Psalm 17:1–7; Genesis 26; Matthew 9:27–38

Psalm 17:1–7: Unlike many psalms of supplication where the poet seems to be shaking his fist at the heavens wondering where God is hiding, this “David prayer” is gentle and introspective, quietly asking, “Hear, O Lord, a just thing./ Listen well to my song. / Hearken to my guileless prayer.” (1) To me, a “guileless prayer” is one without an overt agenda, much more a quiet conversation with God.

The psalmist recognizes that God is the source of judgement–“From before You my judgement will come,/ Your eyes behold rightness.” (2). The poet knows that God comes to us and discerns our every thought even when we are asleep: “You have probed my heart, come upon me by night.” (3a) But that is OK because the psalmist knows he is innocent of wrongdoing: “You have tried me,/ and found no wrong in me. (3b). In fact, he has consciously worked to avoid wrongdoing by what he says to others (remember the central importance of speech as a means of wrongdoing in Psalms): “I barred my mouth to let nothing pass.” (3c)

His actions are equally pure: “As for human acts…/I have kept from the tracks of the brute.” (4) ‘Brute’ here would suggest other evil persons and perhaps in the David story, he is referring to Saul. Nevertheless, despite the psalmist’s pure speech and proper actions, he still prays for God’s guidance: “Set firm my steps on Your pathways,/ so my feet will not stumble.” (5) The lesson here for us is that we are aware that our proper actions do not arise from within us but come because we walk closely with God.

And when we walk next to God, we have assurance that he will answer when we call: “I called You, for You will answer me, God.” (6a) But regardless of our proximity to God it’s still important for us to ask him to “Incline Your ear, O hear my utterance.” (6b).

With this preamble that describes a right relationship with God, or psalmist begins to move to the issue at hand. The poet faces tangible danger and seeks not just God’s guidance but his protection as well: “Make Your mercies abound, O rescuer of those who shelter/ from foes at Your right hand.” (7). What’s interesting here is that the foes are at God’s right hand, not the poet’s. Are these hypocrites who falsely profess faith in God and pretend to stand next to God? They can certainly turn out to be deadly enemies.

Genesis 26: Isaac is an acorn that did not fall far from his father’s tree. There’s a famine, and Isaac is advised by God not to head to Egypt but to “reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham.” (3). And just like his father, he tells the people around him that his wife Rebekah is his sister, thinking, “or else the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance.” (6) The ubiquitous Abimelech, already in this particular ruse, cuts immediately to the chase, and “warned all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall be put to death.” (11)

Like his father, Isaac is a successful farmer and “he prospered more and more until he became very wealthy.” (13). The Philistines become envious and Abimelech asks Isaac to“Go away from us; you have become too powerful for us.” (16) Isaac heads off to the valley of Gehar where a well digging program proves successful, “but the herders of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herders, saying, “The water is ours.” (20) Rather than dispute water rights, Isaac moves on and eventually finds water at Rehoboth, so named because at last, “the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” (22)

The ever-popular (at least to the authors of this story) Abimelech reappears and Isaac understandably is none too cordial: “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” (27) Nonetheless, the Philistine king takes the diplomatic initiative, recognizing that “the Lord has been with you,” and therefore asks Isaac to swear an oath that “you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace.” (29) Isaac assents and throws a party for Abimelech. Even better, another well is dug right there and water is found.

Why all this business about wells and water? In that part of the world (as well as here in the west) water is a precious commodity that usually ends up being fought over. But also for us Christians, water also comes to mean life and prosperity because water is also the medium of baptism–representative of the saving grace that comes to us through Jesus. In the end, we cannot survive much less prosper without both physical and spiritual water.

But this chapter ends on a sour note of family discord. Esau marries not one, but two Hittite women and the three of them “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” (34) We can be sure that this short note is here to provide additional justification for the significant event yet to come as we recall that Esau has already sold his birthright.

Matthew 9:27–38: Jesus continues his healing program, this time of two blind men and a mute. Once again, healing comes through faith as Jesus asks,“Do you believe that I am able to do this?” and the two blind men answer, “Yes, Lord.” (29) They are healed and “Jesus sternly ordered them, “See that no one knows of this.”” (30). But of course the healing has the opposite effect and “they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.” (31)>

What’s with Jesus ordering those who are healed not to spread the news? Obviously, he knew that despite his remonstrations, that’s exactly what these joyous healed people would do. Is he using reverse psychology in order to get the word about his miracles out into the wider public quickly? Living today as we do, surrounded by press releases and flackery it’s easy to think that’s what Jesus was doing. However, I think the real reason that Jesus is telling people not to tell, even though he knows they will tell is to establish himself as a very different kind of healer.  There were all kinds of mystics floating around in his day claiming to be the Messiah and even appearing to heal people. They wanted all the publicity they could get–not unlike today’s televangelists who perform “healing.” (Yes, I’m talking about you, Benny Hinn.) Jesus is not interested in publicity; he interested in changing lives.

Nevertheless, despite his best efforts to keep his healing power under wraps, word gets out. And when Jesus heals the mute man by casting out demons, word get to the Pharisees, who immediately conclude he is satanic: “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.” (34) Which, if one is highly religious as the Pharisees were, is not an entirely unreasonable conclusion.

Since we know how Jesus’ story turns out, (as do Matthew’s readers), we know that that fuse among the Pharisees and religiuous officials has been lit by Jesus’ acts of kindness.

Matthew pulls the camera back to give a wide angle view, telling us, “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” (35) Matthew also tells us the state of the people among whom Jesus ministers: “he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (36). Jesus is carrying out the ubiquitous mandate in the Scriptures he knew so well: that we are to care first for the poor and oppressed and for the widows and orphans.

But even Jesus is getting tired and asks the disciples to pray, asking “the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (38) And that is a clear challenge to each of us reading this? Will we pray for more laborers in the Kingdom? Will we go out and find these folks ourselves and help with the huge task of harvesting?

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