Sons and strangers

With God one learns to expect the unexpected.  With God the unlikeliest of outcomes are the most probable.  It’s disconcerting if you don’t trust God’s judgement in these things.  But even if you do, He is certainly no less shocking in his innovation.  God never ceases to unsettle and amaze even the faithful.  It still is frightening and inspires awe.  God is capable of unforeseen solutions to problems. With God everything is made new, everything is a first, anything is possible and the miraculous, well, let’s tone that down slightly for a contemporary audience, the surprising becomes the norm.   

The long and tragic family history of David’s feud with his celebrity but wayward son, Absalom, finally comes to a head.  Absalom rides out to Hebron apparently to give thanks to God for engineering his return to Jerusalem.  Upon arrival, he traitorously pronounces himself King of Israel.

His is a popular rebellion: “The whole of Israel supports him”, the media says. Not at all surprising, given that Absalom has the polished image of a star: he is startlingly handsome, he has big hair, and had run an unprecedented campaign to establish a playboy-prince image. Well, the getting up early every morning was perhaps less playboy than businesslike.  But he acquired a new coach and horses and an entourage of no less than 50 household guards, and he set himself up on the front porch of Jerusalem and hugged and kissed and shared autographs with all Israelites who came a-calling hoping to find favour with King David in settling legal disputes. Absalom encouraged a chinwag, listened eagerly to each case, assuring pure-blood Israelites that their case is sound, but alas, the king cares more for foreigners, so don’t get your hopes up.  Now, if I were to be judge, muses Absalom (not “king”, mind, merely “judge” – clever boy!)

When David hears of the coup and of its populist support, he decides to evacuate the royal courts, expecting a bloodbath.  And rightly so, as that is exactly what Absalom plans: he will kill his father, destroy the household and take the throne.

Kosovar_refugees_march_99They set out on foot.  David stops at the last house on the way out of Jerusalem and allows all who were following him to go before him. That’s when he notices the foreigners: the Cherethites, the Pelethites and no fewer than 600 Gittites from Gath, strangers in Jerusalem, all of them, and trudging along in the tragic procession toward the wildernis.  He stops Ittai, the Gittite. “Why do you also go with us?”, David asks. “Go back and stay with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile from your home.  You came only yesterday and shall I today make you wander about with us since I go I know not where? Go back and take your brothers with you and may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you.”

Ittai answers: “As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” The irony is that from foreigners come this public display of support and solidarity for God’s anointed king, not from God’s own people. David finds little support among his own people.  It gets better: When David’s refugee household is close to collapse of hunger, Ziba, the servant of his archenemy and rival Saul’s son Mephiboset rocks up with a couple of donkeys, saddled, bearing 200 loaves of bread, raisins, fresh summer fruits and wine.  And later Shobi of Nahash and Rabbah of the Ammonites and Machir the son of Ammiel and Barzillai the Gileadite brought beds, basins and earthen vessels filled with wheat, barley and flour, parched grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds and sheep and cheese.  Simply because, they said, “the people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”Pursued to the death by his own son and people, David is kept alive by the intervention of foreigners and strangers.

Well, strangers and foreigners indeed, but no less agents of God.  Not all of them, perhaps, moved by faith in the God of Israel, but certainly by charity.  But who will deny that charity shown to the destitute people of God coming from the unlikeliest of people is inspired by God?

In seafarers’ ministry, here in QVSR and in all your centres, we offer hospitality to foreigners; to people who are foreign to these shores but also foreign to our faith.  Our ministries are designed to care for all the people God sends to cross our paths. We realise that foreigners too are God’s people. It is a miracle that we were transformed by grace to deliver God’s love to all without asking who or why. To some seafarers, I am sure, we are the unlikeliest of people to grant them support.  But we do, because we serve God.

God’s world is an amazing place where one can expect God’s help from strangers and foreigners when those you love cast you aside and seek your destruction.

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