CHAPTER 52. LIVES OF SULHA
Last month we learned about Sulha and the heart, intention, and priority of God to move toward us and to redeem us, to cover over our sins and to enter us into right relationship with him once more. This month we look at our participation in this same heart of our Lord, the spirit of Sulha.
The implications are profound, for not only do we enter into Sulha for our own freedom but we also become agents of Sulha for the freedom of others. Participating in Sulha is the invitation of the gospel.
It is why we have been chosen in Christ, to agree with God for our own lives and to then agree with God for the lives of others. It is to call forth life for others, to hold back attack that may be over others, it is to restore others to health and healing in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is to bring creation into the healing and restoration of God. It is to bring justice to the broken systems of our lives. It is to defend the children from those who would hurt them, and it is to care for widows as they can no longer care for themselves. It is to advocate God’s heart of restoration upon all things and all people. It is to do away with the violations against women and to hold men to a higher standard of care and love.
To begin let’s take a look at this spirit of Sulha lived out by men and women of faith all through the Bible.
We see the spirit of Sulha:
In Abraham as he intercedes for Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis 18:22 to Genesis 19:3
In Hosea as he receives back unto himself his prostituting wife. Hosea 3:1
In Daniel as he intercedes and takes upon himself responsibility regarding the sins of the Israelites and their resulting exile. Daniel 9:3
In Rahab the prostitute as she welcomes and hides the Israelite spies at Jericho. Joshua 2
In the story of the good Samaritan as told by Jesus. Luke 10:25-37
In Boaz as he takes Ruth the foreigner as his wife. Ruth (the entire book)
In Jesus as he frees the woman caught in adultery. John 8:1-11
As already studied we have seen Sulha:
In Jacob as he makes a meal for his father-in-law Laban after all the unjust years. Genesis 31:54-55
* find the context of the story in Genesis 29:15-30 and Genesis 31:1-53
In Joseph as he welcomes his brothers after their great wrong done against him. Genesis 43:33-43
* find the context of the story in Genesis chapter 37, Genesis 39, then Genesis 41
In Jesus as he eats with sinners. Mark 2:14-15
We were always made for Sulha, able to receive it, able to offer it. But if we skip back to Mark where Jesus is eating with the sinners we find the religious leaders of the day complaining,
“And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Mark 2:16
The church leaders were indignant as Jesus chose to offer Sulha to those deemed least worthy.
They had lost the spirit of the living Lord.
Today, as the church we must ensure we do not do the same. Sulha, if taken seriously, transforms all of our theology and understandings of God and of his love, the power of his grace, the position of his heart towards us and everyone around us. And it will transform our churches and our evangelism and our very life in the Lord.
The religious leaders of Jesus day were scandalized because they were stuck on law. Having managed to make their lives appear pure they sneered at and rejected those unable to attain the same self-righteousness as they. This is the sin of religion that Christ came to save us from.
“The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me.” John 16:9
Sin was and is taken care of, Jesus did this work two-thousand years ago. Christ covered over, removed the sting of sin and failure and is making all things new. This is the power of our God and the work of Christ on the cross and the continuing influence of the Spirit in our lives to this day.
It was religion that then needed to be done away with.
For self-righteous effort has no need for Sulha and will not accept it nor give it. A life that strives to please God does not need Christ and cannot rest in transformative grace that is given freely to all. A religious life is like that of the spirit of the older brother as we read in Luke.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’
But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” Luke 15:25-30
Did you read that? “He was angry and refused to go in” vs.28
God came to decriminalize our lives. With all things made new (Revelation 21:5) we have no need of holding ourselves apart, unless we want to miss out on the party. And we can.
In our indignation at the opportunity, the celebration, the restoration, the grace given freely to ANYONE who wants it, we can miss out on all that God has for us as well.
Lives of religion show up this way. One works hard all ones life to stay on the straight and narrow. Certain things are embraced while other things are renounced all with an eye to being perfect and making ourselves holy and doing things the right way with a heart purposed towards not doing the wrong thing.
And while God in his grace says “Thank-you” he also says, “Hey I have this one for you to meet. They too are at the banqueting table, please make them welcome.”
But religious lives perceive that this one has not lived a good life, this one has not been holy, this one has not walked righteously, but this one gets all the very same perks and privileges and favor, and the religious life is incensed, angry, jealous, and enraged.
There is no Sulha here.
Here we lose the Spirit of our Living Lord.
We’ve lost the narrow way.
We’ve forgotten that the banquet is for everyone.
God extends Sulha to all who will receive it.
“He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his banner over me was love.” Song of Solomon 2:4
Yet not all receive it. The religious leaders of Jesus day rejected it, missed it completely, so intent were they on right and wrong, good and bad. The evidence of those who have received it is evidenced as those extending it; we can’t give it unless we have first received it ourselves.
The Bible is full of Sulha. This ancient middle-eastern tradition of making peace, of forgiveness, of fellowship extended to those who deserve it least is spoken of and acted out again and again all through scripture. We even find God himself using the exact same language and pictures to show us his heart of Sulha, of forgiveness, of extending peace, to all mankind.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”
But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Matthew 22:2-10
May we all check our hearts ensuring that Sulha marks our lives.
May Sulha change our personal reception of God into and over our own lives.
May we evidence Sulha in our manner towards everyone we come into contact with.
In Sulha we are the peace we want to see in the world.
In Sulha we are the love of God.
“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19:7-9
I am sure that as you have been reading this that there are those coming to mind who have wronged you in the past. The offences of others against us tend to stick with us. I think this is why God gives us the ability to in fact let go of these offences, to release them and the person who hurt us, so that we can get on with our future, going forward without hindrance.
Of course, before we can offer Sulha to others we will have had to do the hard inner work of forgiving and of releasing bitterness. We will have come to see that holding onto the offence of the other person is wearing us down and making us weak. We will have come to see that there must be a better way. And we see that Sulha, this great heart of God’s forgiveness and peace, is this better way.
To offer Sulha we will have had to do some of the things we’ve already been discussing in this course. We will have had to stop blaming and making excuses regarding our hurt. We will have had to come into 100% responsibility for our responses to those who hurt us. And as we know we will have had to forgive others.
Once this hard inner work has been accomplished, it is just a matter of shifting our heart and mind into an attitude and spirit of Sulha. We no longer have to carry the offences done against us. And we can make it clear to those who have hurt us that we do not hold these things against them any longer.
Now, while the ancient middle eastern tradition calls for a literal meal served to the person, we may find that in our various cultures other ways of expressing Sulha. Some of the ways that I have been compelled to show Sulha are:
- Receiving from someone whom I had previously despised
- Being kind to someone to whom I was previously contemptuous towards
- Greeting someone whom I had previously shunned
- Having a cup of tea at a cafe with someone that I had previously avoided
1). Today, as you think about the ones who have harmed you, take some time to sit with the Lord in prayer and ask God how you might extend a spirit of Sulha to those ones.
Hold this query open to the Lord and allow him to give you a way to put offence behind both you and the people you’ve been holding in unforgiveness and bitterness.
2). Then, make a plan. Write down your ideas and your intention to extend Sulha to the ones on your list.
What you will find is that God will open opportunities for you to be different with the ones who have offended you. There will be situations that will open up for you to extend a spirit of Sulha. Trust the Lord as you endeavour to do this and he will lead the way.
For some people we may have to make a concerted effort to extend Sulha. Perhaps the person does not live near to you anymore and perhaps you will need to go to where that person is, to act unto them in a specific way that say, “I put our past behind us. I respect you and want only the best for you.”
Beyond these specific actions of Sulha to specific people, what we really want is to grow into people of Sulha. We want to carry this most excellent spirit of our Lord in our everyday dealings and all our interactions and manners with the people around us. We want to be people of peace because as we do this we introduce and usher in the Kingdom of peace and of our Lord everywhere we go.
So, today, set an intention and make a commitment to the Lord to be a person of peace, to be a person of Sulha, to live out the great forgiveness and peace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
“God I come to you today in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ. Father I see this most amazing way you have extended to us, and I realize the opportunity is for me to do the same and to participate in your most excellent manner. God I ask that you would begin changing my heart.
Enable me to have a heart of Sulha towards all others. Teach me to live out your peace, to be quick to put offence behind me, and eager to extend grace and forgiveness. Bring me into your great understanding and great releasing of problems and offence, make me a person of Sulha. God I ask that you would open doors that I may extend Sulha to those who have wronged me.
Give me wisdom and clarity about how to go ahead with this. Show me the way. I trust you and I rely on you in this. Thank you that you have made a way for us to go forward, even when we have been hurt and harmed. With all glory to you God, amen.”
SUMMARY – lives of Sulha
When we have been wronged we have the option to go toward the one who did the wrong and set aside offence.
Victims have the power to go forward with their lives. Luke 6:27; Proverbs 10:12; Matthew 6:12
God comes to us in Sulha Isaiah 32:17; John 16:33; 2 Thessalonians 3:16
God comes in peace John 14:27; Isaiah 12:2; Galatians 5:22
We can do the same Colossians 3:15; 1 Peter 3:11; Romans 14:19
We are called to be people of peace to a broken world Matthew 5:9; Hebrews 12:14; Romans 8:6