Psalm 32; Exodus 9; Matthew 20:29-21:11

Psalm 32  This psalm is a maskil, which as Alter notes, “is a category of song, but its precise nature remains unknown.”  Perhaps “praise chorus” is a rough translation, although for me it is basically a confessional song.  It certainly begins on a positive note: “Happy, of sin forgiven,/ absolved of offense.”  The psalmist has been forgiven by God.  And, as he observes, it is far better to have confessed than to keep it bottled up inside, “When I was silent, my limbs were worn out.”  When we keep our sinful acts to ourselves, we expend all our energy on hiding their reality not only from God, but from ourselves; aka denial.

The poet knows that God is our conscience: “For day and night/ Your hand was heavy upon me.”  And another metaphor of exhaustion: “My sap turned to summer dust.”  But when we say, “I shall confess my sins to the Lord,” God acts, “and You forgave my offending crime.”  But we still resist confession, and again our psalmist pleads: “Be not like a horse, like a mule without sense.”

The contrast before and after confession is stark.  Why  should we endure “the wicked [mens] pains” of hiding from God and keeping our sins to ourselves when the alternative is so much better as the last verse makes so clear: “Rejoice in the Lord and exult, O you righteous,/ sing gladly, all upright men.”  Only after confession can we sing and worship freely and with real joy.  A reminder for me that even though we do not do corporate confession very much at Saint Matthew any more, it is well for me to have confessed to God before singing that first song.

Exodus 9  Where the first three plagues were a grotesque amplification of natural pests, the next plagues get personal.  All of the Egyptian livestock dies, while that of Israel survives.  Pharaoh’s reaction to refuse Moses’ request seems quite logical in the face of  this economic disaster for his Kingdom.  To simply let Israel go at this point would be to admit his weakness before that really annoying prophet Moses and his now very cruel God.  Worse, it would admit Pharaoh’s impotence before his people.

So, Moses (who for some reason keeps getting admitted into Pharaoh’s court) is commanded by God to tell Pharaoh, “This time I am about to send all my scourges to your heart and against your servants and against your people (9:14).  Now the plague of rashes and boils gets personal; the health of the people of Pharaoh’s kingdom is in peril.  The plagues have moved beyond annoyance to real danger.  Next, an unprecedented natural disaster, “there was very heavy hail…the like of which had not in all the land of Egypt from the time it became a nation.” (9:24).  For the first time, Pharaoh appears moved to an admission of his wrongdoing, as he says, “I have offended this time.  The Lord is in the right and I and my people are in the wrong.” (9:27)  Moses accordingly spreads out his hand and the hail stops.  “And Pharaoh’s heart toughened.” (9:35).

We are not very different from Pharaoh.  When disaster is underway we pray desperately to God to stop it.  Then, when the event is over, we forget and go our merry way.  Pharaoh’s DNA lives on in all of us: our hearts are toughened as we forget who God is, and what he has done.

 Matthew 20:29-21:11  This last miracle outside Jericho reminds us that Jesus did not just go around dispensing magical fairy dust.  There are four important characters here: Jesus, the crowd and the two blind men.  Upon hearing the cries of the blind men, the crowd tells them to shut up.  Like the Pharisees, the crowd believes that obviously, these guys were blind because they were sinners and unworthy of Jesus’ ministrations.  But Jesus stops and as Matthew notes, “stood still.”   He didn’t chastise the crowd for their theological ignorance; he just stood there and ignored them.  And then asked that most crucial question, the same one Jesus, who comes to us and stands still, also asks us: “What do you want me to do for you?” (20:32).  Notice that he doesn’t just say, “What do you want me to do?” but adds two immensely important words at the end of the sentence, “for you.”  This encounter is personal;  Jesus is not some magic-making abstraction, but relates to us one-to-one.  

The answer of the blind men is also a lesson for us.  They do not tell their tale of woe; they do not embellish, but answer simply and directly, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” (20:33)  They don’t hedge by beating around the bush, “if it be your will” or “if it’s part of your plan for us.”  They just ask directly.  As should we.

As we prepare for Lent, there’s always a bit of cognitive dissonance reading these final chapters of Matthew about Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem and its tragedy and triumph.

Is there a more ironic scene here at the beginning of the most important week in history, as joyful crowds welcome their apparent savior from the oppression of Rome?  The crowds shouting ‘Hosanna’ have no idea of Jesus’ real purpose, nor do they imagine that they will be the same crowd shouting “Crucify him!” in less than 6 days.  We are in that crowd, too.  We construct a Jesus to meet our own desires and purposes, having no idea of his real intention.  Like the crowd, we  have put Jesus into a box of our own imaginations.

But as CS Lewis reminds us in his characterization of Aslan, the real Jesus is not the Jesus we imagine. He is far more radical, far more dangerous and not about to be domesticated by our idea of what he “should” do or be.

Speak Your Mind