Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Looking out for the angels that wander among us

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Do you think much about angels? I have to admit that I don’t often. When angels entered pop culture a few years ago, I was put off by what felt like a fad because it seemed to cheapen the whole idea. But, my interest was rekindled by a song we sang recently. The song was ‘‘Holy Ground,” and the opening lines go:

‘‘We are standing on holy ground

And I know that there are angels all around”

I have been humming that song and thinking about angels a lot ever since.

We know that angels are frequently mentioned in the Bible and that they fill a multitude of roles. One of their main roles is that of messenger. Angels are messengers and are sent by God to announce good or bad news. Angels appeared to Abraham to tell him that, even though he was old, he would have a son. Angels appeared separately to Mary and Joseph to announce the coming of Jesus. And, angels were at Jesus’ tomb to tell the women and disciples that Jesus had gone to Galilee. Certainly these announcements by angels would be considered good news. But the end of all time will be announced by the angel Gabriel, and that will be either good or bad news for us depending on our relationship with God.

Angels also do God’s will on Earth. Angels took food and drink to Elijah when he was in the wilderness and they ministered to Jesus after His temptations. Angels rescued the apostle Peter when he was being held in prison, and it was the angel of death that went through the Egyptian population on the night of the first Passover and took the lives of the firstborn Egyptian children.

Finally, angels protect people. It was angels that protected the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness, and the Bible tells us that we each have a guardian angel who looks out for us.

With all of the biblical references, certainly angels are real. The words of the song and most of our attitudes, however, are probably that of looking for angels to see if we can spot them or see what they are doing. This, I think, is the wrong perspective.

I would be willing to bet it is much like the Good Samaritan story.

In the scripture passage surrounding the Good Samaritan story, Jesus was asked by a man what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him what every good Jew knew: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Then, as the Bible relates, the man asked, ‘‘Who is my neighbor?” This may have been an honest question, but it was likely a question about who he had to be nice to and who he could ignore. Jesus took the question as the opening for the story of the Good Samaritan in which a traveler was beaten and robbed and left by the side of the road. A priest walked by, then a Levite. Both ignored the injured man. Finally a Samaritan stopped and helped the man in need. Jesus asked, ‘‘Who was neighbor to the man in need?” The answer was obvious: the Samaritan. Jesus responded, ‘‘Go and do likewise.”

That is what we need to learn about angels. While there may be heavenly angels, each of us is called to be an angel and to speak or act or protect on behalf of God. For whom will you be a messenger for God? Toward whom will you do God’s will? Who will you protect?

This week, let’s begin to be angels.

Dr. Benjamin G. Davis was executive director of the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs in Frederick from 1996-99, teaches theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and is president of University College at the University of Northern Virginia. E-mail him at