Genesis 10–12, Psalm 4, Matthew 4
These readings strike me as an honest acknowledgement of the force of ambiguity before which we live out our faith. Even Jesus, at the outset of his ministry, faced ambiguity, whatever his specific experience might have been. He was tempted by the devil, but before he left the wilderness, “Angels waited on him” (Matthew 4:11). This strange mix, I suspect, is an epitome of his life, for he was sustained in amazing ways by God, yet was endlessly at risk.
Jesus is no exception to the rule of faith. The same mix is voiced in Psalm 4. The psalmist in confidence will lie down and “sleep in peace” (v. 8). But this same person is vexed by social shame (v. 2) and is disturbed at night (v. 4). That is how our sleep may be—disturbed and at peace. In the Genesis reading, the long genealogies of place and continuity are disrupted by the narrative of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9). So it is with our certitudes and our routines, interrupted by foolish yearning.
In these readings, faith seems to have two fronts. There is honesty about lived reality, a candor about how it is. But faith promises to override our conflictedness through trust in God’s good gifts. Either feature without the other makes faith thin. It is not a bad way to begin the new year in faith—honest about the life we live, while at the same time on the receiving end of gifts that bring us to well-being, even in the face of such vexation.
Can you think of a time in your life when your cherished beliefs have been challenged by your experience? Were you able to trust in God in the midst of the ambiguity?
In our can-do society, make us grateful receivers. We do not doubt your gifts, but we manage often to live without them. Give us freedom to match your generosity with our own gratitude. Amen
-The Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann
Author, Old Testament Scholar, and Theologian