When I was in seminary, our first year, we were advised to take at least a semester of a Biblical language--Greek (Koine dialect) or Hebrew. I made the choice to study Greek, while a fellow classmate of mine took Hebrew. We both loved our classes. For both of us, the study of our particular Biblical language opened up new ways of experiencing and understanding scripture. It was a joy we would share from time to time, talking between classes or seeing each other after chapel or at meals.
Then, one day, I found her in some distress. She had been to Hebrew class that day, and they had been working on a translation of the 13th chapter of II Samuel. It was the account of the rape of Tamar by her half-brother. That account is hard enough to read in English she told me, harder still in Hebrew. Being an idiomatic language, words carry images and feelings that tend to strike deeper than the usual descriptiveness of English. Even reading the story in Hebrew left her angry, shaken...traumatized.
|the rape of Tamar|
Instead, in David's court, deceit leads to crime, crime to destruction, destruction to rebellion...and death. David's kingdom is eventually thrown into civil war over the lack of resolution to the punishment of a terrible crime. The Psalmist asks God how long must injustice persist? As long as people continue to turn from God to their own devices and choose to use their power to hurt, rape, maim and destroy each other. It will persist until God acts, until people are willing to turn from their distorted purposes that lead to injustice and instead focus on the grace-filled work of restoration.
For what that restoration looks like, we need to turn to the Acts reading for today. Saul is "breathing threats" and encouraging violence in the synagogues against the followers of Jesus. He is so intent on furthering the persecution of the way that he obtains a warrant from the High Priest, so that he can travel to Damascus and confront the Jesus-followers there in an attempt to suppress the expansion of a movement he views as a dangerous heresy.
|Saul, on the road to Damascus|
Saul is not just a menace to a few...when you read the words in Greek, what comes across is his intense and absolute fanaticism. He is beyond wild, and his focus on causing harm to the church is terrifying to witness. Beyond reason and rational thought, Saul has lost it--and his intense desire to harm the church inspires legitimate fear in the disciple tasked by God with going to him to proclaim hearing, and is evident in the reticence that the community has toward him upon his return to Jerusalem a changed man.
Restoration is hard work in the face of the levels of inhumane injustice that we are bearing witness to in the scripture readings today. We see how that horror can tear a kingdom apart in II Samuel. Restoration will come to Israel now, only after incredible loss and generations of God working to call the people back to life in balance with each other under the Law. We see how hard it is going to be for the Church, as it faces not only rejection but persecution...and for the model it is given by God to be a witness to profound reconciliation, even in the face of horrific agents like Saul. Restoration is our work, and our most profound response to the question of "How long....how long....how long....."