‘Hallelujah!’ as you consider this Jesus who now rules over us.

Second, the Spirit will make this ruler one who is not deceived by appearances. Let’s hear again, in Arabic, verses 3-5:

وَلَذَّتُهُ تَكُونُ فِي مَخَافَةِ ٱلرَّبِّ، فَلاَ يَقْضِي بِحَسَبِ نَظَرِ عَيْنَيْهِ، وَلاَ يَحْكُمُ بِحَسَبِ سَمْعِ أُذُنَيْهِ،بَلْ يَقْضِي بِالْعَدْلِ لِلْمَسَاكِينِ، وَيَحْكُمُ بِالإِنْصَافِ لِبَائِسِي ٱلْأَرْضِ، وَيَضْرِبُ ٱلْأَرْضَ بِقَضِيبِ فَمِهِ، وَيُمِيتُ ٱلْمُنَافِقَ بِنَفْخَةِ شَفَتَيْهِ.وَيَكُونُ ٱلْبِرُّ مِنْطَقَهَ مَتْنَيْهِ، وَٱلْأَمَانَةُ مِنْطَقَةَ حَقْوَيْهِ.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (Isaiah 11:3–5 ESV)

You know what the problem with rulers is, in your country as well as in Colombia and the United States, where I live? They are driven by appearances rather than by reality.

They cater to the well-dressed and the well-scented. They are misled by the open wounds of the poor, the smell their clothes and body accumulate from living in the street, the unshaven cheeks of the fathers and the sunken eyes of the mothers as they struggle to care for their children.

But not this ruler.

His insight penetrates appearances and goes right to the heart of the matter. As a result, he restores relationships among those whom he rules according to the reality of the thing. When he strikes, he strikes the truly wicked who resist his rule. When he uplifts, he uplifts with righteousness and faithfulness, those who truly need his restorative touch.

This ruler cannot be corrupted. His judgements are always true and right. This is why those who have been rescued by his gracious rule can only praise him with gratitude in their hearts. With gratitude in our hearts.

Finally, let’s come back around to snakes. I’ll ask Rabih to read verses 6-9, where we learn the results of Jesus’ rule:

فَيَسْكُنُ ٱلذِّئْبُ مَعَ ٱلْخَرُوفِ، وَيَرْبُضُ ٱلنَّمِرُ مَعَ ٱلْجَدْيِ، وَٱلْعِجْلُ وَٱلشِّبْلُ وَٱلْمُسَمَّنُ مَعًا، وَصَبِيٌّ صَغِيرٌ يَسُوقُهَا.وَٱلْبَقَرَةُ وَٱلدُّبَّةُ تَرْعَيَانِ. تَرْبُضُ أَوْلاَدُهُمَا مَعًا، وَٱلْأَسَدُ كَالْبَقَرِ يَأْكُلُ تِبْنًا.وَيَلْعَبُ ٱلرَّضِيعُ عَلَى سَرَبِ ٱلصِّلِّ، وَيَمُدُّ ٱلْفَطِيمُ يَدَهُ عَلَى جُحْرِ ٱلْأُفْعُوَانِ.لاَ يَسُوؤُونَ وَلاَ يُفْسِدُونَ فِي كُلِّ جَبَلِ قُدْسِي، لأَنَّ ٱلْأَرْضَ تَمْتَلِئُ مِنْ

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6–9 ESV)

A passage like this takes us back to the garden of Eden, before humanity’s rebellion against our maker. But there is a twist that tells us that we are not truly being taken back to Eden but rather forward to a time when Jesus’ rule will have become complete.

You see, careful readers of Isaiah learn that he is not really talking about animals … about wolves, leopards, calves, lions, even about snakes. Rather, this imagery refers to peoples and to nations.

Jesus’ rule will bring to this bleeding, haunted world a time of peace when we will be free to lose our fears. Our fear of snakes, perhaps, but more importantly, our fear of violence … and conflict … and turmoil. Fear of our enemies.

Why? Well, our ancient rivalries will have become obsolete. They won’t make sense any more and we’ll gladly get rid of them. Our world will have become transformed. That last verse says it best:

لاَ يَسُوؤُونَ وَلاَ يُفْسِدُونَ فِي كُلِّ جَبَلِ قُدْسِي، لأَنَّ ٱلْأَرْضَ تَمْتَلِئُ مِنْ

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9 ESV)

Why do you think Scripture presents us with a ‘forward look’ like this?

I’m convinced it’s so that we align ourselves with Jesus’ rule of justice and peace starting from the moment in which we live. In fact, I think that by doing so we become agents of his increasing dominion over this earth.

We become more and more saturated with God’s own Spirit. We learn to see clearly, penetrating beyond appearances to the reality of those who surround us. And we lay aside our ancient anxieties and enmities and commit to doing no more harm on God’s holy mountain.

A text like this one rarely releases its grip on us before it has asked us one or two awkward questions.

Is your life aligned with Jesus’ rule in this way? Is mine?

Behold, your King. Jesus, the shoot out of the stump of Jesse.

 

 

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A chapel message delivered to the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary

27 January 2020

Probably the words ‘He is risen!’ best capture the explosive good news of the New Testament. If this is true, then the announcement of the end of Israel’s Babylonian captivity in Isaiah 40 may be the finest announcement of the Lord’s undying love in the Old Testament.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1–2 ESV)

عَزُّوا، عَزُّوا شَعْبِي، يَقُولُ إِلهُكُمْ.طَيِّبُوا قَلْبَ أُورُشَلِيمَ وَنَادُوهَا بِأَنَّ جِهَادَهَا قَدْ كَمُلَ، أَنَّ إِثْمَهَاقَدْ عُفِيَ عَنْهُ، أَنَّهَا قَدْ قَبِلَتْ مِنْ يَدِ ٱلرَّبِّ ضِعْفَيْنِ عَنْ كُلِّ خَطَايَاهَا.

We don’t know for sure to whom God speaks in this new commissioning of a message of comfort for Isaiah rather than the news of judgment that she has known previously. The Lord may be speaking to his Seraphim, as he does in Isaiah 6 when he first commissions his prophet Isaiah after asking ‘Who will go for us?’

Or he may be speaking to a new generation of prophets who have carefully digested both Isaiah’s message of sure judgement for Israel and his assurance that new mercy and a new beginning would follow after Israel’s term of captivity had been served.

Regardless, we read that some plural group of people is being summoned to deliver very good news to Jerusalem and to those in Babylon who must now find the courage to follow the Lord back home to Jerusalem to begin again in that promised city.

We need to pause now and listen as Rabih reads our entire passage for today, Isaiah 40.1-11. Because I am not the only English speaker in chapel today, I’ll read it first and then Rabih will follow in Arabic.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’

A voice says, ‘Cry!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.

Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:1–11 ESV)

عَزُّوا، عَزُّوا شَعْبِي، يَقُولُ إِلهُكُمْ.طَيِّبُوا قَلْبَ أُورُشَلِيمَ وَنَادُوهَا بِأَنَّ جِهَادَهَا قَدْ كَمُلَ، أَنَّ إِثْمَهَاقَدْ عُفِيَ عَنْهُ، أَنَّهَا قَدْ قَبِلَتْ مِنْ يَدِ ٱلرَّبِّ ضِعْفَيْنِ عَنْ كُلِّ خَطَايَاهَا.

صَوْتُ صَارِخٍ فِي ٱلْبَرِّيَّةِ: «أَعِدُّوا طَرِيقَ ٱلرَّبِّ. قَوِّمُوا فِي ٱلْقَفْرِ سَبِيلاً لإِلَهِنَا.كُلُّ وَطَاءٍيَرْتَفِعُ، وَكُلُّ جَبَل وَأَكَمَةٍ يَنْخَفِضُ، وَيَصِيرُ ٱلْمُعْوَجُّ مُسْتَقِيمًا، وَٱلْعَرَاقِيبُ سَهْلاً.فَيُعْلَنُ مَجْدُٱلرَّبِّ وَيَرَاهُ كُلُّ بَشَرٍ جَمِيعًا، لأَنَّ فَمَ ٱلرَّبِّ تَكَلَّمَ».

صَوْتُ قَائِل: «نَادِ». فَقَالَ: «بِمَاذَا أُنَادِي؟» «كُلُّ جَسَدٍ عُشْبٌ، وَكُلُّ جَمَالِهِ كَزَهْرِ ٱلْحَقْلِ.يَبِسَٱلْعُشْبُ، ذَبُلَ ٱلزَّهْرُ، لأَنَّ نَفْخَةَ ٱلرَّبِّ هَبَّتْ عَلَيْهِ. حَقًّا ٱلشَّعْبُ عُشْبٌ!يَبِسَ ٱلْعُشْبُ، ذَبُلَٱلزَّهْرُ. وَأَمَّا كَلِمَةُ إِلهِنَا فَتَثْبُتُ إِلَى ٱلْأَبَدِ».

عَلَى جَبَل عَال ٱصْعَدِي، يَا مُبَشِّرَةَ صِهْيَوْنَ. ٱرْفَعِي صَوْتَكِ بِقُوَّةٍ، يَا مُبَشِّرَةَ أُورُشَلِيمَ. ٱرْفَعِيلاَ تَخَافِي. قُولِي لِمُدُنِ يَهُوذَا: «هُوَذَا إِلهُكِ.هُوَذَا ٱلسَّيِّدُ ٱلرَّبُّ بِقُوَّةٍ يَأْتِي وَذِرَاعُهُ تَحْكُمُ لَهُ. هُوَذَاأُجْرَتُهُ مَعَهُ وَعُمْلَتُهُ قُدَّامَهُ.كَرَاعٍ يَرْعَى قَطِيعَهُ. بِذِرَاعِهِ يَجْمَعُ ٱلْحُمْلاَنَ، وَفِي حِضْنِهِ يَحْمِلُهَا،وَيَقُودُ ٱلْمُرْضِعَاتِ».

I don’t know if you heard it while Rabih read, but in those last three verses, there is contagion. Jerusalem—or Zion—begins this chapter as the one who receives the astonishing news of her soon redemption. But then, in verses 9-11, she becomes the messenger—the communicator—of that same news beyond her boundaries to the ‘cities of Judah’.

Good news is contagious.

When we hear the word contagion these days, our minds may run to a different kind of contagion, the kind that has the world on edge as the corona virus sweeps through China and across her borders into countries like yours and mine. When I return to America on Saturday, I expect to be greeted in airports in London and in America by new measures that attempt to stop the spread of this mysterious and fearsome virus.

Contagion is mysterious and, sometimes, unstoppable. It moves from person to person in its own quiet and invisible way, spreading what I have to you and then on to your family members and your neighbors and so on …

It is quiet and it is invisible, but it is most real.

Happily, the contagion we glimpse in Isaiah 40 is a contagion that transmits life rather than death. It is a contagion that announces and creates a new beginning and a new future rather than taking that future away. It is a contagion that begins in the merciful and restorative heart of God himself, rather than in some broken corner of his twisted and suffering creation.

It is the announcement that a terrible thing has come to its end … has run its course … has expired. In its place, a profound comforting of Israel has come, for Israel shall be born again … this nation will start over … will now experience the right hand of the Lord’s restoration rather than the left hand of his judgment.

It is simply spectacular to me that this first announcement of comfort already anticipates that, when Jerusalem has received this good news and begun to live in it, she will become the herald of that same news to others who must hear it, live it, and in time become announcers of that news to still others.

This kind of contagion is natural. It is often both quiet and invisible, yet is it powerful and world-changing. It is God’s work and yet it is ours.

  • Have you received comfort? Let it flow to those who are afflicted.
  • Have your sins been forgiven? Forgive those who sin against you.
  • Has someone shared with you the news that Christ is for us? Share it with others.
  • Has someone loved you when you hated them or were still indifferent to them? Love those who hate or ignore you.
  • Have you been fed when you were hungry, sheltered when you were exposed? Feed someone else.
  • Was your heart once anxious and yet now has become calm? Share that peace with someone whose heart still races, who is still consumed by his fears, by her anxiety.
  • Has this seminary community been a shelter to you, a challenging school of personal transformation? Have you learned here how to live in community? Has God’s Word been opened to you here in fresh and new ways? Have you learned to love reconciliation, to believe that enemies can become friends, and that this too is God’s work?

Then return to Sudan, to Morocco, to Palestine, to Egypt, to Syria, to Iraq, to the cities and villages of Lebanon, to countries that I will not name here.

There be the living proof that God’s word is still ‘Comfort, comfort my people.’

Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:9–11 ESV)

عَلَى جَبَل عَال ٱصْعَدِي، يَا مُبَشِّرَةَ صِهْيَوْنَ. ٱرْفَعِي صَوْتَكِ بِقُوَّةٍ، يَا مُبَشِّرَةَ أُورُشَلِيمَ. ٱرْفَعِيلاَ تَخَافِي. قُولِي لِمُدُنِ يَهُوذَا: «هُوَذَا إِلهُكِ.هُوَذَا ٱلسَّيِّدُ ٱلرَّبُّ بِقُوَّةٍ يَأْتِي وَذِرَاعُهُ تَحْكُمُ لَهُ. هُوَذَاأُجْرَتُهُ مَعَهُ وَعُمْلَتُهُ قُدَّامَهُ.كَرَاعٍ يَرْعَى قَطِيعَهُ. بِذِرَاعِهِ يَجْمَعُ ٱلْحُمْلاَنَ، وَفِي حِضْنِهِ يَحْمِلُهَا،وَيَقُودُ ٱلْمُرْضِعَاتِ».

Be contagious!

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Las palabras importan. A veces hieren. Hay momentos en que también asesinan.

La Biblia hablar sobre el poder de las palabras con mucho cuidado. Sabe que pueden dar vida o quitarla.

Con un claro paralelismo, el salmo 140 arroja su luz sobre el poder destructivo del calumniador, deseando su ausencia de la comunidad con la misma vehemencia que si negara la larga vida al que ejerce la violencia por medios más convencionales:

Que el hombre de mala lengua no permanezca en la tierra;

que al hombre violento lo persiga el mal implacablemente (Salmo 140:11 LBLA).

Debido a que la opinión humana es inconstante y vulnerable a las mentiras elocuentes, la calumnia debe ser considerada como un hábito peligroso. Donde la libertad de expresión ha disfrutado de su libertinaje indiscutible y totalitario, nos resulta difícil imaginar que una comunidad vea la violencia “meramente” verbal de la calumnia como un asunto letal. Nos engañamos a nosotros mismos.

Las palabras importan. Ellas forman la conciencia, a la sociedad, y la práctica. Ennoblecen la ciudad y enfurecen a las turbas divinas.

Las armas y los brazos fuertes que se han vuelto perversos escupen sangre. Las palabras también lo hacen.

Por esto, esta oración de antiengaño: No dejes que el calumniador se establezca en la tierra.

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Palidecemos ante la lucidez del sufrimiento.

Si no hemos experimentado un ataque directo a nuestras vidas, nuestros modos de vida, nuestra familia o nuestra fe, los afilados cuchillos verbales de aquellos que se lamentan parecen incivilizados, inseguros e incómodos. Cuando leemos, evitamos dicho lenguaje, ya sea que nuestro público sean nuestros hijos, nuestra congregación o nosotros mismos.

A decir verdad, la lucidez de los atacados no es una cualidad que funcione bien en todos los contextos. Entendemos que la realidad y los corazones humanos son muy complejos y matizados para encajar en la bifurcación de nuestra raza de buenos y malos. ¿No fue una voz suprimida como la de Alexander Solzhenitsyn, la que nos enseñó dónde está la línea entre el bien y el mal?: no entre los pueblos o incluso entre los individuos, sino a través del corazón de cada ser humano.

Sin embargo, no debemos silenciar la voz de los mártires o los gritos de los vulnerables ante un final doloroso e injusto. Incluso si el interés personal es el motivo más elevado que tenemos, debemos recordar esto: Algún día yo podría necesitar estas palabras.

Porque no hay sinceridad en lo que dicen;

destrucción son sus entrañas,

sepulcro abierto es su garganta;

con su lengua hablan lisonjas[l].

Tenlos por culpables, oh Dios;

¡que caigan por sus mismas intrigas!

Échalos fuera por la multitud de sus transgresiones,

porque se rebelan contra ti. (Salmo 5:9–10 LBLA)

El poeta ha sabido lo suficiente sobre el sufrimiento, para poner una oración penetrante en los labios de aquellos que perdieron todo recurso excepto al propio YHWH.

El quinto salmo, como tantos otros, aclama la ruina como destino de aquellos que atacan la vida de su autor. Mientras dure su lúcido momento, el orador sabe que sus perseguidores se rebelan contra Dios mismo. Él sabe que suerte debe—¡por favor, Dios, hazlo!—caer sobre las cabezas de esos asesinos, cuyos dedos están manchados con la sangre de mi vida.

Al mismo tiempo, los fieles pierden su debilidad, su fragilidad hogareña, sus labios vulnerables tan capaces de hipocresía, sus corazones errantes, la semilla del mal que germina en sus almas y sin la providencia de YHWH y una larga acumulación de decisiones pequeñas y justas debe ubicarlos rápidamente al otro lado de la vida. De esta oración:

Pero alégrense todos los que en ti se refugian;

para siempre canten con júbilo,

porque tú los proteges;

regocíjense en ti los que aman tu nombre.

Porque tú, oh Señor, bendices al justo,

como con un escudo lo rodeas de tu favor. (Salmo 5:11–12 LBLA)

La definición de esta población afortunada es la definición del autor mismo. Como él, se refugian en ti.

 En la desesperación, ellos son familia. La lucidez del sufrimiento no solo perfila con una nitidez poco común la silueta de nuestro enemigo. También etiqueta a este “hermano”, a aquella “hermana”, a este “niño” y a esta anciana “abuelita”.

El salmista desea para sus parientes no solo aquella protección que es obviamente necesaria. Él quiere más.

Él anhela la risa. Una risa profunda, alegre, exultante, que mece el vientre.

En la lucidez de la injusta aflicción, uno ora sin tanta palabrería: Haz que aquellos enemigos míos vaguen solos como muertos vivientes. Pero a estos, hazlos reír, incluso en lágrimas, hasta que no puedan recordar por qué.

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Los salmos bíblicos son intensamente realistas, particularmente aquellos que nacen desde la cuna del conflicto.

Ninguna evasiva piadosa, ni ninguna negación sentimental muestra su rostro en este género de la antología bíblica. Uno acusa al enemigo con una precisión tenue, sin evitarlo. De hecho, en un momento en el salterio cuando la aventura apenas arranca, el tercer salmo comienza con tal declaración:

 

¡Oh Señor, cómo se han multiplicado mis adversarios!

Muchos se levantan contra mí. (Salmo 3:1 LBLA)

El valor duradero de tales salmos radica en el hecho de que durante siglos los lectores han llegado a estas extrañas declaraciones de angustia y alabanza por muchas y variadas circunstancias. Nosotros contamos a nuestros propios adversarios y luego encontramos en los salmos bíblicos un apoyo similar con aquellos que han hecho las mismas sumas.

Si esto describe adecuadamente la atracción de estos salmos, la fuerza de ellos es un derivado de la confianza en YHVH ganada con esfuerzo y paciencia, confianza que emerge del horno de la aflicción. Ningún optimismo psicológico explica estos poemas, ningún derecho a la vida, al amor o la búsqueda de la felicidad, ninguna expectativa clara de que las cosas salgan bien al final. En cambio, una confianza refinada, apasionada y sin restricción en la presencia activa y fortalecedora de YHVH da sabor a cada capa del tejido literario.

¡Oh Señor, cómo se han multiplicado mis adversarios!

Tal es la declaración de la realidad de la vida.

Mas tú, oh Señor, eres escudo en derredor mío,

mi gloria, y el que levanta mi cabeza.

Aquí reposa el contrapeso de todo lo que devora, aquí el poder de los salmos leídos por voces que tiemblan, lloran y a aveces enmudecen ante el muro de traumas adquiridas y descritas sin piedad.

Aquí la declaración que resucita a los muertos y deroga los decretos de ese Seol invasivo. Aquí la vida que conoce que la muerte será vencida algún día. Quizás aun hoy.

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