Psalm 26; Genesis 46:1–27; Matthew 16:5–20

Originally posted 2/18/2016—revised and updated 2/17/2018

Psalm 26: Like several of the preceding psalms, notably 23, the psalmist sees life as a metaphorical walk through frequently treacherous territory. This psalm’s journey begins with a righteous walk with God:
Judge me, O Lord.
For I have walked in my whole wholeness,
And the Lord I have trusted.
I shall not stumble.” (1)

In fact, he challenges God to throw everything at him. Nevertheless, he remains committed to following this path of righteousness:
“Test me, O Lord, and try me.
Burn pure my conscience and my heart.
For Your kindness is before my eyes
and I shall walk in Your truth.” (2, 3)

He reminds God that by following him he means he has avoided the temptation manifested in the company of the wrong sorts of sinful people. In fact, I think he comes off as just a bit too defensive in his protestations:
I have not sat with lying folk
nor with furtive men have dealt.
I despised the assembly of evildoers,
nor with the wicked have I sat.” (4,5)

This uprightness is proper preparation for him to worship, presumably at the temple in Jerusalem:
Let me wash my palms in cleanness
and go round Your altar, Lord,
to utter aloud a thanksgiving
and to recount all Your wonders.” (6,7)

At the temple worshipping God is certainly where our poet wants to be—again a bit too enthusiastically, IMHO, to the point where it starts to sound a tad rote and artificial:
Lord, I love the abode of Your house
and the place where Your glory dwells.” (8)

And because of how well he has followed God he asks that should he die it would be with God, not all those evil people, especially those who would conspire against God or against King David:
Do not take my life’s breath with offenders
nor with blood-guilty men my life,
in whose hands there are plots,
their right hand full of bribes.” (9, 10)

Rather, he will “walk in my wholeness./ Redeem me, grant me grace.” (11) Having traced the path of righteousness, the psalm concludes with him standing in the place where he can now worship God with a clear conscience:
My foot stands on level ground.
In the chorus I bless the Lord.” (12)

There is no question the psalmist is sincere that in having followed God’s path of righteousness he has earned the right to worship. But the phrase, “grant me grace” at verse 11 causes us to realize how much better we have it under the terms of the New Covenant: we do not have to ask for grace (which really isn’t grace, is it?) Rather, we have received grace through the gift of Jesus Christ. Grace is something we have been given, not something we had to earn through our good works. And our expression of gratitude for this gift is indeed to walk the same path of the poet avoiding evil, but happily we are free of the anxiety have not having done it well enough.

Genesis 46:1–27: Jacob takes up Joseph’s and the Pharaoh’s offer to emigrate to Egypt. The authors assure us that this move is the will of God by noting that “God spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” (2) [One wonders why God calls him Jacob instead of Israel.] God specifically points out that this he has approved this plan and that he will keep his promise of creating a great nation, only now down in Egypt, telling Jacob/Israel “I am God,  the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.” (3)

So, Jacob and company pull up roots and take his entire family and all their possessions to Egypt. Because of the importance of genealogy to Israel, the author lists everyone of Jacob’s offspring, including his grandchildren. The brothers of course are the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel.

For the readers of Genesis in Babylonian exile, this list is crucial: they can trace their lineage all the way back to Jacob and therefore to Abraham. It is also a reminder that the nation Israel came into being in what ultimately became exile in Egypt. So, too, they are assured that they have retained their identity as a nation while exiled in Babylon many centuries later.

The author is careful to note the legitimacy of every child who became the ancestors of the nation: “All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own offspring, not including the wives of his sons, were sixty-six persons in all.” (26) Our author then adds in Joseph, his wife, and his two Egyptian-born children arriving at the significant total of 70 , which represents completeness: “all the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.” (27) In short the migration of Israel starts out God-approved and with high hopes.

Matthew 16:5–20: Matthew’s almost obsessive focus on bread continues as Jesus says, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (6). The disciples take this quite literally, believing Jesus is warning them not to eat bread that may have been prepared or handled by these religious people. Jesus appears moderately annoyed that after the feeding of the 5000 and then the 4000, that they still do understand that the yeast Jesus is speaking about is metaphorical.

He says there’s no problem with getting physical bread, rather testily reminding them, “Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?” (9, 10) The yeast metaphor Jesus is using is the malign influence of the Pharisees and Saducees. We can almost hear Peter saying, “Oh, now I get it!” Matthew is more abstract, telling us that “they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (12)

Now we come to what is at once one of the hinge points of the Gospel—and one of the most controversial. Jesus starts off by asking a fairly simple question, that on its face appears to be simply about Jewish history: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (13). The disciples ffer an array of candidates: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah. I suspect that among the twelve even some of the less well known prophets were mentioned. Haggai, perhaps?

But then Jesus spring his real question on the hapless disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” (15). Peter, being Peter, answers directly: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (16) Jesus is pleased and replies, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” (17) In short, Peter gets it not because of his native intelligence but because he is now guided by the Holy Spirit.

At this point Jesus gives what is the most profound blessing of his earthly ministry with a pun right in the middle of it: “And I tell you, you are Peter [Petros], and on this rock [petra] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (18) Debate has raged for centuries about just who is this “rock” on which the church is founded. The Catholic church reads it directly, and therefore Peter is the founder, the first pope since he has been given the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (19).

Protestants, on the other hand believe that Jesus is being self-referential and “this rock” is Jesus himself. The question then is, who is the “you” in the next verse, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (19) Is it Peter himself or is it the church at large? My own belief is that Jesus is being self-referential. After all, as Paul points out again and again, Jesus is the bridegroom and the church is the bride of Christ. Thus, there’s little question in my mind that Jesus is the rock upon whom the church is built and grew.

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