My undergraduate New Testament professor — Dr. Polk — had this wonderfully entertaining habit: he would be reading a scripture passage to us, directly from the NRSV translation, and then suddenly he would burst into his own quirky paraphrase.
“[Jesus] said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him: Right you are, dummy!”
As silly they were, Dr. Polk’s paraphrases sometimes helped me remember the serious messages of scripture in the times when I needed them most.
I remember a moment during my senior year of college when I felt overwhelmed by shame. I’d made some mistakes; a close relationship was crumbling; I felt lost. Then, as if out of nowhere, one of Polk’s Paraphrases came to mind: “God knows you’re stupid, little lambs. But God loves you.” And I felt a rush of peace and acceptance. My professor’s silliness had provided me a pathway to healing.
The words of Jesus that Dr. Polk was paraphrasing are from this teaching:
“Do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:29-32).
Here Jesus brings up the worries of people who needed to focus on everyday survival: food, clothing, shelter. When these things feel overwhelming, Jesus said, remember: God is not overwhelmed. God is more powerful.
In that rough moment during my senior year, I felt overwhelmed by my own feelings of guilt and fear. When this passage came to mind, it felt like the Holy Spirit reminding me: God is not overwhelmed by these things. God is more powerful.
What sorts of things make you feel overwhelmed? Today, take a moment to remind yourself: these things cannot overwhelm God, and God is with you.
Now thus says the Lord…
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned,
And the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3a)
God of peace: I thank and praise you for each moment of life that you grant. When my days become chaotic, I often feel far from you and suffocated by my distorted sense of perspective.
Lord, your word has the power to calm the raging waters. Trusting in that word, I pray that you would breathe into my weary and anxious bones these words of peace: “Be still and know that I am God.”
Help me to remember that no matter what stressful situations I may encounter — you are Lord and I am your beloved child. Transform each moment of stress into an opportunity for me to use the gifts that you have given, and to reflect the joy that comes through your resurrection. Amen.
[Prayer from In Thy Light We See Light: The Valparaiso University Prayer Book]
Feb. 10, 2021
Rev. Katherine Museus Dabay serves as university pastor at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and takes turns writing weekly devotions with University Pastor James A. Wetzstein.