Psalm 69:14–22; Proverbs 19; 2 Corinthians 2:14–3:11

Psalm 69:14–22: After recounting his desperate situation, our psalmist turns to God and begins praying that God will be in the mood to answer:
But I—may my prayer to You,
O Lord, come at a favorable hour.
God, as befits Your great kindness,
answer me with Your steadfast rescue.” (14)

He continues using the metaphor of drowning, this time to ask for God’s immediate rescue:
Save me from the mire, that I not drown.
Let me be saved from my foes and form the watery depths.
Let the waters current not sweep me away
and let not the deep swallow me,
and let not the Pit close its mouth on me.” (15, 16)

Notice the intense physicality in his plea that even suggests he actually is on the cusp of drowning and dying. Have we ever felt in such desperate straits that it is not just threatening but takes on an intensely physical quality? The verses that follow are repeated pleas for God to see him, to listen and then to act:
And hide not Your face from Your servant,
for I am in straits. Hurry, answer me.” (18)

A lesson here is that we can be as impatient as we like in our prayers to God.

Interestingly, in the midst of desperation there is further confession as the psalmist recognizes he is indeed a sinner who has committed an act that has brought such calumny down on his head:
It is You who know my reproach,
and my shame and disgrace before all my foes.” (20)

Again, we witness the deep physical consequences of his sins in his words:
Reproach breaks my heart, I grow ill;
I hope for consolation, and there s none,
and for comforters, and do not find them.

But suddenly, the image of Jesus hanging on the cross, apparently deserted by God himself comes into sharp focus with a prophecy that cannot have been coincidental:
They gave for me nourishment wormwood,
and for my thirst they made me drink vinegar.” (22)

Could it be that the drowning man is Jesus himself, who has taken on to himself the manifold sins of humankind? I think that is one way we Christians need to read this psalm.

Proverbs 19: To me, it appears that at the bottom of all these proverbs is the author’s fervent desire for civility and order. Which is why I think they should be required reading in schools across America. Also, the proverbs assume a family structure is in place that is increasingly on the wane in the self-centered individualism that characterizes our culture. This is where I’m focusing today.

The family consists of a husband, a wife and children. Our author has truths to tell us that today we laugh at, but I think at our long run peril:
A foolish child is a father’s ruin,
    and a quarrelsome wife is like
    the constant dripping of a leaky roof.” (13)

We may deride this image of a foolish child and a quarrelsome wife, but there’s little question that a family where the children run things and the adults are arguing all the time is not on a solid foundation. Worse, we denigrate the structure and hierarchy of the family at great risk. Our author has harsher things to say about a family where children effectively run the family—as we see frequently on display today:
Discipline your children, for in that there is hope;
    do not be a willing party to their death.” (18)

Yet, this is precisely the fate of so many broken and dysfunctional families. We all would do well to heed this advice, even though it’s psychologically painful and often leads to resentment:
Listen to advice and accept discipline,
    and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” (20)


Stop listening to instruction, my son,
    and you will stray from the words of knowledge.” (27)

There is profound truth in these verses. A disciplined life that listens to advice and accepts instruction is far richer and fulfilling than a life that is lived in the moment and that pursues only momentary pleasure.

2 Corinthians 2:14–3:11: Paul uses the metaphor a triumphal Roman victory march to remind us that we are Christ’s: “thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.” (14) I like the idea of the “aroma of Christianity” permeating the world—something we see echoed in the incense that often accompanies highly liturgical worship ·although never at Lutheran churches). The real question becomes, am I captive to Christ or to my own self-interest? Unfortunately, I think I know the answer.

Apparently somebody at Corinth has asked Paul to write a letter or a CV, outlining his capabilities or writing a letter of recommendation for another pastor coming to Corinth—perhaps Timothy. Happily, Paul rejects the request, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?” (3:1) Paul, being Paul, reframes the request as a metaphorical opportunity: “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.” (3:2) He then stretches the letter metaphor even further, likening each Christian to a public letter of testimony of how Christ has changed us: “you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (3:3)  The challenge of course is just how readable we are as “letters for Christ.”

Paul tries to put to rest the idea that he is the inventor Christianity as we know it (although to a great extent, he did exactly that!) by stating, “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant.” (5,6a) 

He goes on to assert that our changed lives do not result from our knowledge or from writings (“letter”) but from the Holy Spirit: “not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (6b) But we tend to trust words and writings more than the Holy Spirit—at least I do. I think Paul is getting at the great dialectic that each Christian experiences: How do we balance a faith based on mind (“letters”) with a faith of the heart (The Holy Spirit).

Paul tries to to place “letters” in a subsidiary position by using the example of the Decalogue engraved on stone tablets and given to Moses. To a certain extent, he excoriates the Jewish belief in Torah as “the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets.” He reminds us that Moses, who saw God walk by, was enveloped in such glory that he had to mask his face. Paul tells us there is now in fact a far greater  glory from God in the permanent arrival of the Holy Spirit on earth: “how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory?” (8)

He then engages in some exegetical calisthenics around the word “glory,” which I am loathe to untangle:
For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!” (9-11)  I think we can safely conclude that Paul really, really wanted people to grasp the glorious reality of the power of the Holy Spirit. Something I think we’re still somewhat afraid to do.

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