Psalm 51:7–12; Job 24; 1 Corinthians 3:12–23

Psalm 51:7–12: Verse 7–“Look, in transgression I was conceived,/ and in offense my mother spawned me.”– is often cited as one of the “proof verses” for the doctrine of original sin.  Which is one way of interpretation, but it seems to me that it could just as well be a historical fact for the psalmist alone: he may know that he was the product of a violent sexual act or even rape.

In any event, the psalmist sees himself as unclean and now in order to learn from God “in what is concealed make wisdom known to me” (8) he must be purified. Alter tells us that water shaken from hyssop leaves on to the penitent is a means of ritual washing. And here, the psalmist desires the purest purity in the famous line, “Was me, that I be white than snow.” (9)

For us Christians this is the transformation of baptism when we “hear gladness and joy” (10a). The body that was consumed by the agony of sin now rejoices: “…let the bones that You crushed exult.” (10b). The psalmist cannot accomplish this cleansing by himself. It is God who “all my misdeeds [must] wipe away.” (11b).

And then that powerful verse we sang for so many years every Sunday morning: “Create in me a clean heart, O God/ and renew a right spirit within me.” (12) Alter has it as “a firm spirit,” which for me conveys that sense of renewal and strength even more powerfully than “right spirit.” Confession leads to forgiveness, which leads to strength and new life. Which is exactly what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us. The only question is: in this culture of self-admiration will I be as honest as the psalmist and admit to my failings, confess them, and be restored?

Job 24: The chapter is a a marvelous evocation of all that is wrong in the fallen world, of its intrinsic unfairness. The wicked exploit the poor and helpless. The wicked “drive away the donkey of the orphan/ they take the widow’s ox for a pledge./They thrust the needy off the road” (4) while those who are exploited are “Like wild asses in the desert/ they go out to their toil,/scavenging in the wasteland/ food for their young.” (5)

Those who believe that humankind is somehow improving or becoming more beneficent to the oppressed would do well to reflect on this chapter that so beautifully weaves the apparent triumph of the wicked with the desperate plight of the poor and despised. While the wicked “snatch the orphan child from the breast,/ and take as a pledge the infant of the poor.” (9), in turn, the poor “go about naked, without clothing;” (10 a) while they do the work that brings the wicked their very food and wealth: “though hungry, they carry the sheaves;/between their terraces they press out oil;/ they tread the wine presses, but suffer thirst.” (11)

Job sees God as indifferent to all this suffering: “ the throat of the wounded cries for help;/ yet God pays no attention to their prayer.” (12) In fact, God is not merely indifferent, he seems to actively aid the wicked rather than the poor: “Yet God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power;” (22) and “He gives them security, and they are supported.” (23a).

And yet in the end, the wicked are like everyone else: “They are exalted a little while, and then are gone;/they wither and fade like the mallow.” (24) Job seems to be asking why the wicked get all the breaks even though their lives are as ephemeral as the righteous. A question that resonates today. Why is the broken world so damn unfair?

1 Corinthians 3:12–23: Paul tells us that the work of the builders will always be tested: “the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.” (13).  At first, Paul seems to be talking about the individuals who founded the church–the builders– but then it suddenly becomes a strikingly personal metaphor. He’s talking about each one of us as individual corporeal persons: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.” (16, 17a) 

Because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, each of us has become a holy place: “For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” 917b). Accepting that simple reality should drive all our thoughts and actions. Yes, it certainly means lead a “clean life,” exercise, eat right and all that. That’s what I’ve heard since I was a kid. But in context here I don’t think that’s what Paul is getting at. It has far more to do with self-delusion: “Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.” (18) Which is Paul’s way of saying, “you know a lot less than you think you do, buddy.”

This “wisdom of the world is foolishness with God.” (19) And God does not cotton to fools. We will always be found out: “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” (19b) The truth of this has been proven again and again in the world at large and the church in particular. Paul gives really good advice: “So let no one boast about human leaders.” (21) –be that the pastor we love to hear preach or the charismatic founder of a megachurch. All will be tested by fire. As will each of us. We will survive, but will we learn what is God’s wisdom?

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