Psalm 25:1–7; Genesis 44; Matthew 15:21–28

Originally posted 2/16/2016—revised and updated 2/15/2018

Psalm 25:1–7: Unlike many psalms of supplication, which wonder where God is, this one begins on a more positive note of trust in God and implicitly that God is listening to him:
“To You, O Lord, I lift my heart.
My God in you I trust.” (1, 2a)

He wishes to avoid public shame, although he does not say what the cause of this shame might be:
Let me not be shamed,
let my enemies not gloat over me.” (2b)

Shame is something both we and psalmists don’t like to talk about, yet it is a primary feeling that everyone of us knows too well. The psalmist emphasizes how much he wishes to avoid that dreadful state—especially since he trusts God. It would be far better for his enemies to feel this shame:
Yes, let all who hope in You not be shamed.
Let the treacherous be shamed, empty-handed.” (3)

It appears that our psalmist believes that one way to be rescued from this shame is to deepen his knowledge of how God operates:
Your ways, O Lord, inform me,
Your paths instruct me.” (4)

As in Psalm 23, this process is a matter of being led by God, rigorously following God’s path: “Lead me in Your truth and instruct me,
for You are the God of my rescue.
In You do I hope every day.” (5)

By following God’s ways, the psalmist feels he can now ask for God’s forgiveness—the same forgiveness he has received in the past:
Recall Your mercies, O Lord,
and Your kindnesses—they are forever.” (6)

Our poet admits he has sinned and prays that God will forget those sins and instead in his unsurpassed mercy will remember him for the God-following man he has become:
My youth’s offenses and my crimes recall not.
In Your kindness, recall me—You;
for the sake of Your goodness, O Lord.” (7)

This psalm beautifully lays out the structure of a prayer supplication. We look to God for guidance and we acknowledge our past sins rather than being in denial about them. Prayer is more than just an episodic one-off pleas for forgiveness. Rather it is a continuous process. It is what we do as a basic part of our daily walk with God and aligning our very being with him. And in that alignment God enables us to cast off our shame and walk free. If course that’s the irony, isn;t it? So many people believe that freedom comes in rejecting God. But sooner or later they will discover that is a dead end path.

Genesis 44: The party is over and Joseph commands his servants to fill the brother’s sacks with grain and “put each man’s money in the top of his sack.” (1) Then, he directs them to put his expensive silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers leave and then Joseph tells his men to overtake the hapless brothers, accusing them of theft. The servant does so and the brothers are completely befuddled: “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants that they should do such a thing!” (7) They offer to become Joseph’s slaves if the cup is found. Of course it’s found in Benjamin’s sack and the distraught brothers return to Joseph, throwing themselves at his feet. Joseph responds that they should know “that one such as I can practice divination” (15), i.e. he would know the cup was stolen so they were stupid to have taken it.

Uon returning to Joseph, the brothers desperately protest their innocence and Judah asks what I believe is the central question of this story: “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves?” (16) He acknowledges that all the brothers must become Joseph’s slaves. Joseph appears to relent and says that only Benjamin must remain as a slave. This of course is a question each of us must ask at some point in our lives when we realize we are in a hopeless situation.

In desperation, Judah pleads for Joseph to release his young brother, describing how he had to beg his father, Jacob, to allow Benjamin to accompany them on their mission because Joseph had demanded it. If he were to return to Jacob without Benjamin, and if “he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die; and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol.” (31) Judah then offers to be Joseph’s slave in place of his brother, telling him, “For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.” (34).

The question is, why is Jospeh making the brothers suffer this way? I think it was because Joseph knew he had to put his brothers to a severe test and see if their change of heart was genuine. Were they still the cruel brothers that had stripped him and sold him into slavery, or had they truly repented of their crimes and finally become honest men?  We see a clear indication of the latter in the poignancy of Judah’s description of how Jacob had begged them not to take Benjamin.  Further, there is a hint of the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf when Judah offers to replace Benjamin as the slave. I hope that Joseph sees that his brothers are truly changed men. 

Matthew 15:21–28: For me, the story of the Canaanite woman lies at the center of Jesus’ healings for a couple of reasons. The first is the power of persistence. Much to the great annoyance of the disciples, the woman keeps making a ruckus and they say, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” (23)  Jesus seems almost to agree, but rather than just sending her away, tells her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (24)  But this Gentile woman won’t give up; she kneels down and pleads, “Lord, help me.” Jesus replies rather harshly that she seems not to be getting his message about the exclusivity of his healing ministry, telling her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (26). The woman knows she is one of those dogs, and she does something remarkable. She is the only person in the Gospel that pushes back on Jesus with one of the greatest lines in this gospel: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (27).

Jesus acknowledges the woman’s persistent faith and heals her daughter.  Her persistence paid off. Her first prayer wasn’t answered, so she pushes on with the next one. She never gives up. I think this is a nice reflection of what our psalmist in today’s reading suggests: Call on God persistently.

But I think the most important reason for the centrality of this story is that the very Jewish Matthew makes it crystal clear that Jesus’ healing and grace is for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, not just the Jews. Yes, the Jews may have been God’s chosen people and Jesus’ primary audience, but they were not God’s exclusive people. Matthew reminds his readers that God is the God of all humanity and Jesus therefore is for all of us as well.

I’m sure there were a number of Jews who accepted Jesus as their Messiah who were offended to think Gentiles could lay claim to Jesus. But here it is. Gentiles may be second in line to Jesus, but our faith in him saves us just as effectively as it did for the Canaanite woman.

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