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Balaam’s First Oracle

Numbers 23:7a & 9
And Balaam took up his discourse and said, … “For from the top of the crags I see him, from the hills I behold him; behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations!”

The entire history of God’s chosen people is written in this singular poetic line. Both the strength of the life of faith and the struggle are represented here. In this oracle we hear the paradoxical call to be in the world, yet not of it. To live in that oscillating tug-of-war between loving the earth enough to give ourselves up for it, to sacrifice our own welfare for our neighbors’ wellbeing, while not loving the things of the world. To be a people in city streets and school boardrooms and clerical offices and hospital rooms and ball fields and capitol buildings and police stations, our presence illumining all facets of society, welcoming others to join us in our great gospel pilgrimage, yet a people well and truly on our own. The salt of the earth, yet not earthly. A people at the epicenter of world history—at the heart of every significant moment—yet a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations.

Think of Jesus, friend. Picture the way He fed and watered crowds of hungry people, stayed up through all hours of the night to speak with those long lines of seekers, washed His disciples’ feet with a towel, dined with Pharisees and Sadducees, touched the untouchables, cast out demons in the synagogues, healed blind men in the streets, prayed in the shadows of olive groves, debated with religious scholars, sought out the Samaritan widows, and loved the unlovely while serving the ungrateful masses of fallen men. There wasn’t a crevice of our world God didn’t incarnate into, not a crack on the earth’s crust He didn’t fill with His presence! His face represented all of us. All the extremes of our human experiences, all the binaries of rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, strong and weak, princely and pauperly, citizen and outcast, full and hungry, joyful and sorrowful, all extremes of our human experience wrapped in the swaddling cloth of one divine Stranger!

How profound the mystery! That we, the people of God, are aliens and strangers in the very world we’re called to make more like our heavenly home.