Psalm 38:1-8; Exodus 28:15-43; Matthew 25:31-46

Psalm 38:1-8  This is one of those places where the editors who ordered the Psalms are being ironic.  Psalm 37 ends with the uplifting verse: “He will free them from the wicked and rescue them, for they have sheltered in Him.”  But the darkness of an angry God opens Psalm 38: “LORD, do not rebuke me in Your fury nor chastise me in Your wrath.” (1)

If we think of God as our father, then there is great logic here. Every parent, whose love is unfailing, will become angry with his or her child.  Since God’s parental love is immutable, it’s not illogical that God would become angry as well. David is forthright in admitting his wrongdoing: “For my crimes have welled over my head, like a heavy burden, too heavy for me.” (5)  The simile is exactly correct: our sins are indeed a heavy burden.  Sin exacts its toll physically, mentally, and emotionally: “I am twisted, I am all bent. All day long I go about gloomy. For my innards are filled with burning and there is no whole place in my flesh.” (7,8)  Medical science has established these consequences as fact.

Of course, in today’s “enlightened” society, which essentially rejects the idea of sin, these symptoms are often ascribed to something else that can be ameliorated by drugs or perhaps ferreted out by therapy.  But in the end, our conscience knows the toll of wrongdoing, even if we cannot admit it to ourselves, or we see ourselves as victim rather than perpetrator.

Exodus 28:15-43  The centerpiece of the elaborate priestly breastplate are the Urim and the Thummim, whose physical nature and purpose remain a mystery.  Alter speculates that they may have been engraved stones meaning whose meaning may have been binary answers (“yes” – “no” or “innocent”- “guilty”) to a question posed for resolution.  This theory seems to square with the function of breastplate is expressly named the “breastplate of judgement.”

The image that comes to mind is the “breastplate of righteousness” in Ephesians 6. If the Old Covenant is about judgement, then the New Covenant is about the righteousness imputed to us through the saving power of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 25:31-46  These justly famous and challenging verses occur at the climax of the Olivet Discourse: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (25:34-35).

For in the end our value to God–and our fate–does not stand on theology.  It stands on our response to our faith that ultimately must express itself as action.  Right here. Right now. This is the theme that comprises the entire letter of James.

Our faith is crucial for without it we could not work in the Kingdom.  But it is too easy to sit around and discuss the finer points of theology or wonder just what the Urim and Thummin actually were.  And in so doing, fail to act on the desperate need that surrounds us. This is the passage that says so clearly that working in the Kingdom requires not just my intellectual assent–the mind–but a total commitment of my heart.  The proof of that is that we have done this work without considering  any potential reward: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry…'”  We do not perform for our own reward; we perform it because we know it is the right thing to do.

For compassion and then action arises from the heart, not the mind.  For me, this is the greatest challenge and yes, the greatest blessing, of my own Christian walk.

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