Psalm 85:8-13; Deuteronomy 27:14-28:24; Luke 9:37-50

Note: I will be posting only sporadically for the next several weeks as Susan and I are shifting coasts and will be in Massachusetts for the remainder of the summer. But we are taking a long time to get there…

Psalm 85:8-13: Once God has rescued Israel (again!) and Israel will finally see the error of its ways, “when He speaks peace to His people and to His faithful, /that they turn not back to folly.” (8) Then, a new era will be brought into being.   Its qualities are described in a remarkable verse that pairs two pairs:  “Kindness and truth have met, / justice and peace have kissed.” (10) Truth is no longer harsh and forbidding; it is gentle and kind. Extending this almost romantic image is the bold, almost sexual metaphor, “justice and peace have kissed.”

We can imagine four allegorical figures: two men and two women.  I have no basis other than cultural stereotyping for this, but I suggest that truth and justice have masculine qualities and kindness and peace are softer, more feminine. God introduces truth to kindness. Truth, even when it’s a hard truth, is ultimately an act of kindness. Protecting people from truth inevitably leads to a bad end. Speaking truth firmly and gently, even with compassion, is an act of kindness.

There can be no peace without justice. Thus the even more forthright kiss and, we imagine, embrace. They go hand in hand.  Then, with a vertical thrust and energy, which underscores their masculine qualities, “Truth from the earth will spring up, as justice from the heavens looks down.” (11) Heaven and earth are the totality of God creation. Truth and justice can only exist together.  Without truth there can be no justice.  Absent truth, justice os far off.

The psalmist knits all four of these qualities into a whole that describes in very human terms that demonstrates that God’s blessings are far greater than better crops and winning battles.

Deuteronomy 27:14-28:24: The last half of chapter 27 lays out twelve (one for each tribe?) acts, which resemble the decalogue, but focus on idolatry and sexual sins. In an interesting psychological device, these are not mere proscriptions in writing. This is not just “don;t do this,” but “cursed be he.” Cursing had even greater impact in that society than our, for it meant being cast out of the community.

Further underscoring the seriousness of these sins in this catalog, each one is spoken aloud and Israel must reply, “Amen.”  This is much more the nature of spoken vow, as one would do before testifying in court.  When we speak aloud and then say, “Amen,” we have spoken before the community and they will hold us to a higher standard than we might hold ourselves.

From the curses at the end of chapter 27 to the blessings of chapter 28… Here is the deuteronomic deal: obey God and you will be blessed. Obedience must come first. “If you truly heed the voice of the L ORD  your God to keep to do all His commands … all these blessings will come upon you and overtake you when you heed the voice of the LORD your God.” (28:2,3)

An amazing catalog of blessings will result. Blessings in town and field (4). and possibly the greatest blessings of all, fecundity: “Blessed the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your soil and the fruit of your beasts, the get of your herds and  the offspring of your flock.” (5)

God’s side of the Covenant is reiterated, “The LORD will set you up for Him as a holy people as He has sworn to you when you keep the command of the LORD your God and walk in His ways.” (28:9).

But absent that obedience, blessing is replaced by curses, as the catalog of blessings is turned inside out and repeated in essentially the same order as the blessings above. Including barrenness, “Cursed the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your soil, the get of your herds and the offspring of your flock.” (28:19) Perhaps worst of all, “The LORD will strike you with consumption and with fever and with inflammation and with burning and with desiccation and with emaciation and with jaundice, and they will pursue you till you perish.” (28:23)

It’s little wonder that the Jews of Jesus’ time saw such a string correlation between a person’s behavior / circumstances and God’s favor or disfavor. But I think it’s worth remembering that these blessings and curses here in Deuteronomy are pronounced on Israel as a whole. The Pharisees had taken things too far, I think, in applying the rules of blessing and curses at the level of the individual person.

Luke 9:37-50: Luke makes an crucial point about Jesus’ healing of the demon-possessed boy. After the boy is healed, “And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” (43) He does not say “all were astounded at the greatness of Jesus.” Even though they had not witnessed the Transfiguration, the crowds are figuring out that there is a direct connection between Jesus and God.

In a brilliant interplay of the light of healing and darkness of Jesus’ ultimate death creates the tension that drives this gospel forward with such force, Luke immediately shifts the scene to the intimacy of Jesus and his disciples. In stark contrast of the joy of the healed boy, the scene grows dark as Jesus tells them he is going to be “betrayed into human hands.” Which has zero meaning to the disciples who are befuddled.  Which was probably not a surprise to Jesus.

The disciples are afraid to ask the question because they intuit that they won’t like the answer. Another point that proves the psychological veracity of the gospel. I know I would have been afraid to ask, as I have been afraid many times in my life of what the truth might actually be.

One has to wonder, though.  Is this where Judas begins to think about hatching his plot?  Luke has certainly laid down a clue for us.


Speak Your Mind