Psalm 85:1–8; Deuteronomy 24:14–25:19; Luke 9:12–27

Psalm 85:1–8: This psalm of supplication must have been written during a time of severe national trial, perhaps following the Babylonian conquest. The psalmist opens by remembering how God once blessed Israel and forgave its people: “You favored, O Lord, Your land,/ You restored the condition of Jacob,/ You forgave Your people’s crime,/ You covered all their offense, selah.” (2, 3) Our poet intensifies the contrast between then and now by reminding God, “You laid aside all Your wrath,/ You turned back from Your blazing fury.” (4) So there is clear precedent for God to do the same once again.

Now, once again in this moment of crisis, the psalmist implores God to relent, and “Turn back, pray, God of our rescue/ and undo Your anger against us.” (5) He asks the question that has been asked down through the ages when all seems at its darkest and God seems to be relentless in his punishment: “Will You forever be incensed with us,/ will You draw out Your fury through all generations?” (6) Will God once again be willing to be at the center of their lives, the object of the their worship? The psalmist seems to catch himself in mid question when he asks the most basic question of all: “Why, You—will again give us life,/ and Your people will rejoice in You.” (7)

These unanswered questions boil down to the simple plea for God to once again be a God of love, not a God of anger and save them all from their present plight: “Show us, O Lord, Your kindness/ and Your rescue grant to us.” (8) Even though God is there all the time that does not prevent our feeling  abandoned. And when that sense of ineffable loneliness overtakes us, this psalm is a beautiful expression of those feelings.

Deuteronomy 24:14–25:19: This seemingly endless catalog of laws became the basis of western civilization. Some of these laws still fail to be observed consistently. Perhaps most significantly in this time of political turmoil in America is how these Mosaic laws remember those people, including immigrants, who are on the bottom rungs of society:  “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns.” (24:14) Nor shall “You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge.” (24:17)

There is even basic welfare for the poor in that olive trees are not to be fully stripped nor grapes fully harvested: “…do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.” (21)

And then a rule of justice that is so basic I had never thought of it before: individual responsibility for our actions, stated rather dramatically here, “Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death.” (16) Only one man in history took on the punishment for us all: Jesus on the cross.

Punishment rendered against someone deemed to be guilty must fit the crime: “If the one in the wrong deserves to be flogged, the judge shall make that person lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of lashes proportionate to the offense.” (25:2) This would be a good verse to bring forward when we learn of unreasonable sentences being given for seemingly petty crimes, such as the many years of imprisonment too often handed out for relatively minor drug offenses. On the other hand, the recent public outcry about the fairly lenient sentence given to wealthy student who raped a woman is a good example of the sense of proportionality in justice that we all expect. But was the public’s sense of proportionality correct in that case?

Then again, there are some laws that no longer apply, such as when brothers live together and refuses to marry the widow of a deceased brother. That person will be publicly shamed when “his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, pull his sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and declare, “This is what is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.” Throughout Israel his family shall be known as “the house of him whose sandal” (25: 9, 10) This law, which seems rather humorous on its face, but deadly serious nonetheless, gives us a picture of the priority of family over an individual’s feelings. Of course, in our society, it’s gone so hard over the other way such that it’s all about individual rights.

Finally, “If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.” (11, 12) Ouch in every sense of the word. It also demonstrates a clear boundary between men and women and women dare not intervene in a man’s business—even in a fight where the woman fears for her husband’s well being.

Luke 9:12–27: The feeding of the 5000 and its fish and bread surplus is a story I first heard in Sunday School. But it has never lost its power as a metaphor for how Jesus blesses us with far more than we can ever consume. Even in dark times, such as those today’s psalm describes, when all seems lost, the blessings are there. They often come in a completely unexpected way, such as cancer. But the blessings overflow when we sit down with Jesus and listen.

Jesus asks his disciples two of the questions that sit at the cornerstone of the Christian faith. First, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (18) And the disciples respond with the same list that Herod had a few verses back: “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” (19) But then Jesus asks those who have not only witnessed his public works, but also the private man, who clearly has told them far more: “But who do you say that I am?” (20a). It is Peter who answers in the barest most straightforward way—what Luke wants his readers to be sure they understand. Four simple words: “The Messiah of God.” (20b).

Unlike Matthew, Luke does not tell us what Jesus said in reply to Peter’s answer. Which, frankly, I think is better—at least for me. It means that each of us must reach our own conclusions without prompting. Wither Jesus is the Messiah or he is not.

Rather than answering Peter, Jesus orders the disciples to keep this new realization a secret. Once again and like the non-encounter with Herod, Luke is telling us, the time for all to be revealed to the world is not yet for this to be revealed.

Here, Jesus makes a direct prediction of exactly what will happen to him: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (22) And with this bold assertion that doubtless puzzled the disciples, who could not see in to the future, we hear one of the enormously “hard” sayings of Jesus: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (23) This is hard because it requires subsuming our ego, our agendas, our desires, and our very being to Jesus. For me, this is the very definition of taking up a cross and “crucifying” my own desires. Alas, it is infinitely easier said—even by Jesus—than done.

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