Psalm 34:19-22; Exodus 15:22-16:36; Matthew 22:23-40

NB: For those of you who may not have taken notes from Chris Dai’s sermon on Sunday, here are the seven “Penitential Psalms” that he noted: 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143

Psalm 34:19-22  There’s an interesting difference between Alter’s translation of 34:19 (“Many the evils of the righteous man, / yet from all of them the LORD will save him.”) and the NRSV (“Many are the afflictions of the righteous,/  but the Lord rescues them from them all.”)  Both translations include the sense of “many bad things (evils) will befall the righteous.”  But in Alter’s translation, we can take “evil” both as external (afflictions that happen) and internal, i.e., our own intrinsic sinfulness (“Many the evils [inherent in] the righteous man.”)

Perhaps I’m over-reading here, but the point I take away is that not only does God ultimately protect us from bad things that happen to us, but God forgives us for the acts that we commit due to our own personal sinfulness.  For me, this idea of ultimate forgiveness for the evil that we commit is reiterated in the final verse of the psalm (which Alter and the NRSV translate identically): “The Lord redeems the life of his servants; / none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”

Our ultimate redemption is, after all,  exactly what Jesus came to earth and did for us.

Exodus 15:22-16:36   Well, the celebration certainly didn’t last long.  Miriam’s song barely ends and two verses later, the Israelites are complaining bitterly–and somewhat understandably–when they come to Marah and find only brackish water: “And the people murmured against Moses, saying  “What shall we drink?”” (15:24)  Moses cries to God, who shows him a tree to fling into the water to make the water sweet.  God reminds Moses, “If you really heed the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His eyes, and hearken to His commands and keep all His statutes, all the sickness that I put upon Egypt I will not put upon you, for I am the LORD your healer.” (15:26).  Here is the essence of the Old Covenant in a single verse: Follow God and all will be well. Deviate, and it will not be well.

This incident is the first of many in the Wilderness narrative that revolves around water, which takes on added intensity in the desert, leading up to Moses’ imprudent, but effective, striking of the rock for water (Numbers 20).  What’s clear in all of this is that God is the provider of water–and therefore of life.  Metaphorically, of course, we are all in the desert, saved only by the waters of baptism.

God provides manna, or (per Alter) “Man hu” which means “What is it?”  as it appears on the ground one morning, and the people understandably ask that question.  After Moses gives careful instructions that people are to gather only what they need for the day, some enterprising souls try to preserve some for the next day, perhaps to sell it to others or to provide for their security “back up.”  Their efforts lead to disaster and a very angry Moses.  The lesson is clear: God, who provides for us, is our security.  But it’s worth noting, too, that he provides just enough to meet our needs.  It’s our wants that lead to problems…

Matthew 22:23-40  More trick questions for Jesus, this time from the Sadducees.  A really obscure one about who will a widow who’s been married seven times be married to in heaven.  Jesus astounds everyone by revealing that “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (22:30) I take the phrase “And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching” (22:33) to mean that the crowd was surprised, but that it didn’t necessarily agree with what Jesus was saying.

The Pharisees rush up to exploit this somewhat skeptical astonishment by asking their own trick question, hoping to exploit Jesus being on the knife edge of blasphemy.  I believe the Pharisees thought Jesus would answer their “What is the greatest commandment” question with some other completely radical idea.  Of course Jesus answers with complete orthodoxy: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (22:37).  Matthew doesn’t describe the crow’s reaction this time, but the Pharisees plan to get Jesus on a charge of blasphemy clearly falls apart.

Given the circumstances, there is great irony in the second commandment “which is like” the first one: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Which of course is exactly what the Sadducees and Pharisees are NOT doing with regard to Jesus.  How often do we have theological discussions like this one, all the time failing to see that the application of the theology, e.g., actually loving our neighbors is far more important than the niceties of its academic correctness?


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