Romans 5: 1-5 CEB
One of my favorite stories as a child was the Old Woman and her Pig. It is about a woman who wants to get her pig into it's stile but the pig would not go. She then goes on a vindictive journey to strong arm different items, creatures and people into helping her out. Eventually, it is a cat who pushes the plan into action:
As soon as the cat had lapped up the milk,
the cat began to kill the rat.
The rat began to gnaw the rope.
The rope began to hang the butcher.
The butcher began to kill the ox.
The ox began to drink the water.
The water began to quench the fire.
The fire began to burn the stick.
The stick began to beat the dog.
The dog began to bite the pig.
The little pig in a fright jumped over the stile, and so the old woman got home that night.
Vindictive, right? It took years before I could see just how vindictive it was. There are two sides of the story that make the whole thing uncomfortable. First, no one wants to help an old woman. She is in need and at every turn she is told no. What happened to helping the least of these? Also, the old woman wants to terribly hurt sentient life in order to get what she wants. Only the stubborn pig, who doesn't want to be held captive, appears as the innocent in the story.
So we talk about Romans 5:1-5 and I can't help but think of this tale. A story I used to love but now furrow my eyebrows the second the cat begins to kill the rat. In the same way I used to love Paul's words of encouragement as our problems and pains lead to hope through the Spirit. When this scripture comes up in lectionary I used to live it's message. My pain leads to hope. Yet using this scripture this week feels cold and heartless in light of the tornado that ripped through Oklahoma. You don't tell people in pain that their pain is good in the long run. Yet, I fear, this being the week Romans 5:1-5 comes up in lectionary, it will be used to plaster hope over a clear tragedy.
Before the finger pointing starts and it becomes a moment to call me a hypocrite for using the very text I am suggesting we avoid, let me qualify my avoidance. We should avoid praising pain and suffering for the sake of what that pain and suffering could bring. I don't believe, what I just shared, was the intended point Paul was trying to make. I do fear it will be used in that manner on Sunday morning. It seems natural disaster leads to ignorant statements from Pastors and groups like Westboro Baptist Church who think a tornado gives them reason to talk about understanding sin and how everyone is living in it.
This is where I would go with this scripture: Sometimes we get off track, and sometimes we are derailed by tragedy. In a Godless world that is where the story ends. The spiritual train goes off the bridge and that is that. Yet God, like the good parent, steps in and cleans us up, fixes us and gets us back on track. In a perfect world, we wouldn't need our pain to produce endurance, our endurance to produce character, and our character to produce hope. In a perfect world our life exists without pain and suffering. The focus is not on whether God causes the pain and suffering, but what God does once pain and suffering happens. The answer is in this scripture. God does not leave us. The reason character leads to hope is because hope is what one has when they believe they are not left alone. The only way to maintain hope is in knowing God was present the entire journey in getting back on track.
While this is hopeful, after tragedy it might sound like the Old Woman and her Pig. Realize this scripture is here when people are ready to get back on track. Right now let's mourn. Right now let's weep. There will be a time for healing. Right now, we are here for you.
Like what you are reading? Consider subscribing to the right.
Also, consider participating in the bible study currently in progress. It can be found under the Bible Study tab above.