Psalm 31:7–10; Exodus 5:10–6:12; Matthew 19:23–30

Psalm 31:6–9: In a line appropriate for this rapidly worsening political season, our psalmist asserts, “I hate those who look to vaporous lies.” (7a) “Vaporous lies” surround us on every front: whether it’s advertising or the empty rhetoric of politicians pandering to our worst instincts. Once again, there is nothing new or unique about today’s human nature. Vaporous lies have always been part of the cultural landscape.

Our psalmist recognizes and rejects these lies, looking to God instead :”As for me, I trust in the Lord.” (7b). This is a good reminder . When the very structure of society seems under attack it is God in whom we must trust. And not just trust. With the psalmist we can “exult and rejoice in Your kindness, / that You saw in my affliction.” (8a)

We trust, exult, and rejoice in God for the simple reason that “You knew the straits of my life.” (8b) God “gets us.” And no matter the circumstances, he protects us, “and You did not yield me to my enemy’s hand.” (9a). Rather than having to cower in fear, we know that God brings us true freedom: “You set my feet in a wide-open place.” (9b)

When the ever-degrading culture that surrounds us seems to be forcing us to yield “to the enemy’s hand,” we know that looking to God will allow us to see the wide-open spaces of joy and purity within the Kingdom of God. No matter how dark things seem, God’s light still shines.

Nevertheless, we will continue to experience bouts of worry, fear, and depression. Like the psalmist, at those times we’ll turn to God and cry out, “Grant me grace, Lord, for I am distressed.” When we’re feeling oppressed and worried and we can still cry, “My eye is worn out in vexation,/ [as well as] my throat and my belly.” When worry and disappointment threaten to consume us, when we become worn out, there is always succor in God’s embrace if we but ask.

Exodus 5:10–6:12: Moses has done as he was commanded by God. He persuaded the Israelite leaders to stand with him as he goes to Pharaoh and demand release of the Israelite slaves, even if only for three days to go make sacrifices in the wilderness. Pharaoh’s reaction is predictable: not only no, but hell no as he commands the Israelites to find their own straw but still produce the same number of bricks per day. Pharaoh is the model of so many capitalist taskmasters through history, eager both to oppress and to show workers who’s boss.

Moses understandably questions God’s promise to deliver and cries, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me?” (5:22) Notice how he takes this very personally, still convinced God has made a mistake and sent the wrong guy. Moses’ evidence of God screwing up seems pretty convincing: “Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.” (5:23)

But God (rather predictably) reiterates the core promise to bring them back to Canaan, reassuring Moses that “ I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.” (6:5) And he sends Moses back to reassure the Israelites that God will keep his promise and instructs Moses to tell them they will be freed and, “I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’” (5:8). Unsurprisingly, Moses does not convince the Israelite leaders with whom he has completely lost credibility: “they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.” All Moses has brought them is an existence far worse than before.

With his relationship with the Israelites in shambles, God tells Moses to “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his land.” (11). But Moses is beyond discouragement and reminds God once again that he is a poor communicator: “The Israelites have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me, poor speaker that I am?” (12)

What began as a seemingly hopeless task in the first place has gone from bad to worse. Only God seems convinced that Moses is the right guy carrying the right message. This story is an archetype for those would believe they are following God’s call but wind up in a deeper mess than ever before. This story have really resonated with the prophets that came to Israel centuries later. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah must have all felt exactly like Moses at some point in their ministry.

I know that if I were Moses I’d be saying the same thing and thinking that God is cruel prankster.  It would be difficult to say cheerily with our psalmist today, “As for me, I trust in the Lord.”

Matthew 19:23–30: Following the departure of the rich young ruler, Jesus observes, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (23) and adding his famous comparison, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (23). Speaking for all of us, the disciples “were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?”’ (25) Jesus has turned the Jewish world upside down since it was widely assumed that riches came as the reward for personal righteousness and that righteousness was the key to gaining entrance to heaven.

I think just as the disciples found his statement to be unbelievable, Jesus is still widely misunderstood today. Jesus is saying it is neither our efforts nor our possessions that save us. Instead, God is the key to salvation: “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” The issue is not wealth, but our wrongheaded belief that wealth somehow makes us better and more qualified for salvation.

Peter, being Peter, takes of the issue of the rewards of poverty as he asserts that “we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (26) In other words, what will be our reward for the enormous sacrifice we’ve made by giving up our homes, families, and profession? Jesus makes a bold promise to his disciples: “at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (28). Moreover, it is those who have given up everything to follow Jesus who will be rewarded: “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.” (29)

Above all, how God (and Jesus) operate is the reverse of our human expectations and position here on earth as he famously says, “but many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (303).

The unanswered question for still hanging in the air is, will we be willing to abandon what we have here on earth and indeed, as Oswald Chambers keeps reminding us, even to abandon our own selves, our egos, our sense of being in control, in order to follow Jesus? That is the Really Big Question each of us who professes to be a Jesus follower must not only answer but the act upon.

Speak Your Mind