Psalm 112; 1 Samuel 19:8-20:17; John 4:27-38

Psalm 112: The previous psalm (111) is basically a catalog of God’s marvelous qualities. This psalm is a catalog of the qualities belonging to the man who follows God.  (Alter points out that this psalm is an acrostic, with each of its 22 lines beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet–in order.)

The first verse (following the opening ‘Hallelujah”) defines the most essential quality of the upright man: “Happy the man who fears the LORD. / His commands he keenly desires.” (2). True happiness comes from only one source: the fear of the Lord. Notice that happiness is not dispensed by God Himself, but it arises from within us because we stand before God in awesome reverence (which is how I take “fear” in this context). Too often, we look to God to dispense happiness, when in fact it is our response to , and reverence for, God that is essential before happiness can be found.

Moreover, we not only gladly accept God’s commands, but we desire them.

Once the essential relationship between God and man exists, the “upright man” enjoys many blessings, beginning with the respect of those around him “A great figure in the land his seed shall be, / the generation of the upright shall be blessed.” (2) And in this society, the greatest of all rewards–and the desire of every parent: a progeny that is a blessing to him.

But perhaps the greatest reward of fearing God is steadfast courage in adversity: “From evil rumor he shall not fear. /His heart is firm, he trusts in the LORD./ His heart is staunch, he shall not fear.” (7,8) When we face disparagement by others or a grim situation, we know that we are not alone because we fear God, who is our refuge and our strength. And because we desire his commands, we are wholly committed to follow God’s guidance.

1 Samuel 19:8-20:17: Once again, David defeats the Philistines and once again, “an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul,” (19:2) and he tries to spear David. David’s wife, Michal, helps David escape Sul with a ruse of putting an idol in David’s bed to look like he’s asleep. When Saul discovers David has escaped he sends his messengers to capture him, so he can kill him.

A strangely comical scene follows as Saul sends messengers, who fall into a “prophetic frenzy,” and prove ineffectual in finding David. so, Saul goes out himself and “He too stripped off his clothes, and he too fell into a frenzy before Samuel. He lay naked all that day and all that night.” (19:24) 

Is Saul truly that jealous of David’s success or is he simply mentally ill? There’s no question that Saul’s singular focus on capturing and killing David out of sheer envy for the greater man has unhinged him.  So much so, that David knows he must escape. In a poignant scene between David and Jonathan, the two friends come up with a plan to establish whether Saul’s obsession is temporary or if he truly plans to kill David. Jonathan is willing to give his own life to David, “ but if I die, never cut off your faithful love from my house, even if the Lord were to cut off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” (20:15) and then, “Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own life.” (20:17)

From our cultural perspective it would be easy to ascribe Jonathan’s love for David as intense homosexual feelings, but I’m not so sure. I think that the love Jonathan has for David is an example of how deeply one man can love another, but without sexual undertones.  From our perspective, the story of Jonathan is there, I think, as a precursor of the intense love that Jesus felt for his disciples–and that he has for each of us.

John 4:27-38: As Jesus finishes his conversation with the Samaritan woman, his disciples appear and are “astonished that he was speaking with a woman,” but as John points out, they do not ask Jesus why. Perhaps they are figuring out that this rabbi is given to completely new and surprising acts–or perhaps they were merely intimidated.

But the woman is unafraid to speak and returns to her village, unafraid to speak what some must have thought either heresy or lunacy, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” Notice the double negative. Is the woman hedging her bets? Or is she simply so astounded at what has happened that she can’t believe herself what she has just experienced? I have to believe that any encounter with Jesus is so life-changing that it’s difficult to just blithely accept what has happened. It requires reflection and time to absorb its astounding truth.

John is constantly juxtaposing physical reality–the disciples are his mechanism for this–and spiritual truth. The disciples offer to get Jesus some food, but he replies he doesn’t need any. So they quite naturally assume someone else brought a snack to Jesus, but he replies, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

Jesus continues the metaphor of sewing and harvesting, telling the disciples, “look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.” (35). Unlike the synoptic gospels that more helpfully note when Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God, John is more oblique. But he gives us clear notice here of what work in the Kingdom is about: “‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.” (37, 38) Our efforts will not necessarily result in direct reward, but our labor is nonetheless necessary. In short, working in the Kingdom is not about what we can get out of it, but what others will reap by virtue of our efforts.



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