Psalm 26; Genesis 46:1–27; Matthew 16:5–20

Psalm 26: Like several of the preceding psalms, notably 23, the psalmist sees life as a walk through often treacherous territory. However, this psalm’s walk begins with a righteous walk with God: “Judge me, O Lord./ For I have walked in my whole wholeness,/ And the Lord I have trusted./ I shall not stumble.” (2) And he remains committed to following this path of righteousness: “For Your kindness is before my eyes/ and I shall walk in Your truth.” (3) This means he has avoided temptation by avoiding the company of the wrong sorts of people: “I have not sat with lying folk/ nor with furtive men have dealt./ I despised the assembly of evildoers,/ nor with the wicked have I sat.” (4,5)

His uprightness is proper preparation for him to worship, presumably at the temple in Jerusalem: “Let me wash my palms in cleanness/ and go round Your altar, Lord,/ to utter aloud a thanksgiving/ and to recount all Your wonders.” (6,7) This is where our poet wants to be: “Lord, I love the abode of Your house/ and the place where Your glory dwells.” (8) And because of how well he has followed God he asks that should he die it would be with God, not all those evil people: “Do not take my life’s breath with offenders/ nor with blood-guilty men my life.” (9) Especially conspirators, “in whose hands there are plots,/ their right hand full of bribes.” (10) Instead, he will “walk in my wholeness./ Redeem me, grant me grace.” (11) The psalm ends on with him having traced the path of righteousness where he can now worship, “My foot stands on level ground./ In the chorus I bless the Lord.” (12)

There is no question the psalmist is sincere that in having followed God’s path of righteousness he has earned the right to worship. But the phrase, “grant me grace” at verse 11 causes us to realize how much better we have it: we have received grace through the gift of Jesus Christ. Grace is something we have been given, not something we had to earn through our good works. And our expression of this gift is indeed to walk the same path of the poet avoiding evil, but happily we are free of the anxiety have not having done it well enough.

Genesis 46:1–27: Jacob takes up Joseph’s and the Pharaoh’s offer to emigrate to Egypt. The authors assure us that this move is the will of God by noting that “God spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.””[why does God call him Jacob instead of Israel?] God specifically points out that this he has approved this plan and that he will keep his promise of creating a great nation, only now down in Egypt, telling Jacob/Israel “I am God,  the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.” (3)

So, Jacob and company pull up roots and take his family and all their possessions to Egypt. Because of the importance of genealogy to Israel, the author lists everyone of Jacob’s offspring, including his grandchildren. These are the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel.

For the readers of Genesis in Babylonian exile, this list is crucial: they can trace their lineage all the way back to Jacob and therefore to Abraham. It is also a reminder that the nation Israel came into being in what ultimately became exile in Egypt. So, too, they are assured that they have retained their identity as a nation while exiled in Babylon many centuries later.

The author is careful to note the legitimacy of every child who became the ancestors of the nation: “All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own offspring, not including the wives of his sons, were sixty-six persons in all.” (26) The author then adds in Joseph, his wife, and his two Egyptian-born children arriving at the significant total of 70 , which represents completeness: “all the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.” (27) In short the migration of Israel starts out God-approved and with high hopes.

Matthew 16:5–20: Matthew’s almost obsessive focus on bread continues as Jesus says, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (6). The disciples take this literally, believing Jesus is warning them not to eat bread that may have been prepared or handled by these religious people. Jesus appears moderately annoyed that after the feeding of the 5000 and then the 4000, they do not yet understand that the yeast Jesus is speaking about is metaphorical.

He says there’s no problem with getting physical bread: “Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?” (9, 10) The problem is the malign influence of the Pharisees and Saducees. We can almost hear Peter saying, “Oh, now I get it!” Matthew is more abstract, telling us that “they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Now we come to what is at once one of the hinge points of the Gospel—and one of the most controversial. Jesus starts off by asking a fairly simple question, that on its face appears to be simply about Jewish history: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (13). The disciples ffer an array of candidates: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah. I suspect that among the twelve even some of the less well known prophets were mentioned. Haggai, perhaps?

But then Jesus spring the real question: “But who do you say that I am?” (15). Peter, being Peter, answers directly: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (16) Jesus is pleased and replies, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” (17) In short, Peter gets it not because of his native intelligence but because he is now guided by the Holy Spirit.

At this point Jesus gives what is the most profound blessing of his earthly ministry with a pun right in the middle of it: “And I tell you, you are Peter [Petros], and on this rock [petra] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (18) Debate has raged for centuries about just who is this “rock” on which the church is founded. The Catholic church reads it directly, and therefore Peter is the founder, the first pope since he has been given the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (19).

Protestants, on the other hand believe that Jesus is being self-referential and “this rock” is Jesus himself. The question then is, who is the “you” in the next verse, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (19) Is it Peter himself or is it the church at large?

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