Week of June 19
Rev. Herchel Sheets
Lesson Scripture: Joshua 2:3-9, 15-16, 22-24
I began my article on last week's Sunday school lesson with a statement by C. S. Lewis: "No one is a coward at all points." I want to begin this week's article by saying that no one is bad at all points, that everyone is good at some point or points. Mark Twain put it like this: "There's a good spot tucked away somewhere in everybody." But then he went on to say what we, too, may be inclined to say at least about some persons: "You'll be a long time finding it sometimes."
There's no question, though, as to the "good spot" the writers of the Book of Joshua saw in Rahab, the prostitute. She took the side of the Israelites as they were about to begin their invasion of her own country. She even lied to protect their spies. It can be said to her credit that Rahab appears to have been the first non-Israelite to declare faith in the Israelites' God. "The Lord your God," she said to the two spies, "is indeed God of heaven above and on earth below."
Praise for a Prostitute?
But still, the natural tendency may be for us to be flabbergasted to find the biblical writers praising a prostitute. Rahab appears as an ancestor of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew's "genealogy of Jesus the Messiah" (Mt. 1:5). The Letter to the Hebrews lists Rahab in its long line of persons of faith (11:31), and the Letter of James lists her as one who was "justified by works" (2:25).
As the Book of Joshua tells the story, Rahab was a person the Lord used to protect a people with a Divine mission. We don't know what information these two spies carried back to Joshua and their people, except that they told them "all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before us." But the implication in the story is that through Rahab God was fulfilling a promise to protect his people, using her to do that.
Does that seem strange to you, that God would use for Divine purposes a person with a record of inappropriate conduct? Could God not have found a more morally appropriate person for that task? Can just anybody do something that God wants done?
Working with What I Have
I remember a conversation I had years ago with Bishop William R. Cannon. We were discussing a decision made by a committee that I chaired. Bishop Cannon didn't like the decision, and had questions about the personnel of the committee. I said to him, "I had no choice in the membership of the committee. I just have to work with the people I have." He replied, "That's what I have to do, too!" I confess that at that point I didn't feel too comfortable as the chair of that committee!
If we questioned God about persons used in God's work, do you think God would say, "I just have to use the people I have"? What if God had to wait for perfect people to accomplish Divine purposes? How would that affect God's work? Indeed, would any of that work ever get done?
Abraham Lincoln sometimes lamented the fact that he was not more spiritually devout. He once said to a former law partner that he was only "a piece of floating driftwood," and to another he said that he had "drifted into the very apex of this great event" and that he was an "accidental instrument" of providence. But though he was not a perfect man by any means, who today can doubt that he was the man for the hour, leading in the preservation of the Union and bringing freedom to many thousands of persons?
Valuing the Good in Another
Louis Fischer, a biographer of Mahatma Gandhi, said that Gandhi recognized human weaknesses in both himself and others and did not expect perfection in anybody. He said that Gandhi refused to concentrate on the bad in people, and that often he changed them by regarding them not as what they were but as though they were what they wished to be, as though the good in them was all of them.
I wonder if that is not something of the way God looks at us – not concentrating on the bad in us, but seeking to change us by regarding us not as what we are but as though the good in us is all of us. That's certainly not what we usually do, is it? At least it is not what we do in looking at others. It is all too easy to concentrate on the bad, the ugly, the inappropriate, and so to disqualify, in our judgment, one person after another for service for God.
We are told in Joshua 6:25 that Rahab and her family had "lived in Israel ever since." Had she become a worshipper of the Lord? Was she still a prostitute, or was she now following the direction Jesus would give to another woman many years later: "Go your way, and from now on do not sin again" (John 8:11)? We have no indication of it, but what if the authors of Hebrews and James were seeing her in the light of what she had become, rather than of what she had been? It's no light thing to participate in the purposes of God. Indeed, such participation can help us to move in the direction of what we need to become.
The Rev. Herchel Sheets is an author and retired pastor. E-mail him at HHSheets@aol.com.