Psalm 44, verses 10 to 15 and verses 24 and 25
The psalmist feels far from God. He feels rejected and shamed. He wonders why God seems to hide his face from the suffering of his people.
Jesus heals a man with leprosy, and begs him not to tell anyone.
There is a real contrast at play between our two readings of this morning. On the one hand, the psalmist perceives God as distant, aloof and uncaring. Why, he wonders, does the Lord hide his face from his people? Why does he forget their grief and oppression?
In contrast to this, the Gospel reading gives us a completely different picture. Here we meet Jesus, who is so overflowing with love and compassion that he cannot help but offer healing to a leper who calls out to him. Jesus knows that such a healing will have consequences. He knows that if word spreads of his healing touch, he will be sought out for his medicinal skills by all and sundry – and his vital teaching ministry will likely suffer. But despite this reservation, Jesus is moved with pity for the leper, and he just can’t help himself from giving him the healing he seeks.
So, in this contrast, we have a picture of a God who undeniably wants to help human beings in their struggles – but who sometimes withholds that help (as the psalmist experienced). Why is this?
It’s because sometimes, divine help is the last thing really needed. It may be advantageous to have a plaster placed on a wound – but if the underlying cause of the wound is not addressed, it may still go bad. God is able to see the root causes behind all of human suffering – and it is those root causes he wants to tackle. If every time we fell down, he stooped to pick us up, we might never learn not to fall. My Dad has always said that until you’ve fallen off a bike 10 times, you will never learn to ride one. Like a parent who watches a child falling off their bike over and over again, wincing each time, God has to let us fall, if we are to grow.
Let me offer you this analogy. Imagine that a plane is coming into land, and the engines suddenly fail. Frantic prayers from all the passengers are heard by God, and he reaches down from the sky (with a giant hand) scoops up the plane, and places it gently on the runway. Imagine how wonderful that would be. How many prayers of praise would ascend!
But what would be the consequence of this action by God? I suggest that pretty soon, human beings would give up designing and maintaining safe aircraft. Instead, people would be jumping off cliffs in the general direction they want to go, expecting God’s giant hand to pick them up and transport them safely to their destination! All the accumulation of knowledge required for the safe operation of airplanes would be lost in a puff of divine generosity.
It is no wonder that the psalmist believed that God was silent, and didn’t care. The history of the Bible (as we’ve been learning on Sunday evenings) is riddled with stories of how God’s chosen people, time and again, turned aside from God. They ignored God’s wisdom and laws. They decided that they knew best. And, as the psalmist says, they then found themselves slaughtered, and ‘despoiled by their enemies’. God didn’t want his people to be ‘slaughtered and despoiled’. God wanted his people to follow his teachings, and live by his guidance. But his people wanted to go their own way. God had to withhold his help – so that the people would learn the lessons they needed, in order to grow. They had to fall off their bike a few more times.
Jesus didn’t really want to help the Leper – he knew it would be trouble for his wider ministry. He even commanded the Leper to tell no-one. But, the Leper, with his God-given freewill, didn’t listen. He opened his grateful but excitable mouth, and told everyone what Jesus had done. The result…(I quote) ‘Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country, and people came to him…’.
Almighty God is capable of wiping out a pandemic, in a heart-beat. He could miraculously remove the bullets from the guns of opposing armies. He could arrive in Parliament and sit on the throne, sending our Prime Minister back to a drinks party and taking over the Government! But he doesn’t. Because of his love for us, and because of his fierce, parental desire to see us grow, God holds back from interfering. Where is God? He is standing on the sidelines, whispering wisdom through the pages of Scripture and our own consciences, saying ‘just turn to me, my children. Turn to me.’ Amen.
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