Psalm 31:6-9; Exodus 5:10-6:12; Matthew 19:23-30

Originally posted 2/27/2014—revised and updated 2/27/2018

It’s Susan’s birthday!

Psalm 31:7-10  Verse 10 leaps off the page this morning:
Grant me grace, Lord, for I am distressed.
my eye is worn out in vexation,
my throat and my belly [also].

Not because this is how I feel this morning, quite the contrary.  But the verse’s juxtaposition is striking. Just three verses earlier our psalmist exclaimed,
Let me exult and rejoice in your kindness,
that You saw my affliction.
You knew the straits of my life.

So, what gives here?  There’s total joy in God’s steadfast love and then suddenly, “I am distress.”  The key, I think, is not that God’s love is variable; it’s as steadfast as the psalmist asserts it is.  But it is we who are highly variable as our emotions oscillate between seemingly permanent joy quickly down into the depths of despair.  Who among us has not experienced the instant dissipation of joy when we receive bad news that a distant friend, whom we love has been diagnosed with cancer or even died?  It’s God’s very immovability, his rock-like stability, his “fixedness” that allows us to see our own variability.

Also, as the psalmist has observed, God “knew the straits of my life.” That is, God knows everything there is to know about us. Just as God delights in our joyful exultations, he is indeed gracious in our grief, even a grief that causes our eyes, our body and our soul to be “worn out in vexation.”

Exodus 5:10-6:12 Moses is feeling assailed on all sides.  Having failed to follow God’s very specific instructions about what to say to Pharaoh, he’s placed the Israelites in an even more untenable situation.  The Israelite supervisors do not mince words about this, “You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (5:21). The supervisors appeal to Pharaoh, who memorably tells them, “You are lazy, lazy; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now, and work; for no straw shall be given you, but you shall still deliver the same number of bricks.” (5:17, 18)

So, in yet another proof that this story is about a fallible man, not a brave hero, Moses does what just about any of us would do, he cries out to God, blaming him for not delivering as promised: “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people?”  All while feeling sorry for himself, “Why did you ever send me?” and making it very clear that it’s all God’s fault anyway, “you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.” (5:22-23).

Wow. Is this us, or what?  We think we hear God’s call, and then we insert our own interpretation of what God really meant to say, and then, when things don’t turn out as we thought we were promised, we blame it all on God.

So, in what can only be described as an outstanding example of God’s infinite patience and grace, God does not remind Moses that he didn’t follow instructions, but responds with infinite generosity, “I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.” (6:5) and instructs Moses to go to the Israelites and tell them who God is and what this God plans to do. This time, Moses follows God’s instructions to the letter, but the situation is already too messed up.  Moses has understandably lost all credibility and the Israelites would not listen to him, “because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.” (6:9).  Their response convinces Moses that the real problem is that God made a terrible mistake in choosing him: “The Israelites have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me, poor speaker that I am?” (6:12)

There are so many lessons here.  But the one that looms large for me is that carrying out God’s call is never an easy task.  Things will not go according to the brilliant plans we devise on our own, as we ignore God’s direction.  And when things don’t turn out as we envisioned, we will be consumed by doubt: doubt in God and doubt in ourselves.  We will say the wrong things.  A lot.  But God is infinitely patient and graceful.

Matthew 19:23-30  This is where Jesus makes it clear that in the Kingdom of God, everything is turned upside down and inside out from what we expect. Contrary to well established cultural custom, the rich are not morally superior, nor are they more righteous and deserving of heaven.  Interesting how the Jews of Jesus’ time thought that, and our culture tends to implicitly, if not explicitly, treat the rich and famous as somehow more “righteous” than we of the hoi polloi. We see this all around us when celebrities opine on controversial topics in which they have no expertise beyond the fact that they are famous.

At this point the disciples have been listening to Jesus for quite some time and it’s beginning to dawn on them that this is apparently not turning out to be the politico-messianic movement they thought they had signed up for. Peter bluntly asks the question that’s doubtless on all their minds: “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (19:27).  We are exactly the same: we labor in the church, make what we see as being significant sacrifices and for what reward? Well, there’s Jesus’ promise, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.” (29)

Fine, OK, but just to make it clear, Jesus ends his promise by repeating the Great Reversal he alluded to earlier about the rich: “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (19:30).  And that’s what the Kingdom is about: what we expect is not what’s going to happen.  Just the opposite.  Better not to bring our preconceived notions of what “should” be or “should happen” into the Kingdom. And of course, willingling becoming “the last” always goes against our self-centered will.

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