Psalm 24; Genesis 43; Matthew 15:10–20

Originally posted 2/15/2016—revised and updated 2/14/2018

Psalm 24: This psalm opens with a reminder of God is the Creator; the source of all life, and that he is ruler over all:
The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness,
The world and the dwellers within it.
For He on the seas did found it,
and on the torrents set it firm.” (2)

Following this introduction, the psalm takes on a liturgical structure of question and response. We can almost see the pilgrims ascending the Temple Mount, their leader asking the question and the congregation replying in unison— exactly as we would read psalms responsively today.

The first questions deal with the qualifications of the people heading to worship as the questioner asks,
Who shall go up to the mount of the Lord,
and who shall stand up in His holy place?” (3).

The congregation answers,
The clean of hands and the pure of heart,
who has given no oath in a lie
and has sworn not in deceit.
” (4)

The congregational answer includes the intriguing phrase,
This is the generation of His seekers,
those who search out your presence, Jacob.” (6)

Yes, they are certainly seeking God, and in “Jacob,” which is also “Israel, I believe they are seeking out their own roots and identity. For us reading the psalm today, it suggests that we not only seek God, but that we also seek to understand our own selves—where we come from and where we are going. Self-awareness is a crucial aspect of being a worshipper of God. If we do not have insight into our own being we can hardly expect to gain insight into God’s.

The next question is of course the one Handel asks in his Messiah: “Who is the king of glory?” (8a) This short question has an obvious answer: “The Lord, most potent and valiant.” (8b) Then the psalm takes on a militaristic aspect: “The Lord Who is valiant in battle.” (8c)  At this point the pilgrims’ walk becomes a mighty victory procession entering the city fresh from conquering the enemy. At its head is God entering the city of heaven as conquering king:
Lift up your heads, O gates,
and lift up, eternal portals,
that the king of glory may enter.” (9)

The final liturgical question answers itself:
Who is he, the king of glory?
The Lord of armies, He is the king of glory.” (10)

It is psalms like these that remind us of God’s magnificence and power. That he would stoop to love us and rescue us through Jesus Christ is a made all the more remarkable in the light of his awesome power and glory. If we ever needed a reminder of why God is the object of our worship, it is right here.

Genesis 43: The famine continues in Canaan and it’s time to head back to Egypt and buy more food. Judah reminds his father that “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’” (3). Jacob (here called Israel) accuses Judah of revealing more information to “the man” than necessary, particularly the fact that there was another younger brother, Benjamin. Judah replies that there is something about the mysterious Egyptian that seemed to give him deep knowledge about the family. After Judah says he will be surety for Benjamin, Jacob finally relents, insisting they bring presents—”a little balm and a little honey, gum, resin, pistachio nuts, and almonds” (11)— as well as double the money they had mysteriously showed up in their bags on the last trip.

How very much like Jacob we are when we are asked to give up the one thing that is most precious to us. We resist at first, but just as Judah stood surety for his young brother, Jesus stands in for us before God, when we relent and hand control of our lives over to Jesus.

The brothers arrive in Egypt. Joseph sees the brothers with Benjamin at a distance and instructs his servants to bring the men into his house prepare a feast. The brothers are afraid, thinking the worst, telling Joseph’s steward: “It is because of the money, replaced in our sacks the first time, that we have been brought in, so that he may have an opportunity to fall upon us, to make slaves of us and take our donkeys.” (18) The steward assures them Joseph has been paid, and suggests “your God and the God of your father must have put treasure in your sacks for you; I received your money.” (23) Notice that the steward reminds them that their God is the source of this generosity.  Then Simeon is brought out and there must certainly have been enormous relief on the part of all the brothers..

Joseph finally appears and after exchanging greetings with the brothers, he sees Benjamin. “Overcome with affection for his brother, and he was about to weep. So [Joseph] went into a private room and wept there.” (30) Seated for lunch, the brothers are “amazed” that the place cards at the are in the exact birth order of the brothers. Benjamin gets 5 times the lunch portions as any other brother. [One suspects this is because Benjamin was a growing teenager.]

The story’s drama is heightened by Joseph not yet revealing himself, but with various clues such as the seating order at lunch, the brothers must have suspected something.

Why does this story resonate so deeply with us today? Joseph is an archetype of Jesus. As Jesus makes clear later in Matthew, we often don’t realize he is sitting right next to us. We receive blessings from him, whose source—like the gold in the brother’s bags—we do not understand, but ultimately we realize it can come only from God. Jesus asks us to do difficult things just as Joseph demanded that the brothers bring Benjamin with them back to Egypt. But above all, Jesus invites us to sit down and sup with him. And like the brothers, we are merry in the Jesus’ saving grace.

Matthew 15:10–20: We have observed many times that in the OT and especially the Psalms speech is the source of great evil. In the dispute about not washing hands before a meal, Jesus reminds the crowd of this truth: “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (11) As is their wont, the disciples point out the obvious: “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” (12). Jesus blithely dismisses their concerns, noting that it is God who will make the final judgement.

He goes on to make the famous observation, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” (14) For us, it is false religiosity of the type on display by the Pharisees, that causes so many people to fall into the pit of despair. Today, it is the prosperity gospel of Osteen et al that insists if we are not getting rich and receiving “blessings” it is because we have sinned that exactly reflects the quid pro quo thinking of the Pharisees.

Peter, being Peter, asks for a deeper explanation, which Jesus patiently gives him (and us) via a physiology lesson about digestion: “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (17). Far worse, he asserts, are the words that “come out of the mouth [which] proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.” (18) Notice that Jesus also gives a moral physiology lesson here: it is the heart—the seat of our self-will—that is in unending conflict with our conscience, and which is the source of what comes out of our mouths. Then in a very Paul-like gesture, Jesus provides us with a list of the sins of which we are so readily capable: “For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (19, 20a). Perhaps most lethal of all is “evil intentions,” for all other actions arise from that one. 

So, while our mouths may be the medium of communication, it is our heart and its intentions that define who we are. Which is why we ask Jesus to take up residence in our heart and not our minds.

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