Monday, December 30, 2013

I Could Use a Little Help

 "The Family Man," isn't as popular as "It's a Wonderful Life,"  but it's one of my favorites and has an interesting beginning.  Played by Nicholas Cage, the successful, self-centered Jack Campbell saves the day at a convenience store, then attempts to save Cash, the lowlife thief who caused the disturbance.  Billionaire Jack is the perfect person to advise Cash. "Everybody needs something," he tells him, but when Cash asks Jack what he needs, he answers, "I got everything I need," which results in the rest of the movie showing him that he doesn't.  It isn't Cash who needs help.

This post was intended for Christmas Eve, but sometimes reality is not happy or merry. We all could use a little help. Everyone needs saving, even a shepherd on a hillside near Bethlehem.

Norah Loft's biblical fiction novel, "How Far to Bethlehem?" is a book I read around Christmas.  Only having time for one chapter, I focused on the fictional shepherd, Josodad, a devout Jew who knew the Lord would deliver in His own good time.  His not so patient zealot son, Nathan, dealt with the Romans in his own good time. After Nathan's arrest, Josodad sold his flock, abandoned the Law, offered bribes, and lied to rescue his son, but it didn't work.  So like a faithful Jew, he went to the Wailing Wall to ask one favor of God- that his son would die quickly. Nathan spent 60 hours hanging on a rough Roman cross, bleeding and suffering, dying slowly - God failed him.

Time heals all wounds?  Five years pass.  He and his wife don't communicate.  She has their other children, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, to care for.  Josodad is lonely. He's a stranger in his own home.  He's tending another man's flock with other shepherds.  He's depressed.  He has kept the Law and waited for deliverance.  Although tempted to believe that God was manmade, Josodad prays the good Jew's first prayer every morning.  

Five winters pass. He's miserable. He's bitter. He needs help. In the quiet darkness one winter night,  he doubts God's existence. Out of habit, Josodad makes his evening prayer but adds a special request: that he will die in his sleep. 

He wakes up after a few hours. God failed him again. God failed him all along.  Never had Josodad asked a favor for himself.  He kept the Law, paid his dues, and made his prayers, but his son was gone forever.  Josodad will follow.  There's a cliff. The other shepherds are asleep. His family will be better off. 

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my people? Jeremiah 8:22

We know we need help when life is difficult like Josodad's.  But sometimes, like Jack Campbell, we have all we need and think we don't need help.  We attend church, sing in the choir, teach Sunday school, volunteer at the elementary school, and raise kids.  We do the helping, but it doesn't last forever. We finally realize we're wounded.  Our souls are sin-sick. We need a Balm.
Used for medicinal purposes, the balm in Gilead was only a day's travel for the Israelites, but they didn't use it.  Help was there; they simply didn't make the trip to find it.  There's always help for us; it's close by and often comes unexpectedly.

Josodad is standing next to the cliff.  In the dark night, he notices his black shadow defined. There's a light too brilliant to be a star, as if the sky opened up.  Then an angel appears and makes the familiar announcement, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news...." Our Deliverer is here. The waiting is over.  What about Nathan?  It's too late.  He's dead.  But God provides a balm to heal Josodad's wounds.

This is biblical fiction.  I'm not a theologian.  I've never studied angels.  I'm not trying to add to the Bible; it's complete.  But Norah Loft ends Josodad's chapter unexpectedly:

Then he saw that the angel was not alone.  Around him was a multitude, a great host, with all bright beautiful faces.  But of the host Josodad had eyes only for one familiar, beloved face; and in the chorus of voices signing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men," he heard only the voice of his own son.

They vanished and he was alone in the starlight.  He stood there knowing that Nathan was not a dead thing in the ground, but alive, recognizable and happy, part of unconceivable glory. All those years wasted in grief and bitterness, with Nathan, young and beautiful, safe in the hands of God all this time........A man should have faith.


The shepherds' names are never mentioned, but "they made haste and found the babe."  They, like us are real people living real lives, wounded with sin-sick souls.

The sky may not open up for us,  but help will come.  We may not know who, what, or where, but there is a Balm in Gilead for us. We may not know for who, what, or where, but God can use us as a balm.