Psalm 49:1–14; Job 15,16; Romans 16:8–20

Psalm 49:1–14: This psalm sounds like it wandered away from the book of Proverbs as it dispenses the pithy epigrams that characterize that book. The poet states quite simply that he is wise and is about to dispense some much-needed wisdom upon his listeners:
My mouth speaks wisdom,
my heart’s utterance, understanding.” (4)

But, happily, this is a psalm so there’s musical accompaniment:
“I incline my ear to a saying,
I take up with the lyre my theme.” (5)

In a note that seems appropriate to these fraught times, he asserts that his environment, surrounded in evil as it is, does not intimidate him:
Why should I fear in evil days,
when crime comes round me at my heels?” (6)

Then, in an observations we would do well to shout from the rooftops here in Ygnacio Valley, comes the wisdom, specifically about the limitations of wealth:
“Who trust in their wealth
and boast of their great riches—
yet they surely will redeem no man,
will not give to God his ransom.” (7,8)

Wealth cannot bring immortality, although many try by leaving their names on buildings or bequeathing vast art collections. But as our psalmist observes, it’s all an empty gesture:
To redeem their lives is too dear,
and one comes to an end forever.
Will he yet live forever?
Will he not see the Pit?” (9,10)

Nor is there immortality in wisdom itself. Death is the great equalizer and the money goes to the heirs:
For he sees the wise die,
both the fool and the stupid man perish,
and they abandon to others their wealth.” (11)

Rather, our poet asserts, “Their grave us their home forever,/ their dwelling for all generations.” (12a) There is no arguing with the bleak conclusion that wealth does not yield immortality: “This way of theirs is their foolishness,
and afterm in words alone, they show favor. selah.” (14)

Think of how much more peaceful this American culture would be if people truly understood that striving after wealth is a fool’s cul de sac?

Job 15,16: Eliphaz the Temanite lets Job have it in no uncertain terms. Job’s arguments and questioning are not only bad for him, but they are undermining other people’s religion:
But you are doing away with the fear of God,
    and hindering meditation before God.
For your iniquity teaches your mouth,

    and you choose the tongue of the crafty.
Your own mouth condemns you, and not I;

    your own lips testify against you.” (15:4-6)

He accuses Job of being arrogant and pretending to have greater knowledge than his friends. Then, Eliphaz plays the “I’m-older-than-you-are-so-I’m-wiser-than-you” card:
The gray-haired and the aged are on our side,
    those older than your father.” (15:10)

He then issues a dire warning that Job will experience the same fate as others who have railed against God:
Because they stretched out their hands against God,
    and bid defiance to the Almighty,
they will not escape from darkness;
    the flame will dry up their shoots,
    and their blossom will be swept away  by the wind.” (15:25, 30) 

Eliphaz caps his tirade by telling Job he’s basically doomed:
For the company of the godless is barren,
    and fire consumes the tents of bribery.” (15:34)

Job responds in frustration at the endless droning lectures of his “friends:”
I have heard many such things;
    miserable comforters are you all.
Have windy words no limit?

    Or what provokes you that you keep on talking?” (16:2,3)

Ignoring all the windy advice, Job continues to rail against God:
“Surely now God has worn me out;
    he has made desolate all my company.
I was at ease, and he broke me in two;
    he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces.” (16:7, 12)

And has only death to look forward to:
For when a few years have come,
    I shall go the way from which I shall not return.” (16:22)

I wonder why we do not read Job more often at church? Are we afraid to ask the questions that Job asks or shake our fists at God the way Job does?  Are we afraid that our faith or the faith of others will be undermined and break? Too often, I think we are satisfied to sing those happy praise choruses which just paper over the existential angst that is part and parcel of our quotidian lives. Any person who has not from time to time thought that God is a capricious jokester in terms of the obstacles and woes that we encounter in life is simply not being honest with him or herself.

Romans 16:8–20: Paul’s long farewell continues apace as he names the long list those whom he considers his friends in Christ. And he offers a benediction I would do well to emulate at this point in my life: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (16)

But Paul, being Paul, cannot resist offering a few final words of advice: “I urge you, brothers and sisters,[c] to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them.” (17)

Even those who are obedient to Christ are included in this final spasm of advice-giving: “For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil.” (19) But we should not be cynical. There is no better way to lead a Christian life than to be “wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil.” Except that it requires serious discipline—both physical and spiritual.

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