Psalm 109:1-7; 1 Samuel 14:41-15:23; John 2:12-25

Psalm 109:1-7: The first line of this David psalm of supplication tells us that God is silent: “God of my praise, do not be silent.” but that all around him those who conspire against him are voluble: “For the wicked’s mouth, the mouth of deceit, / has opened against me, / they spoke to me with lying tongue. /And words of hatred swarmed round me—” (1,2) Once again we are reminded that words are potent agents of evil. “Mouth of deceit,” “lying tongue,” “words of hatred.” These phrases characterize our time as well, especially in this age of social media where evil words have bullied some to suicide.

Language is God’s great gift, one that separates us from all other creatures. We can use them for good or for ill. Alas, we seem far more skilled on their negative power than on the good that words can help create.

The psalm then goes on to describe evil as transactional, almost the coin of the realm: “And they offer me evil in return for good / and hatred in return for my love:” (4). whence our saying in less poetic language, ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’ This is the inverse of the Golden Rule: the psalmist is saying, ‘treat others with kindness and they return evil and hatred.’

These verses force us to accept that evil often seems to have the upper hand, and that even justice and prayer are ruined: “When he is judged, let him come out guilty, / and his prayer be an offense.” (6) Recent events such as the Hobby Lobby court case seem to prove how true this still is: many in this country may speak blithely of “religious freedom,” but their animus tending to hatred against religious practice lies only millimeters below the surface. We should not be surprised. We may think we are “more civilized and more caring” than this 2500-year old culture, but we deceive ourselves. Wickedness remains unaltered within the human heart.

1 Samuel 14:41-15:23: Saul, realizing his hasty and arbitrary vow to kill anyone who ate food before the battle has come back to haunt him, casts lots to determine if Israel as a nation or Saul and Jonathan are the ones to be punished. The lot is cast between father and son, and Jonathan is indicted. But before Saul can carry out the punishment, which it appears he was fully prepared to do, the people intervene, saying “Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great victory in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground; for he has worked with God today.” (14:45) And Jonathan is saved by the collective wisdom of the people. Proof that those who are led can demand wise leadership when they see gross injustice.

The author does not say if the people felt regret that day at having chosen to be ruled by a king such as Saul, but I think we can safely say they were having second thoughts.

Saul continues to be the warrior-king, but “the word of the Lord came to Samuel:  “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” (15:11). So, is God admitting that He made a mistake? The next verse says, “Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the Lord all night.” Is Samuel angry at God or at himself? I think the old judge was angry at God. And perhaps at himself as well for having perhaps wrongly concluded that the tallest guy in the room was therefore qualified to be king.

In any event, God’s favor no longer looks on Saul. And Samuel can point to Saul’s latest military adventure against the Amalekites, telling Saul, “Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” (15:19) Again, Saul has put his own interests above God, and perhaps worse, he has again shown poor judgement, preferring to take the spoils rather than obey God. Of course the question for us is, how often do we “swoop down” for the spoils rather than following God’s commands?

John 2:12-25: So why does John place Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple at Jerusalem as well as Jesus’ prophecy about himself,“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (19) (which John makes clear that Jesus is talking about himself) so early in Jesus’ ministry when the Synoptics place the event at the end during the Passion week?  I think it’s because John is not interested in laying out a chronological story as much as he wants to make Jesus’ Lordship clear from the very beginning.  He has already told us quite clearly that Jesus is the Word that comes from God and is God. there is no need to build tension about revealing who Jesus is.

The Temple cleansing scene comes early, I think, because John wants to make it perfectly clear that Jesus stands in total opposition to the prevailing religious practices. Jesus is going about a project that is so radical, so new, so unexpected that everything that exists must be swept away.

We have done an awfully good job of domesticating Jesus into a “good teacher” and all around nice guy who goes around healing people. That’s not John’s Jesus. His Jesus is a revolutionary who upsets the establishment’s applecart at the very beginning. We would do well to reflect on the revolutionary Jesus.

 

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