Psalm 41; Esther 9:18–10:3; Romans 10:14–11:6

Psalm 41: While at first reading this psalm seems to be one of supplication, it is actually one of thanksgiving. And specifically, thanksgiving for healing from a grave illness. There are three short speeches that make up the structure and flow of the psalm. The first is the words of supplication prayed on his “couch of pain” (4): “I said, ‘Lord, grant me grace,/ heal me, though I offended You.'”(5)  In keeping with the OT’s deuteronomic frame of reference, the psalmist prays of God’s grace in spite of his offenses before God.

We routinely pray for healing, but rarely add “in spite of my offenses” as we deemphasize just how wonderful God’s healing is. We are imperfect beings who sin frequently. And yes, while we no longer believe that sickness arises as a quid pro quo out of sinfulness, it is nonetheless worthwhile remembering how God’s perfection gracefully heals his imperfect creatures.

The second speech is given by the psalmist’s enemies: “When will he die and his name be lost?”(6) [Notice, how the worst fate is to lose one’s name.] And his enemies amplify their perverse desire with hypocritical visits to the psalmist on his sickbed: “And should one come to visit,/ his heart spoke a lie./ He gathered up mischief,/ went out, spoke abroad.” (7) And in the second part of this second speech, this enemy eagerly anticipates the sick man’s death: “Some nasty thing is lodged in him./ As he lies down, he will not rise again.” (9)

As a result, hopeless abandonment pervades the psalmist’s woes in the third speech of this psalm: “Even my confidant, in whom I did trust,/ who ate my bread,/ was utterly devious with me.” (10) When one loses trust in one’s caregiver, all would seem to be lost. Are these words reflective of reality or is the psalmist simply being paranoid in his illness? In today’s culture, we would suspect vengeful paranoia as he adds, “O Lord, grant me grace, raise me up,/ that I may pay them back.” (11) But who’s to say, his assessment isn’t right on the money?

But healing eventually comes and with it, gratitude to the One who heals: “Your sustained me/ and made me stand before You forever.” (13) Once again, this is another psalm that so beautifully reflects our thoughts, this time on our sickbed: we pray for healing, we are fearful, even paranoid. And when healing comes, so does thanksgiving.

Esther 9:18–10:3: Modecai’s and Esther’s faithfulness, together with the uncle’s strategic instincts and the niece’s courage have resulted in triumph for the Jews. Haman the plotter ends up being plotted against and pays for his deviousness. As a result, the holiday of Purim comes into existence: “the Jews established and accepted as a custom for themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail they would continue to observe these two days every year.” (9:27). And like Passover and Yom Kippur, this joyful holiday is still celebrated in Israel in keeping with this story: “These days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city; and these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.” (9:28)

In the late 1980’s I happened to be in Israel during the celebration of Purim and had the privilege to be with a family that included young children. Kids dress up in costumes and there are parties everywhere. It’s as if it’s Halloween but without the dark side. A far better thing, IMO, than what our culture has transformed All Hallows Eve into.

Romans 10:14–11:6: Having asserted that salvation comes through confession that Christ is our savior, Paul takes up the very practical problem of getting the word out, i.e., carrying out the Great Commission: “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” (10:14)

In what would might call the foundation of the missionary movement, Paul uses Scripture to answer his question: “As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”” (15) Faith “comes form what is heard.” And “what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” (17) Which I will take as the basis for reading Scripture at worship and particularly, reading–and preaching from– the “word of Christ,” i.e., the Gospel. As a fan of lectionary readings, it’s great to discover the roots of this liturgical practice here in Romans.

Editorial: I was raised in a church where the only scripture read was what was being preached on. The lectionary–OT, Psalms, NT and Gospel– became both a deeply meaningful and beautiful part of worship when I came to Saint Matthew. Now that we have moved to the Evangelical approach and dropped the pericopes (for reasons of time?) I miss them greatly, and note that for many people it is the only time they will experience the depth and richness of hearing the Hebrew Scriptures, the emotional range and beauty of the psalms and the Good News within the same hour. Which, now that I think about it, is why I so value the lectionary approach of these Moravian readings.



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