Psalm 20; Genesis 36:9-43; Matthew 13:10-23

Originally posted 2/6/2014—revised and updated 2/6/2018

Psalm 20 opens with a benediction:
May the Lord answer you on the day of distress,
the name of Jacob’s God make you safe.
May He send help to you from the sanctum
and from Zion may He sustain you.” (2, 3)

It’s direct and to the point, no flowery language.  Even though it’s feels a bit strange for a benediction to be placed at the beginning of the psalm and not at its end, it’s perfectly logical, and frankly, an uplifting, optimistic way to begin worship.  We ought to try it someday.

I wonder how many times I’ve prayed the equivalent of verse 5:
May he grant you you what your heart would want, 
and all your counsels may He fulfill.” (5)

There’s certainly nothing wrong in praying this petition, but I think we need to be prepared to not have our precise desires granted  and our plans fulfilled. Unlike many other prayers of supplication, our psalmist prays for God’s rescue in the context of worship:
“Let us sing gladly fro Your rescue
and in our God’s name our banner raise.
May the Lord fulfill all your desires.” (6)

Once again, there’s the benevolent prayer for God to fulfill “all your desires.” I think our psalmist can say this because he describes how David the king personally experienced God’s rescue in past battles:
Now do I know
that the Lord has rescued His anointed.
He has answered him from His holy heavens
in the might of His right hand’s rescue. (7)

Our psalmist describes how Israel’s enemies have lost in the past because God was on Israel’s side:
They—the chariots, and they—the horses,
but we—the name of the Lord our God invoke.
They have tumbled and fallen
but we arose and took heart. (8, 9)

And once again, the psalmist calls for God to rescue David as the psalm ends rather abruptly:
O lord, rescue the king.
May He answer us on the day we call.” (10)

The theme he is assurance: God has rescued in the past and will rescue again. Which is a pretty good description of the Christian life when we walk with God at our side.

Genesis 36:9-43:  Esau gets his genealogical due as his descendants are listed here in Genesis 36.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that “These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites.” (36:31) Perhaps the authors are stating simple historical fact, but I detect a slight editorial edge here since Edom and Israel certainly parted ways early. Perhaps the experience of the Edomites who were ruled by a king is one reason why God was less than enthusiastic when Israel replaced its judges with a king—especially one such as Saul who started out so well but by ignoring God descended into madness.

But we certainly need to remember that Esau’s descendants were part of the promise made to Abraham as much as Jacob’s.  And in that sense, so are we all.

Matthew 13:10-23  Before he launches into parable-telling, Matthew’s Jesus explains why he speaks in parables, which are not all that distant from riddles. The disciples, along with Matthew’s listeners and us as well, understandably pose the question: “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (10) Jesus has a radically new approach to preaching, and now that I think about it, if we go back to the OT, there are stories, psalms, and prophecies chockablock with metaphors, but they rarely became parables, which I think of as metaphors with flesh and bones on them.  Clearly, the religious leadership of Jesus’ time spoke didactically (in 3-part sermons perhaps?), as did John the Baptist.  But at least in Scripture anyway, Jesus’ approach is completely new and it’s no wonder the disciples were confused.

Jesus’ disquisition on the differences between looking and perceiving and hearing and understanding make the point, I think, that we humans are basically wired to understand better what Jesus has to say to us through stories, not just through philosophical/religious discourse. Matthew has Jesus quote from Isaiah:
‘You will indeed listen, but never understand,
    and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and their ears are hard of hearing,
        and they have shut their eyes;
        so that they might not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
    and I would heal them.’” (14, 15)

Listening to stories rather than lectures is how we learn better today, as well. Marketers know this when they create Super Bowl commercials.

Jesus knows his audience—both when he preached and today as well. We are not good perceivers and we are not good listeners. Unlike the clear morals of Aesop’s fables, the parables force us to think deep, and it is only by reflection that we can even begin to comprehend exactly what Jesus was getting at. And even then, we may fail to understand.

The parable of the sower is the “Ur-parable,” in that it explains the point of the parables: that Jesus understood the reality that much of what he said would be misunderstood (as it certainly was by the religious leaders) or the initial enthusiasm of many would simply fade away with time or persecution.

Jesus is willing to explain the parable’s meaning to his disciples, but there’s no question that the hoi polloi found Jesus mystifying. It is also a clear statement that Jesus’ real message about the Kingdom of God would be lost on just about everybody. Which certainly is also true. But when we really, truly get Jesus’ point, the rewards for the Kingdom—and for us—will be great indeed.

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