Limping Together to the Table: A Reflection on ‘Grotesque Broken-ness’

Posted by on Jan 17, 2015 in Bridgehaven Team, Chris Ball | 0 comments

In Spike Lee’s 2002 movie ‘The 25th Hour’ Edward Norton stars as a New York kingpin, who is convicted for drug distribution. The film follows Norton’s character Monty as he spends his last 24 hours before reporting for his 7 year prison sentence. In this last day, Monty spends time connecting with his Dad, his girlfriend, his two best friends, and his dog.

Monty’s dog is a pit bull that he found on the side of the road left to die by his Russian mob friends’ who were involved in a dog fighting ring. The dog had been badly injured, suffering a broken hip. When Monty approaches the dog, he bites him, and his vigor persuades Monty to show mercy on the maimed dog, taking him to a clinic for medical assistance instead of putting the dog out of his misery.

Monty named the dog Murphy after Murphy’s Law, an old adage meaning ‘what can go wrong, will go wrong.’ Like most stories involving Russian crime syndicates, things went terribly wrong. Monty is eventually sentenced to 7 years in prison, and his best friend, Jacob, takes custody of Murphy.

In 2 Samuel 8, David has entered into a season of peace. Israeli life is flourishing, but not before their share of hardship and turmoil. As the runt of the litter, David has made his way from humble beginnings at a lowly rural sheep farm. The Lord had delivered him from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear and from the hand of a giant Philistine. David had survived the whole man on the run debacle versus Saul. He had outlasted his predecessor to be crowned the King of Judah. And he goes on to unite the fragmented Jewish people by becoming the King of Israel. David increased the property value in Jerusalem by procuring the ark of the Lord, and has big plans to develop a temple to house God.

2 Samuel 8:15 says, David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and equity to all his people.

Through his rise to Kingship, David had taken a topsy-turvy, zig-zagging route, but…things are in a good spot. After a long awaited period, the newly united Israel is in the midst of a Renaissance. And it is in this time of rest that King David asks about Jonathan’s house. He remembers his dear friend, and out of that covenantal love, seeks to find those connected to Jonathan, so that he can care for them. Because of the cruciform love of Jonathan, David invites the disabled Mephibosheth to eat at the King’s table. 

Do you know you are crippled in your feet?

In 2 Samuel 9:3, we saw how David was seeking out a surviving relative of Jonathan in order to show him kindness. Jonathan had become a close friend of David, the unlikeliest of peers. Jonathan’s father Saul was the King, and David had been anointed to replace him. So while Jonathan trusted in the authenticity of David’s anointing, and he cared deeply for his friend, there was still a considerable sacrifice regarding family ties and even his own political future. Jonathan laid aside his own opportunity for succession in royalty and dominion because of his love for David. This faithful sacrifice moved David in his spirit to the point of seeking out a way to bless the household of Jonathan with kindness.

2 Samuel 9:3 And the king said, “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.”

This son of Jonathan, Mephibosheth was crippled in his feet. 2 Samuel 4:4 reveals that Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth had been dropped by his nurse at the age of 5, during Saul & David’s dramatic man on the run phase. Because Mephibosheth had fallen, he was lame in both of his feet.

The language here is rich. In Hebrew, Mephibosheth means to exterminate shame or opponent of idols. King David is essentially adopting Mephibosheth as one of his own sons. He shares his servants, and eats at his table. Through kindness, David is exterminating Mephibosheth’s shame, and valiantly opposing idols.

This picture of adoption is a shadow of our relationship with God. We too have fallen. Because of the fall in the garden, humanity has been crippled. We too are lame from youth. Because of our brokenness, we need healing and provision from our King. Not because we stood out in battle or we grossed the highest income in the kingdom, but out of kindness that was due to Jesus, our greater Jonathan.

So often, we forget that we are wonderfully created in the image of God. We are defined ultimately by our related-ness to God. And yet, we also forget that we are pervasively marred by sin. Not simply by robbing banks and murdering with axes, but in our very core, we are turned inward on ourselves and disconnected from the Lord God. The implications are unfathomable. Our spiritual connection to God is fractured. Our thoughts and emotions are distorted. Our imagination and volition is misdirected. Our bodies break down. Our relationships are conflicted. Our stewardship of the earth is lackluster. Sin is corruptive. We are crippled.

Cornelius Plantinga defines this vividly, “Sin is a disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony. Above all, sin disrupts and resists the vital human relation to God, and it does all this disrupting and resisting in a number of intertwined ways.”

Plantinga explains this initial corruption that then spirals into perversion, pollution, and disintegration. Sin is so much deeper and broader than robbing banks and murdering with axes…It is the very unraveling of the fabric of creation, and the wages are death.

The impact of sin in creation (and creatures) is so much more complex than simply our actions. It is not less than these misdirected transgressions, but it is so much more. Sin separates and disconnects us from God. It warps, distorts, and bends inward our view of ourselves. It disrupts and disorders the physical creation, both our bodies and the earth itself. And sin poisons and destroys our relationships with one another. The implications of ‘sin’ or ‘effects of the fall’ or ‘broken-ness’ or ‘depravity’, however, you prefer to word it, are vast. So when we reduce sin to individual actions, we immensely under-estimate the problem. Sin is both individual and corporate.

Like the maimed pit bull in 25th Hour, left to die on the side of the highway, we need someone outside of ourselves to give us life. God draws us closer to Himself visibly in Jesus, and carefully reveals our spiritual deadness. And faithful to His covenant, He resuscitates us by His Spirit.

Southern Catholic novelist (not Baptist, yes, they do make those), Flannery O’Connor wrote about humanity’s grotesque broken-ness: “Most of us have learned to be dispassionate about evil, to look it in the face and find, as often as not, our own grinning reflections with which we do not argue, but good is another matter. Few have stared at that long enough to accept that its face too is grotesque, that in us the good is something under construction. The modes of evil usually receive worthy expression. The modes of good have to be satisfied with a cliche or a smoothing down that will soften their real look.” 

Like Murphy, left to our own devices, we are evidence that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. But God in His wisdom has used the Law to show us His kindness, to show us our need for the mercy only available in Jesus, and to grow us in His likeness. God in His providence humors us with his ironic redemption, using our crippled feet for His good purposes, and sitting us at dinner tables with old rivals. Fortunately, the Gospel too is both individual and corporate.

But we must recognize our spiritual lame-ness, we must confess that we are crippled in the feet, so that we too can be healed. In Christ, God is exterminating our shame, re-creating us as opponents of idols…Do you know you are crippled in your feet?

Are you eating from the King’s table?

Through his tumultuous rise to King, David had become very close to the unlikeliest of candidates, his precursor’s son. Even though the neurotic, power-hungry Saul persecuted David…he befriended Saul’s son Jonathan.

1 Samuel 18:1-4 says, As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.

Have you ever been around a dog that’s been beaten? There is something a bit off about a dog that has been abused. They are nervous, strickened with fear, hyper-vigilant, and they simply struggle to interact with others. Often-times they will act out violently towards other dogs or even people. Through their dis-grace from violence, they become participants in violence. The only way to sooth an abused dog (or person for that matter) is through patient, long-suffering, steadfast love. It takes someone embodying grace through sacrificial presence to provide the grace potent enough to cover dis-grace.

Jonathan was…knit…to the soul of David. Knit. Woven together. This is richly intimate language. Covenant language. Jonathan makes a covenant with David…out of steadfast love. This covenant amongst friends transcended not only the violent rivalry, but also vengeance. Their covenant is a picture of God’s kindness and faithfulness to His people, and ultimately points forward to the restoration of all of creation.

Our friend was also the unlikeliest of candidates. One thousand years or so after David, our God took on flesh. The incarnation of the Son of God. True to His covenant, He spilled His blood, so that we could be freed from tyranny. He drank the cup of wrath to spare us from eternal agony. After dying a traitor’s death, the Logos defied all logic, and displayed His potency…He was raised. (pause…) Just like David seeking remnants of Saul’s family, Christ sought out the remnants of Abraham’s family. He embodied the kindness of God to the children of God.

And because of His faithfulness He, who knit us together in the womb, knit us to Himself by the Spirit. Our friend, God with us, Immanuel, Jesus…..makes His sacrificial presence known in our lives out of beloved commitment to His Father. And because of our redemption, we get to share with all the nations that it is finished. And even though we ourselves were confederate rebels, there is peace available in Jesus…The King of Kings.

The King welcomes us into united community. But we must lay down our sword, and relinquish our perceived control, trusting in the friend of sinners, and feeding on the bread of life. We must confess our crippled feet. And like Murphy, terrified and maimed, we wrestle with the Lord, fighting for personal autonomy, but at some point we must surrender, in order to receive Life. At some point, we must recognize that while suffering is painful, God is so kind to bless us with renewal and revitalization in Christ.

Do you realize the beloved commitment of the friend of sinners? God has knitted His Spirit inside of us. And yet, we relegate our relationship with God to a daily quiet time. I am so saddened to continually hear Christians who measure their relationship with God by the consistency of their quiet time. This isn’t to diminish the importance of a specifically allocated quiet time studying God’s word and praying, but our relationship with God is purchased at the Cross, and validated in His Resurrection. Through faith in Christ, and Him crucified, our severed relationship with the Father is reconciled. And because God indwells us with His Spirit…He is constantly with us. We don’t need to pray for God to be with us in a certain time, He is with us all of the time.

RC Sproul says that, “The big idea of the Christian life is coram Deo. Coram Deo captures the essence of the Christian life.” He defines coram deo this way: ‘To live coram deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.’

This is so much bigger than a daily quiet time. This means continual communicative contact, listening, silence together, partaking in meals, enjoying nature, resting, having fun, lamenting, confessing, sharing our work….all of life is worship. Communion with God is the metric of our relational intimacy. So how are you doing with that? Do you realize that God is with you…Do you live your life coram deo….in the face of God?…Are you eating from the King’s table?

Who may you invite to the feast?

I wonder what would be different in our interactions with those around us, if we began to trace the subtext of spiritual lame-ness. How would it change the interactions with the people you work, study, and play with?

If we began to see not only our own grotesque crippled-ness, but also the renewal of God’s Spirit in our own lives, how would that change the way we approach others?…Maybe we would slow down…Perhaps we would be better listeners…Possibly we would be more purely motivated and bold in sharing the Good News…Certainly we would be more patient and compassionate.

Christian psychologist turned Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen, describes this brilliantly, “Perhaps the main task of the minister is to prevent people from suffering for the wrong reasons. Many people suffer because of the false supposition on which they have based their lives. That supposition is that there should be no fear or loneliness, no confusion or doubt. But these sufferings can only be dealt with creatively when they are understood as wounds integral to our human condition. Therefore ministry is a very confronting service. It does not allow people to live with illusions or immortality and wholeness. It keeps reminding others that they are mortal and broken, but also that with the recognition of this condition, liberation starts.

 No minister can save anyone. He can only offer himself as a guide to fearful people. Yet, paradoxically, it is precisely in this guidance that the first signs of hope become visible. This is so because a shared pain is no longer paralyzing but mobilizing, when understood as a way to liberation. When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope.

 Through this common search, hospitality becomes community. Hospitality becomes community as it creates a unity based on the shared confession of our basic brokenness and on a shared hope.”

This is our ministry of reconciliation as a royal priesthood. In our own mess, God uses us to call His children to the dinner table. Our hope is rooted in the faithfulness of God, not our own strength. This allows us the freedom to boldly make ourselves vulnerable, and God uses these interactions to strengthen us in our weakness.

We did not earn a seat at the table, we were summoned to the table. God’s kindness is shown in the way he gently cares for stray sheep. Just like Mephibosheth, we limp to the table by the Word of the King.

Like David, let our love for Jonathan, be the catalyst for seeking out ways to distribute kindness. Our gratitude to Christ should spill out into our other relationships. Jesus shares the parable of the Good Samaritan, which redefines neighbor, and reimagines mercy. I find it so hard to love people who are lame in both feet. It is so difficult to invite people to the table, who are considered rivals on paper or in my head. How quickly, I too forget that I am maimed.

2 Peter 4:8 reminds us, Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

We can now commune with the Father, because of the sacrifice of Jesus. And we can now walk in the Spirit, exterminating our shame because of our relationship with Jesus. When we meditate on the person and work of Jesus, we begin to see people in relation to the King. And this provides us the humility and the boldness to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. Walk with God…we get to commune with the Almighty God.

When Monty looked at that mutilated, pit bull, captivated by fear, both a participant and victim of violence, he saw a piece of himself in Murphy’s eyes. Monty too had been stuck in the trap of the law, paralyzed by its weight, and had been lured into the illusion that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. In adopting Murphy, Monty was holding on by a thread to the hope of his own rescue.

Rescue dogs have scars and wounds, guilt and shame, fear and aggression, but through adoption and love they are softened and refined. Mephibosheth says it well, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?”

And because of Jesus’ mighty work, we too ask, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

Friends, we have been pulled out of our mud, and in Christ, we are called to see ourselves in those around us. This produces godly motivation to seek the ministry of reconciliation. But in order to care for them well, we must see and understand the good image of God in their very being, but also the pervasive broken-ness in their life, and the potential that they too could sit at the King’s table. This tension should shape the way we engage and love our neighbor. It is pivotal for us to remember that we are lame in both feet, that God in His kindness has set a space for us to eat lavishly at the table, and that we as humble servants are called to invite other dead dogs to the feast. What joyful privilege…to help prepare the table to feast with our King.

Do you know you are crippled in your feet?…Are you eating from the King’s table?…Who may you invite to the feast?…May God give us eyes to see and ears to hear, refresh us by His Spirit, and strengthen us by His grace.

Chris Ball

Executive Director, Raleigh Bridgehaven Counseling Associates

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