From Jon Birch, at ASBO Jesus:

The Prodigals

I like this especially because it so nicely illustrates the theme I’m working on these days, and which will be a big part of my conversations in May.

Here’s how I opened up a recent paper on the topic:

Hasten, O God, to save me;
come quickly, LORD, to help me.
(Psalm 70:1 KJV)

John Cassian, in his tenth conference, relates his continuing conversation on prayer with Abba Isaac. In the middle of the conversation, Isaac notes that Psalm 70:1 is “the devotional formula… absolutely necessary for possessing the perpetual awareness of God.” “Not without reason,” he adds, “has this verse been selected from out of the whole body of Scripture. For it takes up all the emotions that can be applied to human nature and with great correctness and accuracy it adjusts itself to every condition and every attack.” In being suitable for “all conditions” this centering prayer becomes a tool for men and women experiencing a variety of circumstances, both circumstances of need and of success. “This verse,” Isaac teaches, “should be poured out in unceasing prayer so that we may be delivered in adversity and preserved and not puffed up in prosperity.” Those who are in great need focus on hope in God, giving renewal in God’s promise to work on behalf of his people. Those in prosperity would be reminded that they truly do need God, refocusing their hearts and minds on the reality of God’s presence, rather than the ephemeral state of their present successes.

The centering prayer of Psalm 70:1 becomes an expression of hope and promise to help each man and woman find their way back to God’s perspective, a reality in which God has a preferential option for all people. Yet, people must learn to be open to this option, this true freedom and full identity that is only found in God. The oppressed fall into despair and hopelessness; the oppressors remain lulled by their apparent wealth and power. God seeks out his people even still, working in Christ and in Spirit in this world, leading people to liberation towards their particular freedom. The liberating work of God calls the oppressed out of their oppression and the liberating work of God calls the oppressor out of their oppressing. “Because oppression always has these two sides,” Jürgen Moltmann writes, “the liberation process has to begin on both sides too.”

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