Psalm 38:17-22; Exodus 29:31-30:16; Matthew 26:14-30

Psalm 38:17-22  The psalmist raises two important issues in these final verses.  First, we must acknowledge our own sinfulness: “For I am ripe for stumbling and my pain is before me always.  For my crime I shall tell, I dread my offense.” (18,19)  We need to be fully aware that we are subject to temptation–“ripe for stumbling”–and that when we fall, we confess–“For my crime I shall tell.”   But confession does not absolve us from regret or consequences: “I dread my offense.”  A general obviousness to sin and its consequences certainly exists in American culture–and has penetrated far into churches where the emphasis is on positive thinking, feeling good about ourselves, and worst of all, a sense that if we’re “good,” we will become prosperous..

Second, even when we do avoid sin and do good, we will not necessarily receive good in return, and in fact our efforts to do good may be trumped by those doing evil: “And those who pay back good with evil thwart me for pursuing good.” (21) That’s a key lesson for me: we are doing good because we love God, not because we think we will receive some human reward.  In fact our lives may become even more fraught by the very act of having done good.  This is just one more example that much of life is unjust and unfair.

And in this unfairness and injustice there is only one constant: God, who will “Hasten to my help, O Master of my rescue.”

Exodus 29:31-30:16   After the lengthy and lovingly detailed descriptions of the Tabernacle construction, the furnishings, the priestly garb, our author comes to the climax of actual sacrifice of bulls (symbol of masculinity?) and lambs (symbol of innocence?).  And why?  The answer is simple: “they shall know that I am the LORD their God Who brought them out from the land of Egypt for Me to abide in their midst. I am the LORD their God.” (29:46).

In the church where I grew up, ritual was derided as empty gesture.  It was all about the Bible and preaching–although I recall no sermon about this section of Exodus.  But here is God himself commanding an elaborate ritual so that people will remember why they are there and who “brought them out of the land of Egypt.”

As creatures of the New Covenant, God is no longer asking us for ritual sacrifice, since that work has been accomplished once and for all.  But as history so amply demonstrates, we humans require ritual: not just to remember but to know our place in the universe.  The question occurs: how much ritual is too much? Or too little?  Too much and ritual becomes an end in itself, off-putting to those to whom we seek to invite.  Too little and we forget why we are there.  But above all, if this chapter demonstrates nothing else, it is that ritual is not the end in itself; it is the means of remembering who we are, who God is and what he has done for us.

The census in chapter 30 would seem more appropriate in the book of Numbers, but there’s a crucial reality that surfaces here:  Whether rich or poor, all are to give an equal amount–a half shekel–as atonement money.  A reminder that before God we are all the same: sinners.  And that Jesus’ atonement for us applies equally to each of us.  We cannot buy “more atonement,” nor are we denied because of our circumstances.

 Matthew 26:14-30  Judas collects the most infamous payment in history. It’s interesting that he does not name his price (“What will you give me if I betray him to you?”); that is decided by the conspirators.  I’m left with the feeling that the scribes and Pharisees sized up the traitor for what he was and saw that he would sell out for a couple hundred dollars.  Not a shabby investment on their part.

While not stated, it’s clear that Jesus had at least one loyal friend in Jerusalem, willing to lend (or perhaps rent) out his house for this itinerant band from the countryside and their rabbi to have Passover.  One has to imagine that by this time, word of Jesus’ activities at the Temple had spread around the city and that housing him–even for Passover–would be viewed quite dimly by the Temple authorities.  So, to my mind, the man with the Upper Room is one of the many unnamed heroes of Jesus’ time, willing to take a risk for the man who was about to turn the world upside down.

Am I willing to take a similar risk?

Matthew 26:25–“Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.” is surely one of the most psychologically profound verses in the Gospels.  Judas lies to Jesus’ face and Jesus’ reply is full of profound layers of meaning.  “You have said so” says in effect, “I know you’re lying, Judas, but go ahead. Believe what you like.”  It is also Jesus’ acknowledgement that Judas has said many things, but these words, like all of them that have gone before, are empty of meaning, and empty of love.  Judas’ plans for political grandeur have been thwarted, and in his delusion and deep disappointment he will exact his revenge on the man to whom he wrongly hitched his ambitious wagon.

How often have we betrayed Jesus in our hearts and in our actions because things have not gone the way we thought they should?



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