Psalm 25:8–22; Genesis 45; Matthew 15:29–16:4

Originally posted 2/17/2016—revised and updated 2/16/2018

Psalm 25:8–22:  The latter half of this Psalm is strongly reminiscent of Psalm 23, but is far more didactic, lacking the more famous tenderness and imagery of that more famous Psalm as it describes how God leads. Here, those being led are those lacking social status:
He leads the lowly in justice
and teaches the lowly His way.” (9)

This psalmist is clear as to the requirements that those being led by God must possess:
All the Lord’s paths are kindness and truth
for the keepers of His pact and His precepts.” (10)

This of course is theologically true. We follow God because we wish to obey him.

In the midst of this theological discourse, the psalmist, who is definitely feeling deeply guilty, interjects his plea for forgiveness with some desperation:
For the sake of You name, O Lord,
may You forgive my crime, which is great.” (11).

But he quickly returns to his more philosophical tone:
Whosoever the man who fears the Lord,
He will guide him in the way he should choose.” (12)

This is an interesting take on the nature of free will for those of us who follow God. We are free to choose, but because we are following God, we are much more likely to make a proper choice that keeps us on the path of righteousness. And for the person who does so,
His life will repose in bounty,
and his seed will inherit the earth.” (13)

Once again, we encounter that strong theme of a man’s worth determined by how he is remembered by his progeny.

The psalmist reinforces this general theology of following God’s law: “The Lord’s counsel is for those who fear Him” (14a) and reminds himself that
My eyes at all times are on the Lord,
for He draws my feet from the net.” (15)

Then once again, he interrupts his theological discourse with a personal supplication:
Turn to me and grant me grace
for alone and afflicted am I.” (16)

At this point our poet devotes the reminder of the psalm to his personal supplication as we discover more about the nature of his difficulties:
See my enemies who are many
and with outrageous hatred despise me.” (19)

As always, the psalmist concludes by asserting his obedience to God and on a note of hope that God will indeed answer:
May uprightness, wholeness, preserve me,
for in You I do hope.” (21)

And it is indeed that hope on which our faith is built: that blessed assurance that God is indeed listening to us and especially to our pleas.

Genesis 45:  Joseph can remain silent no more. We come at last to his Big Reveal. Even though he throws everyone but his brothers out of the room his weeping can be heard by the Egyptians and even Pharaoh. He announces his identity to his brothers with utter simplicity: “I am Joseph.” And without taking a breath, asks in what can only be described as desperation: “Is my father still alive?” (3a)  His brothers cannot believe him, “so dismayed were they at his presence.” (3b).

Regaining his composure, Joseph asks them to come closer and gives them the details that only he would know. And he tells them, “do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” (5) He elaborates, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” (7) and a third time to make sure his brother —and we—understand that the events that began with the brothers’ evil act he again asserts, “it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (8)

We cannot help but notice the parallels between Joseph and Jesus Christ. The people of Israel may have condemned Jesus to death, but it was God who had sent him. And of course, in the same way that Joseph’s arrival and the vents in Egypt ensure the survival of the root of the Jewish race, he has also ensured the survival of the Egyptians—Gentiles all. Just as Jesus has come and given his life so that both Jew and Gentile may live.

Pharaoh soon learns who the brothers are, and who Joseph really is. The king generously invites the entire extended family to Egypt, “father and your households and come to me, so that I may give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you may enjoy the fat of the land.’” (18) [Oh, that’s where that phrase comes from!] Which they do, although this ultimately leads to severe complications four centuries down the road.

This beautiful story concludes with two poignant scenes: Joseph and Benjamin—the true blood brothers of the same mother—embrace. And the final scene in Canaan, where we are allowed to witness Jacob’s reaction when he hears the good news from the returning brothers: “the spirit of their father Jacob revived. Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I must go and see him before I die.’” (28)

Why do we love this story so much? Because it is a hero’s quest. Joseph has lost everything, and goes through significant trials but a far greater man emerges from those trials; generosity ensues; and a happy reunion occurs. Joseph was in effect buried in a tomb-like pit, but that pit leads to a new life for Joseph—and for his family. Which is exactly a picture of Jesus Christ, who lost everything on our behalf, but has restored life to us just as Joseph restored life to his family. This is indeed grace in action.

Matthew 15:29–16:4:

Following the story of the Gentile woman, Matthew provides us with a summary of Jesus’ many healing activities with a keen focus on the crowd’s reaction: “so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.” (15:31) Notice that rather than raising Jesus himself the crowd correctly praises “the God of Israel,” (just as Joseph did). This is Matthew’s assertion that the crowd perceived what the Pharisees never did: Jesus is not some ordinary magician performing healing tricks. Unlike those in power who saw that power threatened, the hoi polloi understood that it was the power of God himself who acted through this extraordinary rabbi.

Meals are always important to Matthew, and now he writes of the second hungry crowd: the feeding of the 4000. This time there was no option of sending everyone into town to buy lunch. They are in a remote spot and the disciples, who apparently forgot what happened before at the feeding of the 5000, once ask, “Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?” (32) This time it’s a few fish and seven loaves of bread. “And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.” (37)

So why does Matthew essentially repeat this feeding story which occurs in pretty much the same way? If we step back and look at the events which occur between the feedings, Matthew is making the point that Jesus provides sustenance at every societal level and for every person, whether Jew or Gentile. After all, when the Canaanite woman came to Jesus, he says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (15:26) and she then refers to crumbs at the table. The clear message is that Jesus is the source of life—and for Matthew, both physically and spiritually.

Jesus has become a true celebrity and the Pharisees and Sadducees decide to test him to see if the reports about him are true or if he is just another magic-working charlatan. They demand to see “a sign from heaven,” (16:1) and in one of the more humorous interactions he has with the religious leaders, Jesus tells them about how to forecast weather.

But they “cannot see the signs of the times,” which is exactly how it is today: American culture goes on its merry way, but just as Jesus adds the ominous note that “no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” (16:4)—a clear reference to his death and resurrection—so, too, we are just like the Pharisees, blind to the implications of where our own culture is inexorably headed.

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