Psalm 119:137-144; 1 Kings 1:1-27; John 11:45-57

Psalm 119:137-144: The beauty of this seemingly endless psalm is how the psalmist finds new ways of expressing the same idea about God and His laws/precepts. Here, “Your utterance is most pure, / and Your servant has loved it.” (140) God speaks and “his utterance is pure.” In the context of Israel’s culture where everything fit into one of two categories–pure or impure–it’s not very surprising to read that God’s word is “pure.” “Your servant”–the psalmist–“has loved it.” We really would expect nothing else.

But the question hangs in the air here: Does the psalmist love God or does he love God’s “Word?”  I think it’s really “and.” If we love God then we will love God’s word, even if that word is not communicating good news. It is the communication itself, not necessarily the words, that we love.  All of these verses anticipate the final manifestation of God’s Word: Jesus Christ in whom we gain far more than “insight that I may live.” (144b) It is in Jesus that the real security promised by this psalm.

And those words and the love they communicate become all the more important to the psalmist when he reflects on his lowly position in the world: “Puny am I and despised, / yet Your decrees I have not forgotten.” This is “puny” not only its “small in stature” sense, but in terms of being “nothing” in terms of success, power, or wealth. And now we have the Holy Spirit, in addition to God’s word. Unlike the psalmist, we do not have to worry about remembering God’s word because it has come to us through Jesus Christ.

1 Kings 1:1-27: This first chapter of I Kings opens with David sick and advanced in age. He has not publicly announced who will succeed him. In the absence of word from David, Absalom’s ambitious younger brother, Adonijah, is positioning himself to succeed David’s throne.

Ever-reliable, the prophet Nathan goes to Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, and advises her “Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying: Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit on my throne?'” (13). Then, as he has arranged, Nathan arrives while Bathsheba is talking to David, confirming Bathsheba’s news about Adonijah, noting that as the usurper prepares to take the throne with sacrifices and feasts, “he did not invite me, your servant, and the priest Zadok, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon.” (26) Nathan then points out “this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not let your servants know who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him.” (27)

This ancient story is a reminder that no matter how great our leaders, they will age and eventually fail. Even those of us who are neither kings nor great leaders must remember that we are mortal and recognizing that reality–and preparing for a future that does not include ourselves–is our duty and responsibility.

John 11:45-57: The word about Jesus’ radical miracle gets out because some of the witnesses “went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done.” (46) The Pharisees convene a meeting, stating (quite legitimately, I think) that shortly, “everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” (48) But Caiaphas, says “it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (50) John then says something I had never noticed before. First, he points out that Caiaphas “did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation,” (51).

John then doubles down for his community and for us his readers on this surprising angle with serious, revolutionary theology by revealing that what the conspirators were about to do would change the world. This is about much more than Israel; it is about everyone on earth: “Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” (52) “Dispersed children of God” seems a clear reference to all of us, not just the Jews.

The evil act that Caiaphas and the others are plotting to accomplish is in fulfillment of something much greater: the salvation of humankind. This is tough for us to accept. In that particular time and space, what they did to Jesus was an evil act, but in the larger picture of salvation history, the evil act was essential to God’s plan.  Of course Caiaphas and his cohorts acted with malice and never realized they were part of God’s “big picture.” For that evil they deserve punishment–just as Judas did. But in a strange way, we must be grateful to them–they are essential to what has to happen, and John makes this larger context clear to us.


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