Psalm 77:10-15; Numbers 33:10-56; Luke 2:41-52

Psalm 77:10-15: The psalmists asks rhetorically, “Has God forgotten to show grace, / has He closed off in wrath His compassion?” (10) Rhetorical, because the poet takes responsibility for being separated from God: “And I said, it is my failing, / that the High One’s right hand has changed.”  How likely am I to acknowledge that it is my actions, not God’s, that result in separating myself from Him.  Of course, “sin” means separation and that is why I so strongly believe that hell is simply eternal separation form God.

For the psalmist, the way back to God is memory: “I recite all your works, / Your acts I rehearse.” (13) And comparison with the alternative (small ‘g’) gods: “Who is a great god like God? / You are the god working wonders. / You made known among peoples Your strength.” (15)  With the poet, it is always wise to reflect on God; to use our God-given gift of memory to recall the times we have been close to Him.  But unlike the psalmist, we also have Jesus Christ in whom we place our trust.  Jesus is the great Intermediary between God and ourselves.  And when we trust Jesus, God will, by definition, always be close at hand.  Like the psalmist, it is our action–or failure to act–that separates us.

Numbers 33:10-56: Our editors provide a useful summary of all the places to which the Israelites wandered during their 40-year sojourn in the desert. There was certainly a lot of putting up and taking down of the Tabernacle.

The editors reveal their priestly nature by recording one event in greater detail in this summary. It  is not Moses sojourn to Mount Sinai , which most of us would take to be the centerpiece of the wanderings.  In fact, the mountain is not even mentioned in the inventory.  Rather it is Aaron, the great high priest, whose death is memorialized right down to the precise date and Aaron’s age when he died: “in the fortieth year of the Israelite’s going out from Egypt, in the fifth month on the first of the month. And Aaron was one hundred twenty-three years old when he died.” (33:39)

The chapter ends on its most significant note: that Israel must wipe out the Canaanites.  Moses warns the people, “if you do not dispossess the inhabitants of the land from before you, it will come about that those of them you leave will become stings in your eyes and thorns in your sides,” (55)  Which of course, is exactly what happened.  The Canaanite idols and mores became the defining corruption of Israel down through the subsequent centuries.

One can sympathize with Israel in failing to carry out this command.  But the price was exceedingly high.  Because of human stubbornness God’s vision of His people in the Promised Land was never fully realized.  How myriad the ways in which we fall short and fail to keep even the simple commands of God.

 Luke 2:41-52:  Of all the Gospels, only Luke provides this single, tantalizing glimpse of the boy Jesus in the years between his birth and his baptism.  When I first heard this story in Sunday School I came away with the impression that it was Jesus who was teaching the elders, but that is not the case.  Rather than merely sermonizing, Jesus was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (46)

There’s no question that being the son of God, Jesus had a natural advantage when it came to understanding theology and the ways and words of God.  But Jesus did not arrive on earth with  magical powers and insights.  He arrived as a baby like everyone else.  He was educated by listening and asking questions and answering other questions: a classic educational process. (Since Luke is quite precise about Jesus’ age–12 years–I wonder if Jesus was in the Temple preparing for his bar-mitzvah at age 13.  Even today, Jewish boys study the scriptures at the age of twelve.)

Obviously, Jesus was quite unlike other boys that age–a star student, who left “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (47).  Luke thereby makes it clear that Jesus’ great wisdom and understanding arose from hard work, not from magic.  Again and again, beginning with the infancy narrative, Luke continues to emphasize Jesus’s 100% human nature.

Mary may not have understood (or appreciated) Jesus’ rather impertinent reply, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (49b), but being the God-bearer, she knew upon reflection that this was one more quality of her extraordinary child.  And again, Luke uses that sweet yet most profound phrase: “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (51)

Luke brings down the curtain on Jesus early years with the simple statement, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”  Notice the concatenation of “divine” and “human.” Once again, Luke frames Jesus as 100% human and 100% God.  Above all, Luke wants to make it abundantly clear that Jesus was no magician.  Jesus worked and studied hard to become who he was.

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