Psalm 80:13–20; Deuteronomy 9:7–10:22; Luke 6:27–38

Psalm 80:13–20: Following his review of Israel’s history using the metaphor of a growing vine, our psalmist accuses God, “Why did You break through its walls so all passers-by could pluck it.?” (13) Any farmer worth his salt would make sure that the vine he is growing remains protected from harm. Yet, God has inexplicably allowed harm to come to the very vine he planted so many years ago. In a brilliant extension of the metaphor, Israel’s animals are compared to a wild animal and marauding insects: “The boar form the forest has gnawed it,/ and the swarm of the field fed upon it.” (14)

We can hear the poet’s anguish as he pleads for God to remember his promise and return to Israel, “God of armies, pray, come back,/ look down from the heavens and see,/ and take note of this vine, and the stock that Your right hand planted,/ and the son You took to Yourself.” (15, 16) Israel is more than it a metaphorical vine it is a metaphorical son adopted by God. The metaphors merge in the next line. Israel, the adopted son, has met the same fate as the destroyed vine:  “burnt in fire, chopped to bits,/ from the blast of Your presence they perish.” (17)

The psalmist pleads for God to restore the nation, relying fully on the metaphor of Israel as God’s adopted son: “May Your hand be over the man on Your right,/ over the son of man You took to Yourself.” (18) Of course for us Christians, we can read these verses as the son being Jesus, and the phrase, “son of man,” is certainly evocative. But I think that’s reading too much in here.

The poet promises that if God returns, faithfulness of the people will return as well: “And we will not fall back from You./ Restore us to life and we shall call on Your name.” (19) The psalm ends with a repetition of verse 4: “Lord God of armies, bring us back. Light up Your face, that we may be rescued.” (20) But alas, as we know, the northern kingdom of Israel never came back. It was hopelessly intermarried with others and fated to become the despised Samaria of Jesus’ time. Sometimes even the most fervent, beautifully spoken and evocative prayers remain unanswered.

Deuteronomy 9:7–10:22: This reading emphasizes how Moses continues to be Israel’s intercessor with God and how it was Moses alone who rescued them from God’s wrath at their constant sinfulness.  To drive his point home about the importance of obedience to God, Moses turns to a lengthy historical description of how Israel disobeyed God in the wilderness, reminding them, “at Horeb you provoked the Lord to wrath, and the Lord was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you.” (9:8) Moses casts himself in the role of protector of Israel against the wrath of God, reminding them that he was gone only 40 days and when he returned, “I saw that you had indeed sinned against the Lord your God, by casting for yourselves an image of a calf; you had been quick to turn from the way that the Lord had commanded you.” (16) Once again, Moses successfully intervened on their behalf, “I was afraid that the anger that the Lord bore against you was so fierce that he would destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also.” (19)

Moses’ catalog of Israel’s grievous sins continues, this time focusing on the incident of the spies sent to Canaan and God said, ““Go up and occupy the land that I have given you,” you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God, neither trusting him nor obeying him.” (23) Moses’ anger at the people is palpable when he states, “You have been rebellious against the Lord as long as he has known you.” (24) Again Moses intervenes on their behalf, noting he “lay prostrate before the Lord when the Lord intended to destroy you” (25) for 40 days and nights. Moses asserts that he persuaded God to relent because the Canaanites might scoff, “‘Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to let them die in the wilderness.’” (28) This raises the intriguing question of whether God cared about what the Canaanites thought about him. I doubt it. But Moses’ argument worked.

Having destroyed the first set of tablets on which God had written the commandments, God tells Moses to make more tablets and the Ark in which they will be carried.   Moses relates how he journeyed back up the mountain and “ I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights, as I had done the first time. And once again the Lord listened to me. The Lord was unwilling to destroy you.” (10:10)

Now 40 years later, Israel stands at the border of Canaan, ready to enter.  In this valedictory, Moses pleads with the people to obey the law, which is really quite simple: “O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God.” (12, 13)  Moses tells the people that God loves them and in a memorable metaphor, he begs them to “Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer.” (10:16)

These final words of Moses’ lengthy sermon are perhaps the finest summary we have about who God is and what he cares about, and how we must follow his example: “the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.” (10:17, 18)  Moses reminds them that God has now fulfilled his promise to Abraham: “Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven.” (10:22)

Of course the the question is, will Israel take Moses’ words to heart? Will we?

Luke 6:27–38: In the context of today’s psalm and Moses’ long sermon, Jesus’ words in Luke’s rendition of the Sermon on the Mount are even more revolutionary, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (27, 28) Do not seek vengeance. Rather, do the complete opposite: “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.” (29)  In fact, be willing to be lose all your worldly possessions, whether by giving them away or being robbed.

And then, perhaps Jesus most widely known moral assertion, although he is rarely credited by those who say it, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (31) Jesus makes it clear that all these things are easy to do when we love the person, “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” (33) But he’s asking us to do a hard thing, “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” (35)  (36) Jesus promises we’ll still be rewarded, but it will not be on the worldly terms we expect. It will be on the terms that operate in the Kingdom of God: “Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High.” (35a)

But then something even more revolutionary and contrary to everything the religious leaders of the time (and many today) believed and taught: God loves sinners: “he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” (35b) And our response must be the same as God’s: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (36) Wow. That is so difficult and ironically, perhaps most difficult to do with those with whom we are in a close relationship. There’s no question that as my Facebook newsfeed demonstrates so well, the world is short on mercy. Mercy must begin with us.

For Jesus, it’s all about reciprocity: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” (37, 38a) Even if people do not accept that Christ has saved them, they (we!) would do well to at least practice these virtues. It is only by this reciprocity that society can hang together, much less flourish.

Speak Your Mind