They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.” – 2 Peter 2:13-22
Well this is an uplifting passage here in 2 Peter. Sort of like trying to make headway on flat water with a headwind in a raft. Lots of rowing for little return. This passage starts with harm for harm and ends with a sow wallowing in mud. Phew time to suit up and dive in so here goes.
So I recently re-watched the Godfather movie trilogy. The movies are well made and compelling to watch, but the story is really depressing on many levels. The beginning of this passage reminded me of Vito and Michael Corleone, played by Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. So much killing, retribution, and brokenness. They think they have everything – wealth, power, and prestige when in fact they were only a vanishing mist. The Corleones were an “accursed brood” to be sure.
It is ironic that the fictional Corleone family in the movies considered themselves devout Catholics. I have nothing against Catholics, but for some reason it often seems to either create or tolerate the sort of spiritual and moral dissonance depicted in the Godfather movies. C.S. Lewis, when asked about the Roman Catholic church, described it as “a harmless tissue of human traditions which may be fatal for some souls”. This seems an accurate description for the Corleones for sure. Their taking of the Eucharist did not seem to impact their taking of lives. Of course we are all flawed followers, the missing piece was repentance and turning around and moving toward God. That is what we are all called to do regardless of the size of our sins.
So I had to look up “Balaam son of Bezer”. Apparently the reference comes from Numbers 22. Balaam is struggling to obey God and finally God gets his attention by speaking to him through his donkey. The donkey says several things in God’s name but they can be summed up in Numbers 22:32 “I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me”. So Balaam (Boer) was being reckless, not watching where he was going. Peter is warning the recipients of this letter and us to avoid being reckless. What is the opposite of being reckless? Perhaps it is being Intentional?
The passage goes on to describe reckless people like Balaam as “springs without water and mists driven by a storm.” A spring without water is disconnected from its water source. Mists driven by a storm are without direction or purpose. They move in a haphazard unpredictable fashion – they lack intention. So how do we live intentional lives? the passage says “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” This is true, but difficult to identify in practice. Sometimes we are not aware that we are a slave. We go about our lives behind bars that we can’t even see.
That was the case with the Corleones in the Godfather. They were experts at keeping out of jail for their actions. What they eventually learned in the end it that they were already in a jail of their own making and the only way out was to allow God to remake their lives, but of course that would not have made a good Hollywood story. The last movie does end with a kind of repentance by Michael Corleone, but his past actions have come at a cost and he ends up broken and alone. God is always ready to accept us back home no matter how badly we have messed up.
In the book Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis the Dawn Treader is stuck in a land part of the ocean without light and where all our dreams, good and bad, come true. They realize that “dreams coming true” is not always a good thing and they fear they are lost forever apart from the world of light. Alsan, the Christ figure, shows up and leads them out of the darkness in the form of an albatross that only Lucy can see. The deeper lesson was that to defeat the darkness “out there” you must defeat the darkness within. We have but to allow God to strip us down to our soul. We must be willing to shed out cargo of poor decisions and destructive behavior before God can lead us home.
Prayer: God help us to be intentional rather than reckless with our lives and the decisions that shape them.