Sometimes I like to think I’ve got faith figured out. I feel like I’ve learned a few things, had a dramatic return to Christ after years of wandering, read some books, and can clap my hands together and say “done and done.” But these last few months have been a weird time of God exposing to me how broken my understanding of his love is. How twisted and how false my beliefs are. And recently he showed me that with a dead bird, a homecoming and a single letter.
As I’ve mentioned 92 times, I’m reading through the Bible with some friends right now. I’ve joked a few times that the book of Leviticus is the “one year plan killer.” It’s the book that has often knocked my out of the running for actually reading through the Bible in a year. It’s full of mold regulations and verses that tell you how to determine what hair color means in the middle of a sore and oh man, I stop reading. That was the attitude I took with me as we marched into the L.
But because the Bible isn’t a book, but the Word of God, every line, every verse has the potential to blow you away. And Leviticus 14 did. Is it dramatic? Is it earthshaking? Not at first glance. The verses that caught me are about, you guessed it, mold regulations.
Here is what verses 49-53 say:
“To purify the house, he (a priest) is to take two birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop. He shall kill one of the birds over fresh water in a clay pot. Then he is to take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet yarn and the live bird, dip them into the blood of the dead bird and the fresh water, and sprinkle the house seven times. He shall purify the house with the bird’s blood, the fresh water, the live bird the cedar wood, the hyssop and the scarlet yarn. Then he is to release the live bird in the open fields outside the town. In this way he will make atonement for the house, and it will be clean.”
I’ve read those verses a number of times before but this time, something hit me, a question I couldn’t shake:
“Do you think the bird who was freed, the live bird who represented being forgiven, walked when it was released in the fields or did it soar?”
The other bird paid the price. Freedom was bought at a cost. Atonement was paid with a life. Knowing that, seeing that, do you think the second bird refused to fly when it was released? Do you think it quietly tucked its wings and scurried about the ground?
Of course not. Having escaped death, having escaped that moment, it probably could not fly high enough or fast enough into the sky. It jumped loudly into the freedom of forgiveness.
I don’t. I don’t celebrate God’s mercy or grace that way. I am like the prodigal son, returning home to be a hired hand. I act like forgiveness is something to be earned, not celebrated. I am not an heir to the throne, I am a hired hand to the throne. But, I am wrong.
That’s why I continue to come back to the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. When he returns to the farm and finds himself in the father’s embrace, there is only one sentence of his plan that the father will not let him say: “Make me like one of your hired men.”
I don’t think he was allowed to say it because it couldn’t be true. He was his son, that was his identity, not his employee.
I mess grace up so often and have confused it in my head for so many years. I finally just confessed to God, “You know how I think. You know how I’ve trained myself to believe for years and years. I can’t rewire myself. I can’t sanctify me. Only you can. I need you to transform the way I look at grace.” And the prayer that came from that confession and the hope I have for you and me is simple:
“Help me live in the joy of forgiveness, not the job of forgiveness.”
Those two words might feel similar, joy and job are only a single letter apart, but they are worlds away from each other. I pray we will be that bird who does not run, but instead flies. Who looks at what Christ did for us on the cross. The sacrifice, the mercy, the grace and that we will not try to earn it when we return to the farm, but will instead accept it. Fly in it. Celebrate it. And know the joy of forgiveness.