“But, God, they’re not like me! They come from a different place and worship differently than I do!”

Yet God says, “Take a look around yourself. Pay attention to the people you meet. Watch what I’m doing. And be ready to change your mind and your behavior when you see what I’m up to.”

It is so easy for Christians – especially white, middle-class Christians like me – to believe we are always in the right. It’s so easy for us to hold on to the social positions of power and privilege that we have inherited. It’s so easy for us to assume that people who differ from us are somehow wrong.

Are we willing to seek reconciliation when God points out how wrong we are?

I love the crazy, strange, unfamiliar stories of the Old Testament. One such story containing a powerful moral is buried in plain sight in the middle of 1 Kings.

A little background on the story:

  • King Solomon has died, and his son Rehoboam has succeeded him as king.
  • The nation of Israel has been torn apart because of Rehoboam’s leadership.
  • Of the eleven land-owning tribes in the nation, the ten northern tribes have seceded and formed their own nation.
  • This northern nation, called Israel, has appointed its own king, a man named Jeroboam.
  • Jeroboam has made two golden calves for the people to worship as the gods who brought them out of slavery in Egypt. (Sound familiar? See Exodus 32.)
  • Jeroboam has placed the two golden calves in religious shrines, one in the northern part of Israel, and one in the south – in Bethel, near the border between Israel and Judah.
  • Jeroboam has also made priests out of anyone and everyone. In Judah, priests still must be descendants of Aaron.
  • Consequently, a huge division has grown between the people of Israel and the people of Judah. This division is both racial/ethnic and religious in nature.

Take a few minutes right now to read the story found in 1 Kings 13.

With which character do you identify the most? The “man of God from Judah,” who speaks God’s truth but dies tragically at the end of the story? Or King Jeroboam, who seems to doubt all this religiosity and sentimentality? Or perhaps the conflicted “old prophet living in Bethel,” who lies to the man of God, proclaims the word of the Lord to him, sends him to his death, and then weeps over his dead body?

See if you can put yourself in the old prophet’s shoes. Read 1 Kings 13 again from his perspective.

What a crazy story! Can you imagine proclaiming judgment on a supposedly religious person and then burying that person in your own grave? Can you imagine being so moved that you overcome religious and racial obstacles to call your dead enemy your brother? Can you imagine seeking reconciliation with an enemy – even sharing space in a tomb – because you realize the truth of God’s word?

What if we actually lived this way? What if we treated people with dignity and compassion and understanding, even when we disagree with them or have a different heritage than them? What if we listened for the voice of God and then repented of the ways in which we have mistreated people who differ from us?

The point of 1 Kings 13 is that King Jeroboam did not listen to the voice of God. He persisted in his evil ways: worshiping the golden calves, appointing everyday people as priests, running his own religious shrines. So his dynasty ended quickly.

But the old prophet got it. He listened to God’s voice, eventually. He learned to respect one who differed so greatly from himself, who worshiped differently, who came from a different place. Of course, he did it too late: the man of God from Judah died, and the old prophet was responsible for that.

“But, God, they’re not like me! They come from a different place and worship differently than I do!”

Yet God says, “Take a look around yourself. Pay attention to the people you meet. Watch what I’m doing. And be ready to change your mind and your behavior when you see what I’m up to.”

May we respond to God’s voice, may we learn from those who are not like us, may we release the power and privilege that we believe is ours – before it is too late, and we find ourselves weeping over another dead brother.

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