Psalm 23; Genesis 42; Matthew 14:25-15:9

Psalm 23  This is my third pass through the Psalms and I’m trying to figure out if the Moravians have divided up the psalms such that we intentionally always read Psalm 23 on the day before Valentine’s day.  Because in the end I think this psalm is less a psalm of comfort that is read at approximately 80% of the funerals I’ve attended, than it is a love poem.  For who but a loving Shepherd could offer us meadows and quiet waters? Is there a greater expression of love than God’s companionship as “I walk in the vale of death’s shadow?”  A love so great that all fear is banished?

God’s love is so much greater than mere protection from harm and enemies.  We are his anointed children, and even in the darkest of times we are blessed to overflowing by his generosity.   And best of all, in Alter’s translation, goodness and mercy do not merely “follow me,” they “pursue me.”  Reflect on that: God is so eager to saturate us in blessing that his blessings pursue us, rush after us.  Even in the very darkest times. So, yes, comfort indeed, but comfort that arises, indeed rushes up out of a bubbling spring of pure love.

Genesis 42  The Bible is full of family dynamics–right up to the point where Jesus asks, “Who is my brother?”–a question that seems to point right back to this rich story of hidden fraternal identity and wild misunderstanding.  Like Joseph, Jesus knows the truth of the situation, but just as the brothers fail to recognize Joseph, we fail to recognize Jesus.  An immensely generous Jesus, who gives us full bags and returns our silver (a subtle parallel to the silver that betrayed Jesus), but whose generosity that too often makes us afraid rather than grateful, just as the brothers were afraid.

For me, the hinge point of this story happens when the 10 brothers standing before Joseph recognize their guilt, about which they have obviously been in denial for many years: “Alas, we are guilty for our brother, whose mortal distress we saw when he pleaded with us and we did not listen.” (42:21).  Four words that say it all about the brothers–and about us: “We did not listen.”  And the price for not listening is high.  Reuben attempts to cast himself as the innocent in this bloody business, “Didn’t I say to you, ‘Do not sin against the boy,’ and you did not listen  And now, look, his blood is requited.'”  Just as Adam and Eve failed to listen to God, and Reuben now understands the blood consequences of the failure to listen (even as he tries to shift the blame to others!), so too we have failed to listen.

This is our condition: we do not listen because we think we can control our lives–and the lives of those around us.  And for our failure to listen, there are consequences.  The consequences of sin; c.f. Romans  6:23.

Matthew 14:25-15:9  I think we are too hard on Peter, always looking to his failure of faith as the reason he cannot walk confidently on the water.  But for me, Peter is courageous because (1) he is willing to put Jesus to the test (“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” ) and (2) when commanded, Peter clambers over the gunwales of the boat and sets out.  Matthew doesn’t say anything about the response other 11 disciples, but I’m pretty sure they thought Peter was nuts.  Peter takes the risk and the others don’t.  Yes, Peter loses his focus on Jesus and begins to sink.  But, hey, he got out of the boat.

The two-fold lesson here is clear:  First, when we hear the call to take a risk and get out of the boat we should have the confidence in Jesus to do so. But second, when we take that risk we must constantly look on Jesus, not down at our own feet.  Once we start believing our own press releases and think that whatever walking-on-water thing is being accomplished, is due to our own insights, intelligence, charisma, or whatever, we will begin to sink.  How many famous pastors have met Peter’s fate by believing more in themselves than in Jesus?  Closer to home, why am I still resting in the boat?

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