Sulha 20

“When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Proverbs 16:7 ESV

The son had asked for the inheritance from his father and had gone his way. Into the city and to nightclubs he had squandered his father’s wealth and lifetime earnings, ending up broke and starving and sharing food alongside pigs at their trough. Luke 15:11-16

Coming to his lowest point and to the end of himself he reasoned that being a servant on his father’s farm would be better than the pig pen where he now was and so he begins the journey home.
Luke 15:17-19

We can imagine his uncertainty. What kind of reception would he receive? How might he make this right to his father (he thought being a servant could pay back his debt). What would everyone else say?
Without any further options he turns toward his father’s house and one step at a time enters into an unknown future. Where before he had had plans and dreams, visions and ambitions all he had now was brokenness and loss.

And we are told,

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20b ESV

What the text does not tell us, but what a study of the culture would, is that the townspeople and the family would have considered it right to take up arms and avenge this insult to the father, by attacking the son before he ever reached home.

Let me say that again, culturally speaking the offence of the son was so great that the only right thing would have been punishment and death by stoning at the hands of the villagers and extended family.

Yet, in this story that Jesus tells, we understand that the father sees the son from a far ways and runs to intercept this attack and this punitive kind of justice by physically getting in the way. The Father runs in order that any attack of stones would in fact fall on his shoulders and not on his son.

Not only did the father run (something that important people in eastern lands never do), not only did the father lift his skirts in his running (ankles were never revealed as cultural propriety demanded), but the father ran to intercept and receive any justice meted out onto his own self. Immediately after this we read of the father ordering the fatted calf to be killed and prepared and for a feast to be laid in honour of his son who has come home.

The father threw off his self-importance to run
The father threw off his dignity as he lifted his skirts to run
The father ran to intercept the punishment that it might come to him and not to his son
This is the heart of our God and the whole entirety of scripture and of the gospel

There is an ancient middle eastern tradition that continues to this day called Sulha. It is a traditional practice extending forgiveness and peace and reconciliation to those who have wronged.

Literally speaking it is the extending of a meal by a person/s wronged to the person/s who did the wrong as a way of declaring the offence and great wrong forgiven and now put behind.

Instead of a wronged person waiting for reconciliation, for repentance, for contrition, for admission of guilt by the other person, Sulha gives the person wronged the initiative (or power) to go to that person/s and declare peace; Sulha is a recognized tradition and deliberate action that refuses revenge and actively declares forgiveness.

And with this cultural lens in place we see that the Bible is chock-full of Sulha. In fact, the gospel is Sulha.

God comes to us and breaks out the fatted calf to eat with us, putting our offence behind him. Jesus
Christ took the initiative to cover us, to run toward us, to take on the cost of our offence in his own self.

A quick skip through scripture and we see Sulha in the story of Jacob and Laban in Genesis.
Jacob was in love with Rachael, one of Laban’s daughters. Laban had agreed that Jacob could marry Rachael after he had worked for him for seven years. And so this is what Jacob did, he entered into seven years of working for his future father-in-law in order to be able to marry Rachael. And finally, the time comes. He had worked for seven years and now it is time to marry Rachael. But Laban tricks Jacob and Jacob wakes on the morning after his wedding to find it was Leah, Laban’s other daughter, that Jacob has married.

We can imagine Jacob’s outrage, his sense of betrayal, the hurt and the harm over his life, the disillusionment that would have swamped his emotions and mind. The Bible goes on to tell us that Laban again agrees that Jacob can still marry Rachael but only after another seven years of work and service to Laban!

And so Jacob goes to work for Laban for another seven years in order to be able to marry Rachael. And finally he has completed this time and is free to marry Rachael. Finally, Jacob is a free man with his wives and is able to leave back to his home country. But we read in Genesis 31 that after all of this Laban once more comes after him (Laban obviously had a hard time giving up control and being reasonable!).

And yet, Jacob sets up a meal, offers a gathering, an eating together, a sign of Sulha, and in verse 54 we read that after they shared a meal together that Laban kissed his daughters goodbye, wished his son-in-law good success and went his way in peace.

“and Jacob offered a sacrifice in the hill country and called his kinsmen to eat bread. They ate bread and spent the night in the hill country.”  Genesis 31:54 ESV

We also see Sulha in the story of Joseph when he prepares a meal for his brothers in Egypt.

Though years before they had sold Joseph into slavery out of jealousy and spite, when Joseph sees them he calls for a fine meal to be prepared for them in Genesis,

“Bring the men into the house, and slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” Genesis 43:16b ESV

And again in Genesis,

“And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table… And they drank and were merry with him.” Genesis 43:33-43 ESV

We see again, this same Sulha in Jesus words to the Samaritan woman,

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
John 4:10 ESV

We see Sulha in the habit Jesus had of eating with those least worthy as noted in Mark,

“And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.”
Mark 2:15 ESV

And we see Sulha as the Spirit speaks in Revelations, 

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Revelations 3:20

God is Sulha to each of us.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life. God sent his son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”
John 3:16-17 NLT

God comes to us in peace. He has taken on the responsibility of our sin. Jesus has done the work of our salvation. We can add nothing to the work of the Lord.

Christ has entered the darkness with himself, a shining light that transforms everything we know. Jesus drives away the darkness by his very presence.

God comes to us eager to walk in the garden with us (just as He did with Adam and Eve after they had sinned – Genesis 3:8 ).

God comes to us eager to eat with us, to put behind us our wrongdoing and our sin.

The entirety of the gospel of Jesus Christ can be described in this thing of Sulha.

“He supplied Jehoiachin with new clothes to replace his prison garb and allowed him to dine in the king’s presence for the rest of his life.” Jeremiah 52:33

Isn’t this all of us? The entire world is in prison garb, so to speak. But The KING of Kings and Lord of Lords replaces our prison garb with new clothes and we dine in the presence of the King for the rest of our lives. Hallelujah and Amen with all praise and glory and honour to God, the lover of our lives.

APPLICATION

Therefore, to walk in the spirit of our Lord we must receive Sulha, this heart of God that covers over our sins, for ourselves. Each one of us must allow Sulha to change us. We must fully welcome the covering of the Lord over all of our lives, over our regrets, our failures, our shame.

God, in essence, says to each one of us, stop focussing on what you have done wrong and begin to focus on me and my love and grace for you. Give over your wrong, let me deal with it, turn from wrong (either doing wrong or trying to fix wrong) and then enter into my rest. Allow my love to embrace your whole life.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 ESV

Today, receive him anew, again, even deeper and more fully than before. Give to him all that has gone wrong for you and because of you. Allow a deep sense of repentance and of turning to God. Fix your eyes on Jesus, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT

PRAYER

“Jesus I turn to you today knowing anew your love for me, your sacrifice on my behalf, and knowing in a new way how much you want my life to be free in you. Today Jesus I say yes and amen to your sulha, your coming to me to take on the stones meant for me, I say yes to your life and to your grace that changes me and makes me brand new. Thank you for your love, thank you for your sacrifice, thank you for your grace. I love you Jesus. Amen”

SUMMARY – SULHA, INITIATIVE OF PEACE

God initiates relationship and peace with us John 14:27; Philippians 4:7; Romans 5:1

God is the one who makes us right with him 1 Peter 2:24; John 3:16-17; 1 John 4:10

God is the one who both prepares and welcomes us to the banqueting table
Song of Songs 2:4; Revelation 19:6-9; Matthew 22:2-14

God takes care of our sin and frees us from religion
Galatians 5:1, 5:18; Titus 3:5; Romans 5:18-19

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20 Present day sulha http://sulha.org

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