Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (I Kings 1) transports me to an unforgettable fancy dinner I attended around 15 years ago, in honor of Bernard Lafayette, one of the heroes of the Civil Rights movement. At Dr. Lafayette’s table was an older white man, Dr. Max Lennon, the college president. Also there was a young black man, Cedric Scott, the president of the student body, myself, and two or three others, including one of the venerable elders of the black community in Asheville, the Reverend O.T. Tomes. Before we even had time to put dressing on the salad, Cedric took advantage of the opportunity to bend President Lennon’s ear, passing on complaints about some racial profiling the black students were enduring at the hands of campus security. It was a tense situation, and the President didn’t respond well. He defended the security measures, saying something to the effect that when black students sponsor dances, there is a danger of attracting the gang element from the wider community. He was alert enough to quickly recognize by the shocked expressions around the table that he had stepped in it, so he spent the entire rest of the dinner trying to dig himself out of the hole. His strategy of some of my best friends have always been black people didn’t help matters. Finally, as we finished our desserts, with no one having spoken except for him the entire time, the president asked O.T. Tomes if he would commit to praying for him and for the campus, that they would have the grace to make headway on racial matters. Reverend Tomes answered in the excruciatingly slow and deliberate manner he was known for, emphasizing every word, Dr. Lennon, I will have to answer your request for prayer conditionally. Let me explain what I mean by that word, “conditionally.” I, like you, am a man at the sunset of life, and find that I do not have the time to answer all requests on my time in the affirmative. Therefore, until and unless I see evidence that you are taking these students’ requests with the utmost seriousness, I will have to decline your request for prayer. End of dinner.
A tense situation occurred at the time of King David’s death and the transition of power. The heir apparent was his handsome but spoiled son Adonijah, the eldest surviving child of the King, born by his wife Haggith. However, one of David’s other wives, Bathsheba, took an opportunity to bend the King’s ear and remind him that he had promised the throne to their son, Solomon. While Adonijah was laying claim to the kingship and throwing a fancy banquet to celebrate, David kept his promise and installed Solomon on the throne. Adonijah realized that he had stepped in it, and went to the altar to try and dig himself out of the hole, begging for mercy from his half-brother. Solomon, by tradition, would have been expected to execute all of his rivals and diminish any future threats. But he listened to the plea for clemency, and answered conditionally. He explained to Adonijah what he meant by that word “conditionally.” If you show yourself worthy, not a hair of your head will be harmed. But if you prove evil, you’re a goner. The next chapter reveals how Adonijah responded to these conditions for mercy (not too well).
As much as we’d like to think we love unconditionally, if we’re honest with ourselves we know we often have conditions to the mercy we show. There are limits to the grace we show each other. And yet, Jesus loves us unconditionally; the grace and mercy we have been shown is without condition. Or is it? The final words of Jesus to the woman taken in adultery, after scattering her accusers and relieving her of the consequences and condemnations of her actions, was Go and sin no more. There’s a future conditional tense for you, spiritually if not grammatically. We are all living in that tense situation – the future conditional tense. If we go, having been forgiven, we will live a new life, transformed, serious in our work for reconciliation across the great divides, as we daily transfer power from the world’s thrones to the cross of Jesus.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to respond, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.