Psalm 111; 1 Samuel 18:1-19:7; John 4:1-26

Psalm 111: Given that its first word is “Hallelujah” it’s pretty easy to see this is a psalm of praise. And it does not disappoint on that score. But there’s an intriguing point raised right in the second verse: “Great are the deeds of the LORD, / discovered by all who desire them.”

Yes, God’s deeds are by definition great, but  they must be “discovered.” In other words, it would be possible to drift through life without actually being aware of God’s greatness. And given the preoccupations of modern American society, its distractions, and its stress levels it’s fair to conclude that not many people have taken the time to “discover” God’s greatness. Certainly one of the simplest way to do that is to spend time in God’s good creation.  Or on stopping for a moment and reflecting on how God has blessed our lives. (This is something that’s easier to do once one has experienced a life-threatening illness or accident.)

But its not just a question of stopping to discover God’s great deeds. This verse asserts that we discover God’s greatness because we desire to do so. To me, this means making a conscious decision; awareness of God’s greatness does not come to us when we are in an unconscious state. We need to be alert and on the lookout–a theme that Jesus picks up in a couple of his parables about being on the lookout for the return of the master.

Finally, desire arises out of love; a willingness to set other distractions aside and focus on the object of desire. That comes quite naturally when we are in love with another person. And if we truly love God, our desire to discover His great deeds will come equally naturally.

1 Samuel 18:1-19:7: The relational triangle of Saul, Jonathan, and David is one of the most eloquent stories of love juxtaposed against envy-induced hate in the Bible. First, the love of Jonathan for David: “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” (18:2) Jonathan basically gives over the role of prince to David and “David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him;” (5) David’s military success pleases everyone, even Saul, Until Saul hears the women singing, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” (7)

Envy immediately consumes Saul and he tries to kill David by throwing a spear at him. He then resorts to subterfuge through marriage and the pretext of sending David against the Philistines, and “planned to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.” (25)  But David continues to be successful, and Saul finally realizes “that the Lord was with David.” (26) But rather than rejoicing in this, Saul feels even more threatened by David: “Saul was still more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy from that time forward.” (27) Only Jonathan’s direct intercession spares David for the time being.

What are the writers telling us here? That great power leads to megalomania, and when someone who is even greater comes along, the natural reaction is to preserve that power at all costs. The parallels of this story to the church authorities and Jesus is striking. Like David, Jesus is greater than they. Worse, he is more popular than they, and their reaction is not to cede power, but to have Jesus killed. But there was no Jonathan to interceded for Jesus.

There’s a parallel for us, too. Even though we know the Holy Spirit is greater than we, the power of our ego will always resist allowing Jesus to take over our lives.

John 4:1-26: There are so many layers in the incredibly rich story of the woman at the well. But for me its most remarkable aspect is what Jesus tells the woman when she says that he is a prophet. He observes that the Samaritans do not knowing what they worship and the Jews do. But then he carries this even farther, saying, “ But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.” In other words neither the mountain on which they’re standing nor Jerusalem will matter. Worship will finally be independent of location for we can worship “in spirit and in truth” regardless of our physical location. John is opening up an incredibly important fact here: worship is about spirit and truth, not about physical location.

The woman is now sure she is talking to the actual Messiah,“I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” (26) and Jesus confirms that even more directly than we read in any of the other gospels: “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

I think it’s signficiant that for John, Jesus’ most significant theological discourses occur in one- on-one settings, not in front of crowds: Nicodemus, the learned rabbi, at night and with a Samaritan woman, who is as sinful as one can by the world’s definition. John is making it crystal clear that the Messiah, the Word, has come both for the Jews and for the rest of the world.  The “one-on-oneness” of these encounters also tells us that Jesus comes to each one of us individually. There is no “mass marketing” when it comes to the gospel.

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