Lamentations and Mark

I was talking with my friend, Sarah, the other day. Actually, we weren’t really talking. She blogged, I called and left a voicemail, she called and left a voicemail, then I texted. So to make matters more simple: I was talking with my friend Sarah, and she said that she wasn’t fond of the gospel of Mark, but she loved Matthew because of his amazing story telling and tangential logic. Basically, Mark is my favorite gospel by leaps and bounds, because he tells the stories and lets them speak for themselves. I mean Jesus is the Messiah in Mark’s eyes, but his text says: this is so true and so real, I don’t need to explain any of it, just by reporting it to you, you will get it! There is also this sense of immediacy in Mark. The plot, the storyline, is conflated and collapsed so there is no real sense of time. Everything happens immediately after the story right before it. I get this sense that Mark wants you to keep reading so that you don’t miss a thing.

Matthew, on the other hand, tells a story and then spends just as long telling you why said story indicates that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Messiah because of x, y, and z. As if you couldn’t put x, y, and z together for yourself. Here is Matthew’s storyline: story, exegesis of that story, story, exegesis of that story, repeat ad nauseam. I do like Matthew, though, right after Mark and Luke, and way before John. But John is another rant for another day, and maybe I am not enough of an ancient to understand him, or I am too postmodern or not modern enough, or something.

So I asked Sarah to guess my favorite Old Testament (Jewish Scriptures) book. Of course she chose the logical two: Ruth or Esther. Good guesses, but as some of you know, my favorite OT book is decidedly perceived as the most depressing of all of them, but I think Lamentation is beautiful. Or as I told Sarah, beautifully tragic or tragically beautiful, I am not sure which. The whole book is about how frustrated the writer is that God has turned his back on the Israelites. We actually get to see the writer work out his frustration with not understanding why God won’t listen to him and why it seems that God is brutally punishing the Israelites. What is glorious about this book is we see in a more real way than Job, I think, theodicy worked out through one writer’s soul wrenching agony. The writer wants to be angry with God for the injustice of the punishment, but the writer is unable to relenquish the facet of God’s grace and compassion. I love how the whole book hinges on part of chapter 3, which in the NIV reads:

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is you faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
Let him sit in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.

Basically, I love how this text of death, destruction, and carnage rests around this middle chapter of hope, and questioning of God. Why, God, do you let those of us who love you suffer?

I really think that Lamentations gets at the community aspect of faith as well. This poem highlights the way the entire community or society is sick, and how God’s love and God’s anger rests on the entire community. There is also this embrace of the dichotomy of cursing and blessing: “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins?” The writer then switches the number of the speaker: “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hands to God in heaven and say: “We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven.” I love this compact struggle. Is it I or we? Is it that God has not forgiven or is it that the consequences of sin are still present culturally? Is it grace and mercy or anger and condemnation? I love the honest contemplation of this writer. Amazing stuff. Beauty, tragedy, and who doesn’t love a story where people eat their own children? Sorry, but I was getting a little too serious for a second. So all that because of a not-conversation.

I also have to add that I am loving my life right now. I am not saying it isn’t stressful, but I am loving my life…today.

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