Psalm 31:6-9; Exodus 5:10-6:12; Matthew 19:23-30

It’s a beautiful sunny morning here in Monterey; the air is crisp and the surf along the Pacific Grove coast was high this morning, making for some pretty decent photography.  It’s also Susan’s birthday!

Psalm 31:6-9  Verse 9 leaps off the page this morning: “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;/  my eye wastes away from grief,/  my soul and body also.” Not because this is how I feel this morning, quite the contrary.  But the verse’s juxtaposition is striking.  Our psalmist just exclaimed, “I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love,/ because you have seen my affliction” three verses earlier.

So, what gives here?  There’s total joy in God’s steadfast love and then suddenly, “I am distress.”  The issue, I think, is not that God’s love is variable; it’s as steadfast as the psalmist asserts.  But as for us, we are highly variable, oscillating between seemingly permanent joy quickly down into the depths of despair.  Who among us has not experienced the instant dissipation of joy when we receive bad news that a distant friend, whom we love has been diagnosed with cancer or even died?  It’s God’s very immovability, his rock-like stability, his “fixedness” that allows us to see our own variability.  And just as God delights in our joyful exultations, he is indeed gracious in our grief, even a grief that causes our eyes, our body and our soul to “waste away.”

Exodus 5:10-6:12 Moses is feeling assailed on all sides.  Having not followed God’s instructions about what to say to Pharaoh, he’s put the Israelites in an even more untenable situation.  And the Israelite supervisors do not mince words about this, “You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (5:21). So, in yet another proof that this story is about a fallible man, not a brave hero, Moses does what just about any of us would do, he cries out to God, who didn’t deliver as promised: “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people?”  All while feeling sorry for himself, “Why did you ever send me?” and making it very clear that it’s all God’s fault anyway, “you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.” (5:22-23).

Wow. Is this us, or what?  We think we hear God’s call, and then we insert our own interpretation of what God really meant to say, and then, when things don’t turn out as we thought we were promised, we blame it all on God.

So, in what can only be described as an outstanding example of God’s infinite patience, God does not point out to Moses that he didn’t follow instructions, but responds with infinite generosity, “I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.” (6:5) and instructs Moses to go to the Israelites and tell them who God is and what God plans to do.  This time, Moses follows God’s instructions to the letter, but the situation is already too messed up.  The Israelites would not listen to Moses, “because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.” (6:9).  Their repsonse convinces Moses that the real problem is that God made a bad mistake in choosing him: “The Israelites have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me, poor speaker that I am?”

There are so many lessons here.  But the one that looms large for me is that carrying out God’s call is never an easy task.  Things will not go according to what seemed like a brilliant plan; we will be consumed by doubt: doubt in God and doubt in ourselves.  We will say the wrong things.  A lot.  But God is infinitely patient and infinitely generous.

Matthew 19:23-30  This is where Jesus makes it clear that in the Kingdom, everything is turned upside down and inside out from what we expect . Contrary to well established cultural custom, the rich are not better, nor are they more righteous and deserving of heaven.  Interesting how the  Jews of Jesus time thought that, and our culture tends to implicitly, if not explicitly, treat the rich and famous as somehow more “righteous” than we of the hoi polloi.

At this point the disciples have been listening to Jesus for quite some time and it’s beginning to dawn on them that this is apparently not the politico-messianic movement they thought they signed up for.  Peter bluntly asks the question that’s doubtless on all their minds: “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (19:27).  How we are exactly the same: we labor in the church, make what we see as being significant sacrifices and for what?  Well, there’s Jesus’ promise, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.”

Fine, OK, but just to make it clear, Jesus ends his promise by noting the Great Reversal he alluded to earlier about the rich: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (19:30).  And that’s what the Kingdom is about: what we expect is not what’s going to happen.  Just the opposite.  Better not to bring our pre-conceived notions of what “should” be or “should happen” into the Kingdom.

Speak Your Mind