July 24, 2012

when your heart is ripped in two

It surprises me sometimes. The Word opens up, and I inhale life, but two-edged sword, it cuts me open. These unexpected wounds, they sting against summer air, and I wonder, how long will it take before they’re closed again, stitched together in a new way? When stitches fall out, scars remain, and years from now, will I be able to run fingers across the jagged lines where seams tied me together again, remember what was said as the Physician went to work on my heart?
Yesterday, I drove into the world with the New Testament in the background, but when this section of Scripture started playing, the world around me stilled, and at the red light, my eyes closed tight and a lump grew large in my throat.

Many. He healed many.

Tears burned. He could have healed them all.

Last night, as a new cluster headache cycle started, the tears fell harder. Jesus, why didn’t you take away all of their pain?

--

Life in a small town means word travels fast. I stop by HEB to pick up food for dinner, but it’s thirty minutes later and someone I’ve never seen before has been telling me all that I’ve been up to and I walk away a little amused, very confused, and leave without the chicken.

Jesus begins His public ministry, and His fame spreads throughout the region, but that’s not surprising: when women have a man on their mind, discussions about who he is and where he’s from and what he’s up to wrap the world several times before he gets a chance to say hello.  

News of Jesus’ coming arrives in the city long before he does, and gossip runs giddy and spins everyone right ‘round: and that evening, that night when Jesus enters the scene, the sun falls in the sky and hangs a spotlight on all who meet Him on the welcome mat.  

The book of Mark takes a quick look at the scene and winks, and I laugh too because I know it’s true: in a small town, everyone knows everything, and everyone shows up, “The whole city was gathered together at the door.”

In the back, someone shoves forward, and the shushes spin circles, and nods and notes ripple as people wonder and wait - to be seen, to be healed, to be known - and maybe the longings to be found by this man emerge from the thick of the crowd, but then the group thins out and the noise is absorbed by the night and Jesus moves away from the crowd and the people go back to their homes.

Perhaps, mixed in among the rest, is a woman who follows, a woman who walks behind those who have been healed, who steps in the dust of their dancing and the echoes of their praise. Perhaps, the moon illuminates her face, a smile for those who have been cured, a smile until all of the others have disappeared into the night, but when all are gone, the stars above see her turn without a word into her home and flood the dark shadows with her tears.

She had seen this man, seen his power, seen his abilities, seen how He left to accomplish other tasks. She doesn’t understand what He is doing. She doesn't understand why He didn’t heal her then and there, why He didn’t take her pain away forever. If He wanted, He could have healed her, too.

Centuries before the woman would have been born, an old man felt around in the darkness for tangible hope, but his fingers grasped only the wind. God came to the old man in a vision and reminded him that he would be given a great reward; the old man had received the unique promise that his wife would give birth to a child, but the promise had not yet been wrapped in flesh, and the old man didn’t hear cries from the nursery, and his soul sobbed deep. He spun around to look at what he had, and his voice broke as he took inventory of what was missing: “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless?" 

God saw the old man enveloped in shadows and questions and led him outside and spoke to him, “Look up.” The old man lifted his chin to the sky, and God pointed to the stars and began to reveal to him the Light, to begin to turn his focus to the bigger picture.

God had the old man bring live animals and cut them in half. The old man tore the bodies of a heifer and a goat and a ram, and he breathed the smell of death deep into his lungs and separated the halves so that there was a space between them. And that night, "a deep sleep fell on [the old man]. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him….When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.” 

That night, God passed through the aisle between the carcasses to say in effect, "If I do not fulfill my promise to you, may it be done to me as it has been done to the animals slain here." 

When the old man woke the next morning, the promise to him was not fulfilled before his eyes, but one day it would come to pass, and he would rejoice in the God who had kept His word. In the meantime, God came to the old man again and introduced Himself with a new name: El Shaddai. 'El' referred to God's power; 'shaddai' referred to the way in which God supplies strength to His people and satisfies them completely. 

God could have fulfilled His promise on the earth in that moment, but as the old man waited, the suffocating longings for God to bring what He said to pass required the old man to cry out daily for the one he grew to know as El Shaddai. 

And the woman, well, she could have been healed instantly, but she wasn't, and she didn't understand why. But she had missed the reason Jesus had come. If she had caught up with Him after He departed from her city, chased Him until she saw His back pressed against a tree, she would have seen His arms stretched wide until His hands were nailed in separate pieces, flesh ripping, pain piercing through the shadows, Light shining in the darkness, Son of the Most High slain in the fulfillment of a promise. 

She would have seen Him suffering, she would have heard Him crying out, and when He returned to her city after rising from the dead, she would have felt His scars. And she wouldn't have rubbed those marks with her fingers and asked why He didn't make her pain go away. No. She would have fallen on her knees and praised Him for wounds that spilled mercy, for blood that meant grace. She would have worshiped Him because He had healed her spiritually, she would have thanked Him for the promise that when she died she would be healed physically. 

Later on, when pain rained heavy, His peace would flood deep. When she felt as though her heart was ripping apart, she would glory in the broken flesh of the One who had healed her, and she would draw ever-nearer to a God with a name so precious: strength-giving and soul-satisfying, El Shaddai. 

...He has torn us, and He will heal us; He has wounded us, and He will bind up our wounds. He will revive us …and on the third day He will raise us up so we can live in His presence. Let us strive to know the Lord. His appearance is as sure as the dawn.
~ Hosea 6:1-3