Gospel of Matthew–Lectio Divina

   This Advent I am beginning to read through the Gospel of Matthew using the format of lectio divina.  Lectio divina is a kind of prayer of Scriptures popularized by St. Theresa of Avila and other Carmelite saints.  The method is to read a small portion of Scripture and silently reflect on it, one verse at a time.  It is astonishing how God can speak to us through Scripture if we just create silence and stillness of heart.
    I have read the Gospel of Matthew many times.  But reading it this morning as the sun rose while all the children were still snoring in their beds, I was shocked by what I read.  First, the Jews had awaited a Messiah, a Savior, for too long.  The genealogy of Jesus mentions the deportation to Babylon.  Where was God, where was the Savior, during this deportation?  Where was He during all the other horrible sufferings and slaughters they had endured?  The very Gospel itself is saying to me: “The Messiah came.  The whole point of the Gospel is to testify to that very truth.  The promise of a savior WAS INDEED fulfilled.  But the Gospel is not hiding the fact that God took a long time.  It is almost shouting it out.  Much suffering occurred before God’s appointed time for a savior.  The Gospel itself is reflecting that.  Please remember, Kathryn, that God chose to send the Messiah in a messy way, in a way that was not neat and punctual.  God’s timing uses imperfection–that’s part of how God works.  God’s timing will often seem to us way off–too late or too soon.”
     I am confident that God is telling us something about Himself through this timing that frustrates us.
    My conviction is that one of His favorite things to do is to show up when we have despaired He will not show up.  This timing shocks us and prompts us to depend on Him.  It is how we develop faith.  Abraham and Sarah are called the father and mother of faith.  Why?  Because God promised them a son from whom a whole nation would be born, and then let them get way too old to have a child.  They lived their entire adult lives well into old age, watching God not fulfill His promise–yet.  They must have spent most of their days for many decades, tempted to conclude that God had failed them.  Did they despair?  I do not know.  Probably sometimes.  But eventually they saw God work His miracle of Sarah conceiving and bearing a child.  But that blessing was only to be followed by Abraham being called to sacrifice Isaac.  Imagine the faith necessary to tie Isaac to an alter and pull out you dagger.
     This story in Genesis is a clear message from God as to how He works.  He takes away everything, in order to give us something and show His hand.
     I marvel at the so-called “problem of evil.” I confess that I have sometimes asked, “Why does God allow this suffering?  Maybe God is absent.  If there were an all-good, all-loving God, He never would have allowed this to happen.”  But the Bible is purposeful in telling us that God always allows pain, suffering, death, injustice, and travesty, as He appears in our lives.  His epiphany is always through messiness.  Poor Moses received the epiphany of the burning bush, while in a 40 year exile for having committed murder!  The Bible is screaming out the message: “Avoiding or preventing suffering is just now how God works!”
     I can understand how an atheist might imagine an all-perfect, all-loving God, and then see the suffering in the world and conclude that such a God does not exist.  But as Christians, we have to let the Bible show us who God really is.  He is all-powerful.  He is all-good.  But He does not use that power or goodness to preserve us from pain or tragedy.  His signature is to allow horrible sufferings, and then to show up and do something astonishing in the midst of it.
    This impacts me powerfully.  My life is messy.  My timing is all off.
    But the Gospel of Matthew is teaching me: that is how God works.  This is His path for you, Kathryn.  He is allowing all these imperfections, all these “Too late’s” and “Not enough’s” so that I will lay down my own sense of power and accomplishment and let God work miracles in my own life.