Psalm 37:7-15: Exodus 22:25-23:26; Matthew 24:26-35

Greetings from the still-frigid Midwest, this time in Madison, where there are more Priuses than I have seen anywhere outside the Bay Area.

Kevin: Scot Sorenson sends his personal greetings to you; we having visited Bethel Lutheran for worship yesterday.  A step back in liturgical time, that’s for sure.

Psalm 37:7-15  This Wisdom psalm reminds us that human nature is one of the constants across time.  The wicked always appear to do well, and our reaction to their devious schemes is impatience and then anger at the gross unfairness of life. The psalmist’s advice is profoundly simple: “Be still before the LORD and await Him. / Do not be incensed by him who prospers, by the man who devises schemes.”  (7) and profoundly difficult for us humans to execute.

The psalmist calls for patience  (“Be still…”) and non-intervention on our part; rather we must “await Him.” In the meantime, while we sit around and wait for God to act, the wicked go about their merry way.  This patience requires us to have faith that God will ultimately act and the wicked will get their just desserts.  But this could take years!  The psalmist is aware of this and reassures us that God will indeed act, “And very soon, the wicked will be no more. / You will look at his place—he’ll be gone.” (10)

But in the meantime our impatience leads inevitably to anger, and again, the psalmist advises us, “Let go of wrath and forsake rage./ Do not be incensed to do evil.” (8) For to act out of vengeance and anger makes us just as bad as the evil-doers themselves.  Indeed.  But how many times have I lost patience and acted out of anger?  Alas, far more often against those whom I love than against the more abstract “wicked” described here.

Exodus 22:25-23:26  This seemingly endless list of laws and prohibitions applicable to an early agrarian society includes valuable insights into human psychology.  For example, the psychology of crowds: “You shall not follow the many for evil, and you shall not bear witness in a dispute to go askew, to skew it in support of the many.” (23:2)  How often have we “gone along” with the crowd, knowing in our hearts it was wrong?

There’s implicit conservation and resource preservation in the command to work the land/ vineyard/ field for six years and let it rest for the seventh.  There’s remarkable kindness toward animals, even if you hate the owner: “Should you see your adversary’s donkey sprawling under its load and would hold back from assisting him, you shall surely assist him.” (23:5).

Perhaps the most puzzling verses in this passage are: “Look, I am about to send a messenger before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I made ready.” (23:20-21).  Perhaps Christological?  Perhaps not, because the  verse hardly concludes on a note of grace and forgiveness: “Watch yourself with him and heed his voice, do not defy him, for he will not pardon your trespass.”  Nevertheless, a promise: “But if you truly heed his voice and do all that I speak, I shall be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes.” (23:23)  Perhaps the New Covenant stated in Old Covenant terms?

Matthew 24:26-35  On the other hand the Olivet Discourse does not exactly evoke an image of a sweet, loving Jesus. In the passages preceding, Jesus has spoken directly, harshly, and accusingly to the Pharisees, but here he is speaking to his disciples and basically scaring the socks off them: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” (24:7) and then, it gets personal: “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name.” (24:9).

We American Christians are mighty uncomfortable here; yet what Jesus foretells is happening today all around the world, notably in the Middle East.  If American Christianity was demanding, never mind persecuted, would we rally around the cross?  Or like the disciples in just a couple of days after Jesus’ talk here, would we flee?  As difficult as it is to say, I think the American Church could benefit from a little more persecution.

We have had it so easy as Christians that we have become essentially irrelevant. And the larger society has simply become indifferent.  Historically, persecution has usually made for a stronger church.  The comfort of turning inward and talking to ourselves, or worse, trying to be “relevant” and “with it,” has made us citizens that have bought into the culture rather than the resident aliens both Peter and Paul demand us to be.


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