Friday, March 10, 2017

March 10

Numbers 14:1-15:16; Mark 14:53-72; Psalm 53:1-6; Proverbs 11:4

Fourteen years ago, Eric and I were in the throes of the great question all parents-to-be face.  What do we name this child?  In our case, we needed to prepare two names; since we only found out the gender of our fifth child, every other baby has had a girl name and a boy name ready.  This first time, the girl name was easy - Hannah Joy (who joined our family third) - but the boy wasn't certain until the very end.  We waffled between Caleb Eric or Noah Sunukjian for the name of our eldest son.  We loved both names so much - how to choose?  (Especially since you're never guaranteed to have another chance to use a good name.)

Ultimately, we chose Caleb first, continuing the family precedent of using the father's name as the eldest son's middle name.  But today's reading was part of the reason 'Caleb" was even on the list all those years ago.  Caleb is one of the men chosen by Moses, through God, to search out the promised land.  He's a leader of the Israelites (see yesterday's reading, Num. 13:3), strong and bold and utterly convinced of God's power and faithfulness.  He stands firm against the nay-saying of the ten other spies, and "silence[s] the people before Moses" (Num. 13:30) when the nation falls into loud despair.  God grows angry with Israel's lack of trust and decrees judgment, both for the next forty years (on the people, see Num. 14:29-34) and in the immediate (on the faithless ten spies, see vs. 36-37).  Caleb, however, is singled out: "My servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly" (vs. 24) and therefore he will live to enter the land of milk and honey.  What a commendation God speaks over Caleb, one that we've prayed over our son time and time again.  We want him to follow the footsteps of his namesake: to believe, to walk in faith, to hold firm, to have a heart devoted to Jesus, to live with abandon for him.

It's such a contrast with what we see from Peter in today's New Testament reading.  Peter doesn't just refuse to claim Jesus as an acquaintance.  He denies Jesus, once, twice, and then damns himself the third time: "He began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, 'I don't know this man you're talking about'" (Mk. 14:71).  

And his faithlessness reaps an immediate consequence, much like Caleb's faithfulness had an immediate reward.  Peter "broke down and wept" (vs. 72).  Overwhelmed with the anguish of seeing Jesus arrested, fearing for his own life, he must have been horrified to realize his own betrayal.  Peter did not stand firm; he did not speak in Jesus' defense; he failed.  While we know that redemption - and restoration - is ahead for Peter, his faithlessness is still here.  It's recorded for all believers of all time since.  We can't skip ahead to the meeting with Jesus on the beach unless we've spent time sitting in the desolation of Peter's dark night.  He's a human man and his failure, though it never defines him, stands.

All of our children bear names from the Old Testament; my brothers and sisters and I from throughout Scripture; a number of my nieces and nephews are from those pages, too.  Many of these men and women have mixed histories - Peter, David, Sarah, Noah, Levi, Naomi, Jonah.  Some have purer stories told - Caleb, Hannah, Jeremiah, Abigail. I'm grateful for both sets.  I'm grateful to see God's redemption of Peter and how the tribe of Levi overcame their bloody ancestor to serve in God's tabernacle.  But I'm grateful, too, for the examples of long-lived faithfulness, men and women who believed and acted rightly even when confronted with difficult situations.  The first group reminds me that I'm loved by God regardless and that he will work through even me; the latter group sets a goal before me.

- Sarah Marsh

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