In Gilded Mirrors

Psalm 31:9-16, Job 13:13-19, Philippians 1:21-30

The Psalmist squirms in affliction, oppressed by enemies and scorned by his neighbors. His enviable, near superhuman solution is simply to trust in merciful God. “Let your face shine on your servant;” he sings, “save me in your unfailing love.”

Job too knows oppression, tested by God, derided in community. His bold hope roots in willingness to defend his righteous life before God. “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;” he cries, “I will surely defend my ways to his face.”

And Paul, craving death to be with Jesus, resolves to struggle on and fire our halting faith. There is suffering, but oppressors will be destroyed and Christians saved by God. “Stand firm in one spirit,” he urges, “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

“Human beings are endowed by nature with both selfish and unselfish impulses,” writes Reinhold Niebuhr in Moral Man and Immoral Society. Our scriptural heroes, proud and faltering and so capable of good, embody this fact.

And we, witnessing oppression, yet silenced by what the neighbors think, succumb to despair and quickly forget the call to love. Turning from suffering, we retreat into righteousness. Our works look so good, our faith so shines, when viewed in gilded mirrors. But goodness is not judged in isolation.

Holy week is upon us. Jesus will soon die and rise again; selfishness is forgiven and pride effaced, by grace. But is forgiveness truly free? Must we not prepare for grace, heeding our unselfish impulses and living gospel love? Easter comes for both the oppressor and the oppressed. With whom shall we stand firm?


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