Psalm 84:8-12; Deuteronomy 24:14-25:19; Luke 9:12-27

Psalm 84:8-12: This psalm’s prayer has great energy for its contrasts between being with God and being outside His protection.  The most famous of these (or at least the verse turned into a song) is “For better one day in Your courts / than a thousand I have chosen,.” (9) While the first half of the verse focuses on time, the second half emphasizes place: he second part of the verse emphasizes place: “standing on the threshold in the house of my God, than living in the tents of wickedness.”

This verse evokes the futility of the endless seeking of substitute for the fulfillment that God brings to our hearts.  I have wandered across my years, from place to place, from object to object, from distraction to distraction and none of them are superior to even the briefest encounter with God.  Our society is packed with–and caters to–those who seek to fill the emptiness of their hearts with the metaphorical equivalent of cotton candy.

Like the psalmist we would do well to pause on our journey and reflect on God’s magnificence, as in the first half of this psalm, and on God’s grace in the second: “The LORD grants, He does not withhold bounty to those who go blameless.” (11) This is not necessarily physical bounty, but the bounty that is our heart when it realizes that it is in God that is the proper time and place for us.

Deuteronomy 24:14-25:19: Rules and law are what defines a civilized society.  We may bridle against stupid laws and rules–and goodness knows, there seem to be many. Many of the rules laid out in these two chapters have come down to us today–as another has said, a “gift of the Jews.”

Certainly at the top of the list is the law that punishment is borne by the offender. If someone kills another man’s son, the offender’s son shall not be killed.  This measure-for-measure punishment that killed innocent parties was (is?) apparently quite common in the Middle East. It would seem that the Israeli’s who killed the Palestinian teenager as revenge for the death of Israeli teenagers are committing exactly the sin outlined here.

Then, “When you reap your  harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field , you shall not go back to take it. For the sojourner and for the orphan and for the widow it shall be,” (24:19) And the same rules apply to olive trees and vineyards. Don’t strip everything bare; leave some for those less fortunate, which by this definition includes not just widows and orphans, but “sojourners,” those who are not of Israel, or more broadly of our tribe.

One looks at the humanitarian crisis at our southern border as all those children flee to the (hopefully) safe haven of the US.  Those who want to seal the border and deport those children are in effect saying, “this wheat, these olives, these young grapes are all mine. You may not share in the fruits of this nation; in fact you may not even be sojourners her.”  Deuteronomy has its extremely harsh places, but it we do well to remember that among the laws and rules there is also the command that we exhibit grace.  Which is exactly the point of the last verse of chapter 24: “And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt.” (22)

We could also apply these verses to what it means to be good stewards of the land and resources; that we not take it all, but remember those who come after us.

Happily, not all rules still apply, particularly the one that required women to marry the brother of her husband should she be widowed. (25:5 -9) or the rather unpleasant one about a wife intervening in a brawl between brothers… (25:12)

Luke 9:12-27: Luke makes clear distinctions between Jesus’ public ministry and his interactions with his disciples.  Publicly, he feeds the 5000 and one thing I’d not noticed before is Jesus saying, ““Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” (14). When you think about the sheer logistics of feeding all those people, this is brilliant: smaller groups (at least a hundred of them) could share and eat in a reasonable time.  There was no poor soul waiting for lunch at the end of the queue of 5000. Jesus dealt with large crowds but always at the top of his mind was the needs of the individual.

So, now that he’s among just his disciples, exactly why did Jesus ask that loaded question, “Who do you say I am?” Was he testing them to make sure they were being good disciples? Did he want to see if his message was getting across? Did he want to see just how much they had learned about him and his mission of working in the Kingdom? (After all, the disciples had already gone out on their field trip, so they had some basic missionary experience at this point.)  Or, did he simply want them to verbalize who he was?

Jesus psychology is brilliant: First, he asks them what the crowds are saying.  It’s the same list that Herod gave earlier in the chapter: “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” (19)  Then, making a clear distinction between the crowd and the disciples, implicitly telling them they are set apart from the crowd (and even Herod), he asks them the same question. As always, it’s a question, not a declaration. He does not tell them who he is; he makes the disciples tell him. (Or at least Peter, but I presume he was speaking for all of them.)

So it is with us. Beware of a prophet who comes announcing who he is.  It’s all about discerning who Jesus is based on his words and actions. And if his words and actions reveal who he is, so too for us: our words and actions are ultimately what reveal our own belief about who Jesus is. That, I think, was the subtext to Jesus’ question.

 

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