Psalm 78:65-72; Deuteronomy 4:32-5:21; Luke 5:12-26

Writing this morning from the mountains at Pinecrest, California.

Psalm 78:65-72: Our psalmist is winding up his history of Israel, bringing the poem to his present day. There’s an interesting generational note, as he writes “Yet He rejected the tent of Joseph, and the tribe of Ephraim He did not choose.” (67). Generational logic would suggest that the Israel dynasty would come through the line of Joseph, since he was basically the progenitor of Israel in Egypt.  But God has chosen a different patriarch instead by which to continue the kingly line, “And He chose the tribe of Judah,” (68), which of course is the root of the Davidic dynasty, and therefore the root of Jesus through Joseph.

Moreover, it is on Judah’s land–Jerusalem–where the Temple, the single residence of God on earth, is built: “Mount Zion that He loves. And He built on the heights His sanctuary,” (69). David finally appears, “And He chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds.” (70)  The psalm concludes with the image of David as Israel’s shepherd-king, “And with his heart’s innocence he shepherded them, with skilled hands he guided them.” (72)

And for us, we have an even better Shepherd-King, Jesus Christ, that as come through the line of Judah.

Deuteronomy 4:32-5:21:  A significant subtext of these early chapters of Deuteronomy is that idols and images are anathema.  God is described as fire and voice, but is otherwise invisible, as the author underscores the contrast between God and all those small-g gods: “He showed you His great fire, and His words you heard, from the midst of the fire.” (4:35)

Unlike those small-g gods, God is love, and it this love that has been at the foundation of all God has done since then, “And since He did love your fathers He chose their  seed after them and brought you out from Egypt through His presence with His great power,” (4:37).  And not just in the past, but as Moses addresses the nation on the bank of the Jordan River the near future, as well” “to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you from before you, to bring you to give to you their land in estate as on this day.” (4:38, 39).

In short, God delivers on his promises.  All we have to do, like Israel, is to keep ours: “And you shall keep His statutes and His commands which I am about to charge you today, that He do well with you and with your sons after you and so that you long endure on the soil that the LORD your God is about to give you for all time.” (40)

In chapter 5, Moses lays out the Decalogue (“Ten Words”) in precise detail. In keeping with the contrast between God and idols, the first commandment receives particular attention: “You shall have no other gods beside Me. You shall make you no carved likeness, no image of what is in the heavens above or what is on the earth below or what is in the waters beneath the earth.” (5:8).  Once again, these words reenforce the prohibition of God as image.

Moreover, a strict prohibition against idol worship, “You shall not bow to them and you shall not worship them, for I am the LORD your God,” (9).  This is not a casual prohibition, but the sins of the fathers will be visited not just on the sons, but to the fourth generation “for my foes.”  But, on the other hand, God will be “doing kindness to the thousandth generation for My friends and for those who keep My commands.”

In short, a restatement of the terms of the Old Covenant. Unfortunately, we know what actually happened.

Luke 5:12-26:  In my fervent belief that there is nothing at all random about Luke’s ordering of his gospel, today’s reading is Jesus’ cleansing of the leper followed by his healing of the paralytic lowered through the roof.

For me, these are the two phases of baptism: we are buried to sin and rise to new life.  Under Jewish law, the leper was ritually (and medically) unclean.  Once cleansed by Jesus, he is to report to the priest and make the offerings described in leviticus.  For Luke, the cleansed leper is all of us: we are leprous in sin, and Jesus washes us, making us clean.  (And if we were a bit more Baptist about it, we would note that we have been washed clean in Jesus’ blood.)

But I think there is more to baptism cleansing; it is, I believe, also healing. Jesus tells the paralytic, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”  So, too, we are healed and forgiven.  I think Luther talked about every day including baptism, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that daily we are cleansed and, when we confess our sins, we are forgiven. In this daily ritual, Jesus’ forgiving power raises us to new life.

Side note: Maybe it’s a stretch, but we could make a case for the man being lowered down from the roof as symbolic of each of us being lowered into the baptismal waters before Jesus, who forgives our sins.


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