Wednesday, February 28, 2024

A word no one uses. . .

In the Scriptures using older translations you might encounter the word withered to describe a crop or a plant or a limb or a spirit or even a life.   Some 50+ times the Bible uses a variation of the word wither.  We have outgrown that usage and replace it with what we consider to be kinder and more sympathetic terms.  I wish we would go back.

According to the dictionary, wither means to become dry and sapless, as in to shrivel from or as if from loss of bodily moisture OR to lose vitality, force, or freshness as in the public support for the bill is withering.  It is from the Middle English widren; perhaps akin to Middle English weder weather.  It is not the oldest of words but it is freighted with context that is helpful to us and our understanding.

Sin has caused us and our lives to wither.  We have become dry.  We have lost the vitality of life and now live in the shadow of death.  Our lives are not fresh but have an expiration date on them.  We are like the plant that withers without moisture and so we are from birth drying up until only the dust from which we came will remain.  In Mark's Gospel, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand.  The hand becomes the mark of evil or sin.  Having such a withered hand would disqualify the man from certain vocations (especially that of a priest).  Jesus acts then in mercy not merely restoring the hand but the life of the man and thus removes the mark of evil from him.  It is a miracle of restoration.  What happens outwardly to the hand, happens also inwardly to the heart as faith replaces unbelief and trust overcomes suspicion and doubt.  This was no accidental encounter but the revelation of the Kingdom and of who are Lord is and why He has come.

In so many ways we live in a time when things have withered even more.  The dry and shriveled lives we live despite our vast technology are increasingly obvious.  We are isolated and alone.  We have knowledge but without real understanding.  We have potential but more often it is wasted or abused in evil.  Think here of the stain of pornography, vulgarity, and hate that almost consumes the internet.  We have become content to manage symptoms without ever considering that there might be something more.  Witness the way we medicate ourselves instead of rooting out the causes of depression or mental illness.  It is a therapeutic process which allows us the false idea that managing the symptoms is the same as healing.  A pain killer may indeed dull the pain but it does not end the cause of it.  So the end result of our withered lives is that we content ourselves with distraction that would make us forget our disability or entertainment which would give us some laughs to balance out the loss or we make withered the norm and wholeness the exception.
As we make our way through Lent, one of the things we need to confront is this ability to become comfortable with our misery and thus embrace what is withered as the best we can expect and all for which we dare hope.  It is easy to forget that Jesus has come for all that has been withered by sin.  He has come to restore what has been left dry and empty.  He has come to restore that which is no longer vital or powerful or fresh.  We do not need to settle for accepting sin as the default or defining away our pet sins as normal and even virtuous.  Christ has come to reach out and touch what is withered and dying.  He has come with grace sufficient and mercy abundant.  No one in their right mind would hide their withered hand or limb from the One who had the power to make it whole.  So we do not hide our sins but admit and confess them.  We own them all so that He can restore us through the grace of absolution.  But it all begins with the admission that we are withered, dry, dying, and dead in trespasses and sin.  Lent is not about getting by or finding a way through but bringing our withered bodies, minds, and spirits out into the open where Christ is.  We cannot surprise Him.  For such withered people and their lives He has come.  But He can surprise us.  We extend to Him withered souls and bodies robbed of the vitality God intended and marked for death and He does the unthinkable.  He gives them back to us whole and with them a future without end.  If we would think like this, perhaps we would not find Lent such a somber season after all.  For hidden in the confession is the affirmation of faith that knows what God does with our sins.  He forgives them and restores to us a clean and clear conscience that we might fulfill His purpose and bidding.  This is why for Christians, such repentance and forgiveness is not merely a season of forty days but the daily cycle of our Christian lives.  God is good.


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