Psalm 81:11-16; Deuteronomy 14:22-15:18; Luke 7:31-38

Psalm 81:11-16:  God continues to speak, now with regret at Israel’s missed opportunity, as the nation persisted in its disobedience: “But My people did not heed My voice and Israel wanted nothing of Me.”  (11) That’s human pride as seen from God’s point of view: we “wanted nothing of Me” because we think we can live life more successfully absent that ever-nagging God, Who keeps demanding obedience.

God gave us the gift of free will, which we can freely use to ignore Him. So God must stand by: “I let them follow their heart’s willfulness, they went by their own counsels.” (12)  Economists talk about “opportunity cost,” the implicit cost of the path not chosen. And for Israel, the opportunity cost of not following God has been enormous. God describes what could have happened: “If My people would but heed Me, / if Israel would go in My ways, / in a moment I would humble their enemies, / and against their foes I would turn My hand.” (13,14)

So, what have we missed because we’ve not followed God? What would God have given us or done for us had we not decided we could do it better ourselves.  The psalm ends with a marvelous image of repast, “I would feed him the finest wheat, and from the rock I would sate him with honey.” (16) What wonderful meals–real and symbolic– have we missed?  Looking back over the past 67 years, there’s little question I’ve missed a lot. And of course we could look on a community or even national level and realize just how little our collective pride has yielded compared to the riches our loving God would have liked to bestow on us.

Deuteronomy 14:22-15:18: Inasmuch as God is to be worshipped only in a central location, this section deals with the practical issue that carrying a tenth of agricultural or livestock produce to give to God can be impractical.  So a means is provided to convert the title to silver, carry the silver to the central worship place (in Jerusalem) and use the silver to buy the animals required for sacrifice.

(Which explains why there were moneychangers at the Temple in Jesus time. I’m guessing that by then the role of the moneychangers had evolved from the simple exchange described here to many more “full service banking” activities, which lay outside the purview of what God has ordered here in Deuteronomy, whence Jesus’ anger. Of course, Jesus overturning the tables also symbolically marks the end of the Temple cult and the consequent need for moneychangers.)

And when you spend some of your tithe on the journey, don’t forget the others: “the Levite shall come, for he has no share and estate with you, and the sojourner and the orphan and the widow who are within your gates, and they shall eat and be sated,” (14:26)  As always, the visitor, the orphan, the widow.  God never forgets the least. And we are commanded not to forget as well.

In chapter 15, the terms of the 7 year “remission” or what today we might call a “reset,” are described. It’s interesting that the rules about lending are conflated with the rules about generosity.  Lending to outsiders is OK, but generosity within the community is essential: “The foreigner you may dun, but that of yours which is with your brother your hand shall remit.” (3) This is a verse Shakespeare must have had in mind when he wrote the character of Shylock and his famous soliloquy in Merchant of Venice.

Underneath all the details is the command to be generous, especially to the poor: “Therefore I charge you, saying, ‘You shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your poor and to your pauper, in your land.’” (11)  The beginnings of a common purse, and then welfare to help those less fortunate begins right here.

Luke 7:31-38: Jesus makes an observation about public opinion, which is just as true today as then.  We have childish expectations about how someone is supposed to respond to a given stimulus: “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;/ we wailed, and you did not weep.’” (32)  If they don’t behave the way we want or expect, then they’re anathema.

 Nor is the response of the crowd logical or consistent as Jesus points out about John and himself.  John “has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’” (33)  And Jesus has done the opposite, “the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”  In short, the crowd is never pleased, never gives the benefit of the doubt, and always takes the darkest, most negative interpretation of any action.

These observations certainly describe what passes for “political discourse” in 2014 America.  Like children, we expect the knee-jerk, pandering response and when we don’t get it, we accuse the person of inconsistency–or worse, up to and including demon possession.

Once again, we witness Luke’s masterful juxtapositions.  In the next scene Jesus is at dinner in a pharisee’s house and a woman comes and weeping, anoints Jesus’ feet.  She understands who Jesus is and what he has done for her, that he has forgiven her sins. The intimacy of this scene of the weeping woman is a stark contrast to the ignorant rantings of the crowd.

But the Moravians are making us wait until tomorrow to reflect on the Pharisee’s reaction to the woman.

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