Psalm 40:1-8; Exodus 32:30-33:23; Matthew 26:47-58

Psalm 40:1-8  This psalm begins with an intensely physical metaphor for rescue: “He brought me up from the roiling pit, from the thickest mire. And He set my feet on a crag, made my steps firm.” (2)  In this week of disaster in northern Washington of people drowned in a mudslide, the image is even more dramatic.  How often our lives seem to be bogged down in meaningless noise and the muck and more of modern life.  There is only one firm place: the crag of God–and it is only God who can lift us up and place us there.

Not just rescue, but praise and singing: “And He put in my mouth a new song–praise to our God.”  Not just praise and worship, but that our infectious joy is witness as well: “May many see and fear and trust in the LORD.” (3)  These famous verse are akin to testimonies of new Christians who recount their conversion from the mire and muck of sin to Christ, the solid rock–hoping that others will hear and believe.  I occasionally miss hearing those testimonies that peppered many Sunday mornings in my youth.

Worship of the God of creation follows praise: “Many things You have done—You, O LORD our God—Your wonders!” (5).  And then anticipation of what God has in store for us: “And Your plans for us— none can match You.”  I think too many Christians have taken “God’s plan” to too low a level of abstraction:  That God has pre-programmed just about every aspect of their lives: from where they will go to school, who they will marry, etc. etc.  For me, that is to deny the gift of free will we’ve been given–not to mention that life is far more random.

Instead, I think “God’s plans for us” are how He has revealed Himself and His love for us through Jesus Christ.  It’s difficult to conceive of a more exciting plan, worthy of praise and singing.

Exodus 32:30-33:23   To say that Moses is upset upon seeing the idol before him at the foot of the mountain is a gross understatement (which Alter captures in the repeated second person plural pronoun: “You, you have committed a great offense. And now I shall go up to the LORD. Perhaps I may atone for your offense.” (32:30)  At Moses’ begging, God relents, but it is punishment delayed.  As always with God, “And on the day I make a reckoning, I will make a reckoning with them for their offense.” (32:35).  Thus it ever is.  Sins have consequences.  Even forgiven ones.

The promise of return to Canaan still stands, but these “stiff-necked people”  will not be the ones to enjoy it. Rather, God announces, “To your seed I will give it.” (33:1)

Moses pitches the Tent of Meeting some distance from camp and everyone can see that God in the pillar of cloud is coming down to talk with Moses. I continue to be struck (as I’m sure the Israelites were, too, of the intimate relationship Moses has with God: “And the LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his fellow.” (33:11)  Then, Moses “would return to the camp, and his attendant Joshua son of Nun, a lad, would not budge from within the Tent.” We will be hearing more about this “lad.”

Yet, Moses continues to press his case to know God even more intimately: “And now, if, pray, I have found favor in Your eyes, let me know, pray, Your ways, that I may know You, so that I may  find favor in Your eyes.” (32:14).  Moses has experienced the presence of God through the burning bush, through the clouds on Sinai, and now “face to face” via the pillar of cloud  at the Tent of Meeting.  Yet, he does not really know God.  So, Moses asks once more if God will reveal Himself. God finally agrees, noting that to look God in the face would kill Moses, but “you will see My back, but My face will not be seen.” (32:23).

So, when we think we “know” God or think we “know his plans for our lives,” we would do well to recall this dialog with the man who led the Jews out of Egypt. Even he could not fully know God.  That is why God is God–and God, like Aslan, is more than a bit dangerous.  Like Moses, we cannot look God fully in the face.  Only through Jesus can we come into God’s presence.

 Matthew 26:47-58  I’ve always wondered why the men, whom I assume to be the Temple Police, who came to arrest Jesus would not recognize him on sight.  After all, Jesus had been, shall we say, a pretty visible presence in the Temple courtyard for most of the week.  I think Judas’ signal has to be to accommodate the final irony of this story: that a sign of affection is a signal of betrayal; the least sincere kiss in history.  Or, to extend it a bit: representative of the false love that we can so easily express for Jesus.  When in fact our hearts are hardened.  Better to not express ourselves at all than to feign love where there is only indifference or worse.

And yet.  And yet, Jesus calls Judas “friend.”  I know in my heart that Jesus uttered this word with utter sincerity.  That even in this betrayal, Jesus truly loved Judas with as much intensity as he loved the other disciples who remained loyal to him–and the one who wanted to fight back with his sword.

But alas, they did not remain loyal.  In one of the saddest sentences in this gospel, “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.” (26:56) Perhaps not the Betrayal, but a betrayal nonetheless.  A betrayal I have acted out again and again.  And yet, Jesus will still call me “Friend.”


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