Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I must bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he takes my side and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall see his vindication. Then my enemy will see, and shame will cover her who said to me, “Where is the Lord your God?” My eyes will see her downfall; now she will be trodden down like the mire of the streets. A day for the building of your walls! In that day the boundary shall be far extended. In that day they will come to you from Assyria to Egypt, and from Egypt to the River, from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain. But the earth will be desolate because of its inhabitants, for the fruit of their doings. Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock that belongs to you, which lives alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old. As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, show us marvellous things. The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might; they shall lay their hands on their mouths; their ears shall be deaf; they shall lick dust like a snake, like the crawling things of the earth; they shall come trembling out of their fortresses; they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God, and they shall stand in fear of you. Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old.
Our devotional journey through Amos and Micah over the last five weeks has been something of a roller coaster, as is true of much of the prophetic writings. If today’s passage consisted only of the last thirteen lines, speaking confidently and movingly of God’s compassion and steadfast love, we could finish on a high note, breathe a sigh of relief and get on with Lent!
But no, we have verses 8 – 20 in the mix also. The prophet’s community is still in a hard situation, conscious of rightly being under the judgement of God, yet trusting God for restoration. The words of hope that are like salve to the wounds of humiliation, restricted freedom, exile and loss of home, are double-edged. A good future can only be articulated as a role-reversal. It will be the turn of the enemies to be covered in shame, trembling in dread and fear.
Jesus showed, lived and suffered a different way into the future: loving one’s enemies, and praying for them; forgiving as we wish to be forgiven. It’s demanding stuff, is it not? As people of the United Reformed Church we are ‘Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today’, so, tough or not, this is our calling.
Today is Shrove Tuesday, pancake day. In many of our churches people will be tossing and eating pancakes, a tradition that stems from needing to use up all the rich foods before Lent fasting begins. There is also a spiritual tradition of self-examination on Shrove Tuesday. Would you take time today to do a bit of self-examination? Are there enemies whom you do not love, do not pray for, and do not forgive? We need to recognise when this is so, and pray for grace to change.
For there is only hope for the future through the gateway of forgiveness.
Compassionate, Faithful God known to us in Jesus Christ, alive in us today through your Holy Spirit, search our hearts, minds and lives show us where and how to forgive as individuals and as communities. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Gwen Collins is a retired minister and member of Avenue St Andrews URC, Southampton