Psalm 31:1–6; Exodus 4:1–5:9; Matthew 19:13–22

Originally posted 2/26/2016—revised and updated 2/26/2018

Psalm 31:1–5: This psalm of supplication opens with a statement of the psalmist’s steadfast trust in God’s protection and asking him to listen, using the interesting image of God bending down, his hand cupping his ear as the psalmist speaks:
In You, O Lord, I shelter.
Let me never be shamed.
In Your bounty free me.
Incline Your ear to me. (2, 3a)

The verses here are short and clipped, almost telegraphic, conveying urgency. The military references enhance the feeling that God’s help had better come sooner rather than later:
Quick, save me.
Be my stronghold of rock,
a fort-house to rescue me. (3b)

Once again, he expresses his trust in God with military metaphors:
For You are my crag and my bastion,
and for Your name’s sake guide me and lead me. (4)

Having restated his trust in God’s protection, he comes to the point of his prayer in direct, impassioned sentences. He is trapped, surrounded by enemies:
Get me out of the net that they laid for me,
for You are my stronghold. (5)

And he casts escaping from his dire situation completely on God’s response in words that read almost as a benediction:
In Your hand I commend my spirit.
You redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth. (6)

This is more than a foxhole prayer by someone who has forgotten about God until his moment of peril. Instead, it is a prayer by a man who knows God and trusts God. This is an ongoing relationship and it is out of that well-founded trusting relationship that he asks for God’s intervention. Unlike many psalms of supplication our psalmist is sure that God is nearby; there is no sense that the supplicant has been abandoned by God. The entire prayer is built on a foundation of trust and awareness of God’s presence. I pray that I can affirm that God is indeed the rock, the crag, the bastion in whom I trust when I come to him in prayer.

Exodus 4:1–5:9: Even though Moses has had a direct and personal encounter with God, he still feels inadequate to the task he’s been assigned, asking God almost plaintively, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” (4:1) God does a little show-and-tell with Moses staff becoming a snake and turning back to a staff again. Then a little more personally, God tells Moses to put his hand in his cloak and draw it back out, “and when he took it out, his hand was leprous, as white as snow.” (6) God quickly heals his hand telling Moses, ““If they will not believe you or heed the first sign, they may believe the second sign.” (8) And for good measure, God tells Moses he can also pour water from the Nile on the ground and it will turn to blood.  These are all a foretaste of the plagues soon to be visited upon Egypt.

Even though Moses is probably now pretty convinced of God’s power, he asks to get out of the assignment by telling God about his inarticulate speech, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (10) God will have nothing of this excuse, so Moses plays his final card: “O my Lord, please send someone else.” (13). God is pretty annoyed at this point and assigns Moses’ brother, Aaron, to be his mouthpiece.

The lesson here is obvious: no matter how many excuses we throw up about our weaknesses or our inability to work in the Kingdom, God has a way of overcoming them—and expects us to follow his commands. We also note that there is no new excuse we can present to God that God hasn’t heard already. It’s clear that Moses pretty much ran the table of excuses and God countered each one of them. The lesson for us is when we offer an excuse, we also need to be alert to see how God will negate the excuse and give us the fortitude to go forward.

Moses asks his father-in-law, Jethro, for permission to move his household back to Egypt to which Jethro quickly agrees. The covenantal deal is sealed in blood by Moses’ wife circumcising their son and touching Moses feet with the foreskin. (Ugh.) Aaron comes to Moses and they meet with the Israeli leaders, with Aaron speaking and Moses performing the signs God had demonstrated to him. In one of the truly uplifting verses in this book, “The people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had given heed to the Israelites and that he had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.” (31)

With the Israelites now united behind their new leader, Moses appears before Pharaoh and announces that God demands that the king let the Israelites go. Unsurprisingly, Pharaoh refuses, claiming to know nothing of this God character. Aaron and Moses try another gambit, asking for a three-day holiday for Israel “to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.” (5:3) This request seems outrageous to Pharaoh and he turns the screws on Israel, famously telling them to make bricks without straw. He accuses the hardworking Israelites of being lazy and commands, “Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labor at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.” (5:9)

This story reminds us that oppressors are always the same: they see the oppressed as lazy and unworthy of mercy and double down in their cruelty. I’m pretty sure this story resonated strongly among the Afro-American slaves in the 19th century. And it resonates strongly with us as we see oppressed people all around the world today.

Matthew 19:13–22: Jesus once again provides his disciples—and us—with an object lesson when people bring little kids to be blessed and the disciples try to shoo them away. Jesus responds, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (14) The message is clear: everyone, no matter their age, is eligible for the kingdom. Jesus is also telling them that as a matter of fact, guys, the kingdom is much different than you think. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite of what you (and we) are expecting. This “upside downness” will be borne out with increasing drama as the story proceeds.

As usual, Matthew makes an important point via the juxtaposition of his stories. Just after Jesus blesses the children, telling us we need to be like them, the rich young ruler (RYR) comes up to Jesus and asks the all-important question, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Unsurprisingly, Jesus does not directly answer the question, but asks if the RYR has obeyed all the commandments. The RYR responds that he has and then Jesus tells him that is insufficient. He must go and sell everything and give it all to the poor.

Unwilling to do so, the RYR walks away sadly, foregoing the opportunity of a lifetime. The RYR’s adult hesitation is contrasted with the innocence of little children. The lesson is clear: if we cannot lose our “adultness” and our all-consuming need to remain in control and if we are unwilling to abandon everything to Jesus, we cannot be like innocent children eager to enter the Kingdom.

Alas, I am far more like the RYR wishing to retain control of my life and my possessions, unwilling to forego everything. I suspect I am not alone.

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