Psalm 78:32-39; Deuteronomy 2; Luke 4:22-30

Psalm 78:32-39: In this section our psalmist deals with the issue of true faith vs. feigned faith.  Trouble happens in the wilderness and they “came back and looked for God.” (34b).  They said all the right stuff: “they recalled that God was their rock and the Most High God their redeemer.” (35) but they were only empty words with nothing behind them: “… they beguiled Him with their lips, / and with their tongue they lied to Him. (36) Empty words because “their heart was not firm with Him, / and they were not faithful to His pact.” (37).

How often I have mouthed the words of faith but behind them is either doubt or emptiness–or both? Clearly I’m part of a long and highly populated line of people.  But even when we mouth empty words, and are unfaithful to God, He is faithful to us: “Yet He is compassionate,” and even though God would be completely justified in zapping us, instead “He atones for crime and does not destroy, / and abundantly takes back His wrath.” (38)

The psalmist answers why God is merciful: “He recalls that they are flesh, a spirit that goes off and does not come back.” (39) God knows, understands, accepts, and above all, forgives our fleshly weakness.  Like little children, “we wander off.”  And although the psalmist doesn’t say it here, just after wandering off, we then get angry at God because we think in the silence, he has deserted us. Who has deserted Whom?

Deuteronomy 2: This complicated passage recounts the peoples who have inhabited various parts of the lands surrounding Canaan. The overriding message is that all of the lands and kingdoms through which Israel passes are not to be occupied by Israel.   God has reserved Canaan for them, but the land of Seir, which “they are not to besiege”  is reserved for the descendants of Esau. In fact, they need to pass through rather gingerly, paying the natives for whatever food and drink they consume.  (This passage about Seir seems to reflect Jacob’s lingering fear of his elder brother, whose birthright he stole.)

Same thing for Moab: leave it alone “for I will not give you his land as an inheritance,” because it belongs to “the sons of Lot.”  It’s fascinating how God has apparently designated the other lands for the relatives of Abraham, which is of course in keeping for the demographics that persist today.

Equally interesting is that the peoples who occupied these lands before Abraham’s relatives are also named.  They seem to have been giants and other fearsome creatures. My favorite is the “Zamzummim,  a great and multitudinous people, and lofty as the giants.” (21).  The key point I think God is making here through his mouthpiece, Moses, is that God has dominion over Creation and has the absolute right to say who will occupy what land.  Something that comes down to us today in the form of borders and immigration laws.  Only no one is listening to God and we have the conundrums such as modern Israel/ Palestine and Iraq, a single land fought over by different tribes.

Moses then discusses the conquest of Sihon because it was God’s will that Israel posses this land, “the LORD said to me, ‘See, I have begun to give Sihon and his land before you. Begin— take hold— to take hold of his land.’” (31)  The army of Israel also accomplished what God is going to ask them to do in Canaan: “we captured all his towns at that time and we put every town under the ban, menfolk and the women and the little ones , we left no remnant.” (35) Always distressing to our western ears, but God has His reasons,as the subsequent history of Israel so tragically proves.

Luke 4:22-30:  Things had started out so well after Jesus read the Isaiah passage. As Kevin noted this past Sunday, the congregation was beaming with pride at their hometown boy made good.  Nazareth, under the Roman yoke, doubtless thought that the Messiah, who was in their eyes, a political savior would arise from this dusty backwater town, and rescue all of Israel from Rome, and restore Israel to its former glory. A carpenter from Nazareth, no less!

After Jesus makes it more than clear that he has no intention of becoming Israel’s political savior by citing the Elijah and Elisha examples of rescuing Gentiles rather than Jews, all hell breaks loose.  Yet even in light this rather firm rejection by the people of Nazareth of their erstwhile messiah, the idea of Jesus as political messiah persisted in the minds of people–including his disciples–up until the very last minute of Jesus’ ministry.  Even among his disciples.  And certainly among the Jerusalem power structure who saw their sinecures threatened.

Of course, Luke’s intention is to again make it clear to his Gentile audience that Jesus did not come exclusively for the Jews, but for the Gentiles, as well.  Even today, even though his message about the Kingdom of God is equally applicable to his own people, Jesus remains rejected by Judaism; the prophet has certainly never been accepted by his hometown.

I’m struck by the last verse in this passage, “But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”  Jesus ignores the execration and threats of the crowd and “went on his way.”  A good lesson for us when we encounter hostility to Jesus’ message. Or start worrying that we’re no longer a “Christian country,” or worry about politics.  Jesus lust went on his way, shaking the dust form his sandals.  Why can’t we?

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