Psalm 131, 132, 133; Exod. 7:25-8:19; 2 Cor. 3:7-18; Mark 10:17-31
The Plague of Frogs from the “Golden Haggadah,” probably the most lavish of medieval Passover manuals, gold leaf and tempera paint on vellum (prepared lamb skin), Catalan, ca 1320, British Library London
Plagues continue today, having kicked off with bloody waters yesterday. Plagues of frogs and gnats–plagues of Egypt, not plagues of the moment. Dayyenu! Does God send plagues to test and punish and teach? Well, as a Christian, I’m pretty much stuck with the Book of Exodus. So yes, once in a while God does just that. But does God send every single plague and tempest and tornado and famine to test and punish and teach? Well, as a Christian, I better be careful about using the name of the Lord my God in vain (also, conveniently, straight out of Exodus).
Remember when Jesus gets asked if a certain group of Galileans died because of their wickedness? “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:2-5)
Jesus says quite specifically in Luke 13 that God doesn’t send every single disaster the way He sent the plagues of Egypt, and if I start contradicting Jesus and saying I “know” this epidemic, that earthquake, this hurricane, are a particular judgment, a particular punishment, a particular test? Well, then, I think I’ve just said that I know better than Jesus how God works. I’ve just taken the name of the Lord my God in vain, ascribed to Him an evil when I simply cannot know whether this is sent from God or is, instead, the way the world works and an invitation to do God’s work in this painful moment. I’ve just started a new religion in which I, not Jesus, am the infallible interpreter of the mind of the unseen God of love. And friends, I don’t want to be a member of that religion, because trust me, I know myself well enough to know that’s a frail reed upon which to lean in tough times.
So friends, if a burning bush is talking to you and telling you that COVID 19, or AIDS, or Hurricane Katrina, are God’s immediate and apparent judgement and punishment, then go ahead and spread the message. But unless and until you’re hearing from a burning bush, or an angel of light, or a booming message from the clouds, then frankly, keep that thought to yourself. When we Christians overstep our pay grades and start being certain we know the mind of God instead of stepping forward and doing the works of God, the work of repentance (which always includes changed action and changed relationships), then we open the Church up to ridicule and we open ourselves up to the legitimate thought that just maybe we’ve overstepped our pay grade. The Church of Stevianity is not accepting applications for ordination. Because I don’t know “why” this plague, that tornado, happens. Neither do you. Unless you’re talking to burning bushes, of course.