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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 11:1–9

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. (NRSV)

Reflection
Humans are naturally inclined to find comfort in what they know, whom they know, and what feels safe or comfortable. When someone tries to throw us off kilter or suggests we move outside of our comfort zone, we have the urge to protect ourselves. We become defensive. In this passage, the tower builders ignore God’s call to scatter throughout the earth and, instead, focus on protecting and preserving their own community. Rather than embracing God’s command to populate the earth and be good stewards to new lands and new people, they decide to isolate themselves. God does not settle for this type of defensive response.

But this response doesn’t end in Babylon. We often still don’t like what we don’t understand, and unfortunately, this has played out in some of the most unjust human acts imaginable: the Holocaust, threats of nuclear weapons, a protest against civil rights for every man, woman, and child no matter their race or creed. Unfortunately we even find small ways to isolate ourselves from the diversity we fear (or build up the pride we possess) on a daily basis. We carefully select our friends or our neighborhoods to call home, but we also select who is worthy of our time and compassion. Do we reach out to those who are beyond the walls we cautiously build up in our lives? The people who may be ignored, misunderstood, or forgotten? God calls us to have greater humility than we care to admit and possess. Despite the tower builders’ attempts to build a monument to the heavens, God still had to come down to their level and remind them of their duty to cultivate the earth full of rich culture and unique attributes.

Prayer  
God, remind me to face the day with a meek heart, so I may not build walls and secure myself in my own comfort, but that I may answer your call to care for the greater good and seek to understand the multitude of gifts among my brothers and sisters on this earth. Amen.

Written by Jackie Lorens Harris, Director,Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

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