Psalm 10:12–18; Genesis 18; Matthew 6:19–34

Originally posted 1/15/2016—revised and updated 1/15/2018

Psalm 10:12–18: The psalm becomes one of supplication and our psalmist appeals directly to God: “Rise, O Lord, raise Your hand,
forget not the lowly.” (12)

In his heart I’m pretty sure he is confident that God will indeed care for the lonely, but I think he’s asking a larger existential question: why are there the lonely in the first place? And accompanying that question, its inverse:
Why has the wicked despised God,
has said in his heart, ‘You shall not seek out.’” (13).

These of course are questions of theodicy: why is there evil and evil men in the world when God is almighty and all-good? There is no satisfactory answer; we can only say that oppression of the poor and the pride of the wicked is the result of a fallen humans in a fallen world.

The psalmist’s frustration at God for allowing this state of affairs is barely concealed as he points out that God is well aware of this situation:
For You have seen mischief
and looked on vexation.” (14a)

Yet, despite that frustration, our poet also knows that the poor have no one to turn to but God, and that God does indeed come to the aid of the oppressed:
The wretched leaves his fate in Your hands.
It is You Who help the orphan.” (14b)

I think he realizes how much more grim the fate of the poor would be were it not for God.  This state of affairs does not prevent the psalmist from making a wishful appeal to God to take action even to the point of doing away with evil altogether:
Break the arm of the wicked ,
and seek out evil,
let wickedness not be found.” (15)

After all, he argues, “The Lord is king for all time.” (16)

As with all psalms of supplication, this one ends on a note of confidence that God has indeed heard his prayer, which brings with it the encouragement of God’s presence and the final verse recapitulates the psalm’s theme with great clarity: :
“The desire of the poor you have heard, O Lord,
You make their heart firm, Your ear listens.
To do justice for the orphan and the wretched,
and let none still oppress man in the land.” (17, 18)

These verses are a clear statement of the great theme that courses through the OT: God demands mercy on the poor and God’s justice will eventually come to punish the wicked. However, as Jesus points out, it is up to us as God’s representatives on earth to bring that mercy and justice to the poor and downtrodden. As we well know, God’s love and mercy operate through human agency: it is a primary responsibility of any person who claims to be a Christian.

Genesis 18: Abraham recognizes that the three men are two angels and the Lord. He washes their feet and makes a veal lunch for them, underscoring the hospitality that is due the stranger, as the Law will eventually make clear. It strikes the strangers as odd that Abraham would bring them a meal, but his wife Sarah is nowhere to be seen. “They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?”” (9). Clearly, the message they intended to deliver was intended for Abraham and Sarah together. Abraham answers the question honestly: “There, in the tent.” (9) The chief angel makes his announcement—I assume loud enough that Sarah could hear him in the tent: “your wife Sarah shall have a son.” (10). Sarah, who is years beyond menopause, hears this news and cannot suppress her sarcastic laughter of disbelief. God picks up on this and responds, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” (14) Sarah, being human, denies she laughed “for she was afraid.” But God gets the last word, “He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.” (15).

I can sympathize with Sarah; she must have been quaking in her boots. It’s natural human responses like these that underscore the authenticity of the story. And we see the caring and patient side of God. This exchange with Abraham and Sarah reveals how the Jewish God is wildly different from the constantly battling and venial small-g gods who inhabit the other nations of the time—and alas, will come to inhabit Israel many years down the road—and as they inhabit our own world..

The story of the destruction of Sodom includes dialog I’d never noticed before. Abraham accompanies his guests as they leave. Coming around a bend, Sodom comes into view and God asks rhetorically,Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” (17, 18) Even so, Abraham doubtless has a suspicion of what God has in mind.

But God does not just stretch out his hand and destroy Sodom. Instead, he seeks evidence that Sodom is as evil as he has heard it is from those who have escaped the city’s  depredations: “I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.” 21). Again, this is a huge difference from the small-g gods of the time: Unlike them, God does not operate on whim, but true justice demands evidence first.

Abraham raises the very real problem that the righteous will be destroyed along with the wicked. The famous round of questions follows: Abraham asks, “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” (24) God responds that “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” (26) Abraham repeats the question, reducing the number each time, eventually reaching ten. And God makes it clear that he will relent even if there are only ten righteous souls.

The point seems clear: God will be merciful even to evil when righteousness is present, even if it is present only in small amounts. God will always err on the side of justice and he cares immensely for the righteous. And of course that exactly what God and Jesus expect from us in turn.

Matthew 6:19–34: The Sermon on the Mount continues. [Perhaps it would be better called the “Sermon Series on the Mount.”]  Jesus certainly understands human priorities when he says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (21) Our priorities always follow what is in our hearts. In much of America, where basic human needs are pretty much met for the vast majority of people, our priorities appear to be in the acquisition of things and in status as demonstrated by the implied value of possessions such as houses and cars. Yet, inside every human heart the same insecurities exist—which Jesus sees and understands.

The symptoms of this insecurity are clear: we worry too much. Jesus tells us, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (25). Yet living a worry-free life, especially in this age of over-communication where we are aware of every trouble on the globe, is perhaps the most difficult task of all. We are surrounded by endless advertisements and articles about saving for retirement, but Jesus has the temerity to say, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’” (31). There’s even a bit of racial sarcasm when Jesus observes, “For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things.” (32)

Really? Does this mean I can be profligate and not bother to save resources for later? I think Jesus’ final statement is where we need to focus: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (33)  Once again, it’s about priorities. If we are working to advance the Kingdom, we will have the insight to allocate our resources in their proper place, including saving for retirement. But do I really follow Jesus and put “striving for the Kingdom of God” in first place? The honest answer is ‘No, I do not.’

I think Jesus recognizes that no matter what he says about worry, we’re still going to do it. So, in what I consider to be one of the wisest pieces of advice in the entire Bible, he tells us that we should at least focus on the tangible present rather than the intangible future: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  (34) This has been brought home to me dramatically via a diagnosis cancer. Enjoy today. Do good for others today. Recurrence of my cancer may happen tomorrow. But that will be tomorrow’s concern.

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