There was once a man named Merib-baal.
Merib-baal was the son of a prince, grandson to a king – albeit a dead prince and a dead king, slain in battle against a foreign nation. This man had been crippled for years – he was just five years old when he heard the news of his father’s death in battle alongside his grandfather, and, in the haste to flee to safety, his nurse had dropped him, leaving him unable to walk unaided.
As you can see, Merib-baal was a man of unfortunate beginnings.
His disability had put him at a shameful disadvantage all his life, confirmed by the sly, sideward glances he noticed, on occasion, from his servants. He was lonely, a child whose family had perished in battle at a young age. He had very few memories of his father – except that he was a kind man, friendly with the man who was now-king. Merib-baal resided in a town called Lo-Debar – meaning, in his language, “not having” and “no pasture” – a forgotten place, cast out in the far Northerly border of a kingdom constantly under threat of attack and invasion.
He was a forgotten, insignificant man, living in a forgotten, insignificant place. He had nothing to his name, no advantage from his ancestral ties to a dead king, living in shame among a town of nobodies and rejects.
One day, the new king summoned him to court.
Alas, my time has come, he thought. I am either summoned to death or to imprisonment. A better fate than the one allotted me, anyway!
So, making the long journey south to the capital, made even slower because of his broken body, the last of his hope slowly transmuted into bitterness and then rage. As the miles passed, so his mind became consumed with swelling anger: So, this is the glorious end to my anguished life. A reject, now an enemy of the monarch, going to meet my execution as a wretch and a beggar.
So the journey passed, and with such thoughts he was escorted into the king’s court. He did the king mock homage, for what little good it would achieve.
But, to his great surprise, the King started to weep. Weeping tears of joy that the son of his lost friend was here, tears of bittersweet sadness that Merib-baal was the last among his family, salty tears infused with kindness.
“Do not be afraid!” said he, pouring compassion from his heart; “I will show you kindness, I will restore to you everything that was once your father’s.
“I will make you like my own son in my court. You will eat with me. You are accepted here; forget everything that has passed before. Every privilege my sons enjoy – ask, and they will be given to you also. You have suffered cruelly, and now you shall know kindness.”
Merib-baal, expecting the worst, could hardly believe his lot. Expecting death and judgement, he had been lavished with good gifts of which he was neither worthy nor expecting. His amazement left him speechless, and he stared blankly in disbelief.
It took Merib-baal years to become accustomed to dining in such luxury, excused for his lineage as a member of a competing dynasty, and treated with utter compassion despite his disability which had left him treated with contempt all his life.
It took him years to truly believe he was accepted. It took him years to lose the shame that he had been accustomed to. It took him years to believe he was accepted in spite of who he was. It took him years to accept he was loved by this king who should have treated him as an enemy.
You see, the story of Merib-baal is my story. I profess to believe in a King of compassion, a King who invites me into his courts, a king who accepts me despite every crime and disservice I have done him. Yet, just like Merib-baal, I still find myself held back, thinking myself a cripple, ashamed to come into court.
I still see myself an enemy of the dynasty, expecting the worst as I stand before the king. Like the Canaanite women who spoke to Jesus in the Gospel story, I can hardly believe myself to be worthy of the crumbs under the King’s table, never mind worthy to be sat at it like a son.
Yet, this is the truth of the Christian proclamation. Guilty men are excused. Traitors are given a place at the King’s table. The lame and cripples, men and women physically crippled or spiritually crippled like myself, are given a seat at the table, staring into the compassion-filled eyes of a King who delights to see his many children playing and dancing in his courts.
Every gift and privilege the King gives to his only Son, Christ, he also lavishes upon us, treating us just the same way.
And yet I cannot believe it. In my prayers, I still act like the guilty child who only fearfully and tentatively comes before his father from whom he expects the worst. I expect condemnation. I cannot forgive myself. In being accepted, I still live under the veil of rejection. Rather than accepting my new title, I still wear the badge:
A Nobody from Nowhere.
But the great truth of the King’s kindness defies every scheme of the imagination, every plan of the guilty conscience to usurp hope.
Sinners, let go of your disbelief. Cripples, abandon your shame. Guilty men, forget your pasts. The Kingdom of this King is in the habit of turning upside-down these worldly expectations of ourselves and others. The Last are called First. The Poor are called Rich. Orphans are given the status of the Son. And we, friend, are among their ranks.
So, let go of your doubts. Come humbly, but approach with confidence. Enjoy every good blessing from the table. This is a good, good Father, and he accepts us, not because of who we are, but in spite of it.
This post tells an old story, from the ancient book of 2 Samuel. Read it here.