In our time Christians have become particularly well known for making vocal judgments about the ills of our society. I am reminded of God’s struggle through the prophets to remind Israel of her shortcomings. Surely the line of prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, Micah, etc. – tried to bring about a just society. Finally, God chose to send his son to redeem a fallen nation and people. We could stand to learn about his God who was made known in the descending dove at Jesus’ baptism.
The Dove Is Associated with Jesus’ Baptism: "When Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’" (Matthew 3:13-17).
Leonard Sweet reminds us that the dove is really a pigeon (see "Trash
Cans or Treasure Chests"):
My favorite way of expressing how God works and bring nature and theology
together is in the dove. The dove does not exist. It is a poetic name for a
trash bird called a pigeon. And God chose as the symbol of the Holy Spirit a
trash bird. We prettify it by calling it a dove, but really it is a pigeon.
Isn’t it amazing how God works!
So what is a dove (really)?
Pigeon, “a common name for members of a family of birds; smaller species are commonly known as doves, but sizes of pigeons and doves overlap. … They dwell in trees or on the ground and feed on seeds, fruit, acorns and other nuts, and insects. Pigeons fly rapidly and are noted for their cooing call. They build loose, almost flat, nests of twigs, bark, straw, and weeds; the female lays one or two tan or white eggs. ("Pigeon," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2005, http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2005 Microsoft Corporation).
This "trash bird" was the only sacrifice that Mary and Joseph could afford when they took Jesus to the Temple for the rite of purification (see Luke
Until the Middle Ages the dove was the exclusive representation of the Holy Spirit in the church (Leonard Sweet, New Life in the Spirit, 1982, p. 24). It is known for the piercing sadness in its cry and its ability to use speed and agility to avoid conflicts. It appears as a bird of peace, not a bird of prey. "The tale of the suffering power of the dove is the old story of overcoming evil with good, hatred with love, suffering with suffering" (Sweet, p. 25). The dove’s suffering power stands in contrast to our modern preoccupation with power found in "money, muscle, multitudes, and might."
Bernard Loomer suggests that the World and the Spirit understand power
- The World uses "unilateral power" to control, influence, and force people to do things. Ultimately this use of power alienates and isolates us, makes us objects in someone else’s game, will ultimately abolish our freedom.
- The Spirit uses "relational power" seeks to influence the other and it open to the other’s influence.
- Power not to force others to change, but to influence others to change.
- Power which rests in relationships characterized by "openness, presence, suffering and vulnerability" where the other is seen as a creative partner.
- Jesus’ was killed by the worldly powerful, but his relational power rested in his suffering.
- God uses the weak, suffering, defenselessness of the cross and the resurrection to triumph over the powers of this world (Bernard Loomer, "Two Conceptions of Power," Process Studies, vol. 6 (Spring 1976), pp. 5-32 quoted in Sweet, p. 26).
Malcolm Muggeridge asked Anatole Kusnyetsov, a Soviet dissendent Christian, how he could be so passionate about God in the midst of persecution? His reply:
“If in this world you are confronted by absolute power, power unmitigated, power unrestrained, extending to every area of human life — if you are confronted with power in those terms, you are driven to realize that the only response to it is not some alternative power arrangement, more humane, more
enlightened. The only possible response is the absolute love which our Lord brought into this world.
Jesus was not killed because he had worldly power (i.e. he had no weapons, no money, no academic authority, no masses of disciples, etc.), but because he was in touch with "dove" power.
How about Ashley Smith? Have we forgotten her encounter with Brian Nichols (see John Fischer, "Two
Prodigals: How Bad Choices Turn Good for Ashley Smith and Brian Nichols;"
see Deborah Caldwell, "The Man with a
Purpose;" and a newspaper
account). Ashley’s prior history helped her reach someone who
stood in the need of God’s suffering, redeeming love.
So let me close by inviting us to suffer with another person.
First let me ask, "who suffered for you?" I think of teachers from high school like Herr Watts, my engineering mentors in Dr. El-Masry and Inga Simenson, professors in seminary like Neill Hamilton and Bob Bull. I think of biblical heroes like Hannah, Ruth, Rahab, and Bathsheba whose faithfulness was remembered and rewarded by God. I think of parents who shared in their suffering for my oldest brother. I think of their suffering with persons of color as they strove for equal rights. I think of a God who offered an only begotten Son to the world in love … only to have the world reject that love with death on a cross.
Now, let me return to where we started, "who are you making judgments about today?" Who are you sure stands under God’s eternal judgment? Who do you think will be hearing the weeping, wailing, and the gnashing of teeth for eternity? How did God respond? God sent the prophets for sure, but God
offered the love of a son to a broken world. Where you are clear God is making a judgment may be the place God is calling you to demonstrate the suffering love of a dove.