Psalm 43; Exodus 37; Matthew 27:32-44

Psalm 43: This psalm seems a direct follow-on to the conclusion of the preceding psalm, where the last lines express the poet’s “Hope in God” and “His rescuing presence.” [Alter suggests that Psalm 42 and 43 were one longer psalm which was broken into two by the editors fro some unknown reason.] Because armed with that hope, the opening line of this psalm begins with a veritable shout: “Grant me justice, O God.” And the justice he seeks is for God to “take up my case against a faithless nation,/ from a man of deceit and wrong free me.” (1)

How many times has this verse been uttered in desperation and hope down through the ages where a single individual stands against both a single enemy as well as an entire society arrayed against him?

Inasmuch as he hopes in God’s justice he asks almost plaintively, “For You, O God, my stronghold,/ why should You neglect me?” (2a) At this point he feels as if he is facing his enemies utterly alone and wonders, “Why should I go in gloom, pressed by the foe?” (2b)

We see that not only is he facing an enemy but that he must be in exile far from Jerusalem as he asks God to “Send forth Your light and Your truth./ It is they that will guide me./ They will bring me to Your holy mountain/ And to Your dwelling place.” (3)  And not only to Jerusalem, but that he might once again come before God, who dwells in the temple (or tabernacle) there: “And let me come to God’s altar,/ to God, my keenest joy.” (4a) And once there, he will bow down in worship “and let me acclaim You with the lyre,/ O God, my God.” (4b)

This psalm ends on the same note of hope that the preceding one does. God may still be still absent but hope remains: “Hope in God, for yet I will acclaim Him,/ His rescuing presence and my God.”(5) This hope is the one we cling to when God seems to have abandoned us. In some psalms the supplicant raises his fist and shouts at God. But in this one it is quiet hope that sustains us.

Exodus 37: This chapter is a continuation of the details around constructing the Tabernacle and focuses on the details that go into its furnishings. Above all: the Ark of the Covenant. Then the table for the Bread of the Presence, the lampstand, and the Altar of Incense. All of these objects appear to have been crafted by Bezalel, although I suspect that like Michelangelo, he oversaw other workers in his studio.

As with the tabernacle itself, these descriptions are much more compact than the descriptions we encountered in earlier chapters. These authors also continue to emphasize the connection between the objects and their builder as we read the opening words of virtually every sentence: “He made.” There’s no question that the authors want to reassure us that these items are not “magic,” or somehow just appeared out of nothing. Rather they have been assiduously crafted by human hands. Unlike other religions of the time, none of these items pretends to be an image of God—an idol. They exist exclusively as the means to allow priests to come before the living God in proper and highly defined modes of worship.

That there is no idolatry here is emphasized by the Ark of the Covenant. It is not an object to represent God; rather it is a place where God’s presence can dwell. Israel has a direct and tangible connection to God.

Israel’s God is immanent; he is not far away. And it is this immanence that, for me anyway, explains why the construction of these objects is described in such almost excruciating detail. The authors want to make sure we understand that only the best materials were used by the finest and most skilled craftsmen. God deserves the absolute best we can offer him. Which frankly, I fail to do. We are too often satisfied giving God what we have left over.

Matthew 27:32-44: Matthew’s description of Jesus’ crucifixion is terse but vividly communicates the darkness and evil of the act. We meet Simon of Cyrene, and “they compelled this man to carry his cross.” (32) I’m sure Matthew inserts this detail to remind us that it was not just the Jews and Romans who are the means of Jesus’ execution. It is all of us.

Matthew omits many of the details of the act of crucifixion itself, simply stating that when offered a drink of wine and gall, Jesus refuses. Something we never see in visual depictions, but Jesus is doubtless stripped naked—the final humiliation— suggested by the fact that “they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots.” (35). Matthew emphasizes how Jesus has become the object of mockery and scorn with the visible sign on which “they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’” (37).

This theme of mockery is amplified further as Matthew writes, “Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”” (39, 40)  Unlike the description in Luke, the “bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.” (44) There is no last minute repentance on the part of one of the thieves, nor reassuring words from Jesus that the thief will be joining him in Paradise. There is only darkness, scorn, and mockery. In fact, up to this point, Matthew’s Jesus has not uttered a word.

Once again, I think all of us who read these words must confront Matthew’s clearly implied challenge. We can either believe Jesus is who he said who he is or we are reduced to mockery. There can no middle ground. The sign above his head is either true or it is an object of derision. Matthew is telling us in his dark words here that when we come to the cross we are forced to choose.


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