A living metaphor

Tales from the Unending Story

July 15, 2020 | Opinion | Volume 24 Issue 15
Joshua Penfold | Columnist
'Oh that my life might be less concerned about my own image...' (Image by Med Ahabchane/Pixabay)

It’s outlandish really, what God asks Hosea to do. To think that someone known for his holiness and intimate relationship with the divine would take up residence with a woman everyone knew was promiscuous.

It would have been one thing if God had sent Hosea to Gomer to pass on a message, although even that would have looked bad, someone like him meeting with someone like her. But no, what God requested of Hosea was far more unthinkable and humiliating: a call designed to fail. Hosea, the prophet of God, was to marry Gomer, the harlot, just so she could cheat on him and be a living metaphor of Israel’s unfaithfulness.

I am a personal-support worker for someone who is so far from my lifestyle and circles of contact that our lives would never have intersected in regular life. Andrea (a pseudonym) struggles with various diagnoses and addictions, and is an incredibly challenging person to support. She is not someone I would normally want to be associated with.

We have had multiple occasions in different public settings where Andrea will become enraged when she pushes the established boundaries and I won’t bend to her wishes. She will unleash a full-blown tantrum, with a barrage of booming expletives for all to hear. 

I’m realizing just how humbling this experience is for me, especially my ego. This is not how I roll in my life, and in these situations I find myself worrying about how we are being perceived, specifically how I am being perceived. No one knows the context of why Andrea and I are together, and I wonder if everyone is silently labelling us and judging us together.

If I’m honest, I realize that, if I was a bystander, I would likely think that way too. I am aware that my association with Andrea affects how the people who witness us perceive me, and it’s rarely in a positive light. 

Is this how Hosea felt? Did life with Gomer change his social status? Did Hosea worry that he would be wrongly perceived? Did he worry about his image? Did Gomer’s lifestyle force him to interact with people and parts of town that he didn’t know existed and didn’t want to be caught dead in? Did Hosea worry that his entire calling as a prophet would be washed away in this union, and that his reputation would dissolve to nothing?

Then I think of someone else who intentionally associated with people others would prefer not to relate to. Although having all power and prestige, Jesus decided to hang out with the lowest of the low. Emmanuel entered into a subjugated nation, a people living under the rule of almighty Rome.

Jesus lowered himself further by associating with those the leaders and rulers of that subjugated nation wouldn’t dare be seen with. He descended the status ladder so far as to associate with shepherds, fishermen, lepers, and “sinners” of all kinds.

Amazingly, not only did Jesus not seem to mind it, he embraced it, invited it and turned the world upside down, telling everyone to look to these embarrassing riffraff as a living metaphor of the Kingdom of God. 

Reading Hosea, thinking of Jesus and reflecting on my own work, I realize just how concerned I still am about my own image, my own ego, my own status, and what others think of me. Once again, I’m amazed by Jesus’ love for all humanity, with no regard to himself. Oh that my life might be less concerned about my own image and, instead, become a living metaphor of God’s outlandish and selfless love for all.

Joshua Penfold (penfoldjoshua@gmail.com) is a member of Tavistock (Ont.) Mennonite Church.

Read more Tales from the Unending Story columns:
An intentionally inconsistent cat
‘You listened to my cry’
Smudged with humanity
The gift of imagination 
Lessons from the wheel

'Oh that my life might be less concerned about my own image...' (Image by Med Ahabchane/Pixabay)

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