Psalm 84:1–8; Deuteronomy 22; Luke 8:40–56

Originally published 7/12/2016. Revised and updated 7/12/2018

Psalm 84:1–8: This beautiful psalm—and a welcome respite from the previous two wishing ill for Israel’s enemies—describes a pilgrim journeying toward the temple at Jerusalem. Even though he is still some distance away, he can already see it in his mind’s eye as he describes his deep longing:
How lovely Your dwellings,
O Lord of armies!
My being longed, even languished,
for the courts of the Lord.
 (2, 3a)

His eager anticipation is suffused with underlying joy:
My heart and my flesh/ sing gladness to the living God. (3b)

He imagines birds that are already present at the temple, even a swallow which has managed to make a nest for itself in the  crevices between its mighty stone blocks (cf. the Western Wall today):
Even the bird has found a home and the swallow a nest for itself
that puts its fledglings by Your altars..
. (4)

Eager to join them, our poet sings,
Happy are those who dwell in Your house,
they will ever praise You
. (5)

Of course it is not the temple itself which beckons our poet ever closer; it is because the temple is where God dwells. We children of the New Covenant can rejoice that God is everywhere wherever we are, not just at a temple in Jerusalem.

True joy arises from fully trusting God:
Happy the folk whose strength is in You,
the highways in their heart
. (6)
The lovely, felicitous phrase—’the highways of the heart,’— evokes a never-ending journey of the love that comes from God. Which is what the Christian life is about: a journey, not a state of being.

This section of the psalm concludes with specific geographic references:
who pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it into a spring—
yes, the early rain cloaks it with blessings
.” (7a)

Our mind’s eye sees the lush green landscape surrounding the spring, made all the more gorgeous by the rain. But the greater idea here is that like that gentle rain, we are showered with God’s blessings, if we give but a moment’s reflection on our daily journey.

Deuteronomy 22: The chapter begins with a set of miscellaneous laws, some which are crucial to the smooth functioning of society by reducing enmity among neighbors by returning what is theirs and helping them in times of need: “you shall do the same with anything else that your neighbor loses and you find. You may not withhold your help.” (3) These verses—and their transgression—must certainly have been on Jesus’ mind when he told the story of the Good Samaritan.

Another rule, which is now obeyed mostly in the breech in our culture, aimed at preserving an ordered society is “A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the Lord your God.” (5) Other rules, such as coming on a bird’s nest on the ground and taking only the fledglings and not the mother ring oddly to us. But basic safety measures—”When you build a new house, you shall not make a parapet for your roof; otherwise you might have bloodguilt on your house, if anyone should fall from it.” (8)—make eminent sense. As does the rule “not [to] plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.” (10) Then, some rules are merely odd such as the prohibition of wearing clothes made of both wool and linen.

Things turn darker when we come to the laws regarding sexual behavior. If a man takes a wife, has sex with her and then dislikes her, he had better not claim she was not a virgin. His words will be put to the test in a bizarre public display by the wife’s parents to demonstrate that she was indeed a virgin. Should his accusation prove false he must give a mere 100 shekels to his father-in-law since “he has slandered a virgin of Israel. ” (19) Moreover, he is prevented from ever divorcing her, which is more likely the factor that would give men pause before laying out a false accusation. On the other hand, and in a dramatic display of gender inequality, if the wife was indeed not a virgin when she comes to her husband, she is to be stoned to death.

Adultery is punishable by death: “ If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman.” (22) Happily, our culture no longer enforces this law. On the other hand, rape remains indefensible today and if a man rapes an engaged woman in the country where no one can hear her cries for help, the male is to be stoned to death, but not the woman because “the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her.” (27)

But if a man “meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife.” (28, 29). Once married he may not divorce, which again certainly would have given any sane man pause before attempting to seduce another woman. OF course as we know this injunction was disobeyed even at the highest levels of Israel society, as e.g. David seducing Bathsheba.

While we see most of these rules as being entirely too harsh, there is little question in my mind that strict sexual morality was one of the keys in preserving the identity and coherence of Israel as compared to the corrupt nations that surrounded it.

Luke 8:40–56: Healing piles upon healing as Luke describes alternative means by which Jesus heals people. Jesus returns to Capernaum, where the crowd eagerly awaits his arrival. But before Jesus can begin preaching, “Jairus, a leader of the synagogue…fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.” (41, 42) Jesus agrees and begins walking to Jairus’s house, which couldn’t have been all that far away.

The crowd is surrounding him on all sides when the hemorrhaging woman comes up behind and touches his robe. She is instantly healed. Jesus demands to know who touched him and “When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.” (47) Not surprisingly, the woman’s first reaction is fear. I’m pretty sure that if Jesus turned around, looked me in the eye and demanded rather accusingly, “Who touched me?” I’d feel exactly as the woman did. But fear vanishes when Jesus speaks, telling her that “your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (48)

Once again, this story is greatly encouraging to Luke’s community, who feared that with Jesus long gone from their physical presence, they would be unable to experience his healing. But the means of healing that Jesus has given the woman is straightforward: faith.

Nevertheless, we are left with the conundrum that many of great faith, notably Paul, seek physical healing but are not healed. My own take is that the woman was healed because she reached out and touched Jesus. And so we too can touch Jesus by touching him by praying and having faith that his healing presence will come upon us. We may not receive the physical healing we desire, but in faith there will always be healing of one kind or another.

Jairus finds out that his daughter has died, and I can imagine he was angry that a mere woman had delayed Jesus and now it was too late. This is reminiscent of Martha’s anger when Jesus delays in coming to the dying Lazarus in John’s gospel. We are frustrated that the healing we’re supposed to be experiencing is impeded by other circumstances or worse, other people. We always want Jesus to act on our behalf right now. But the healing of Jairus’ daughter tells us that with Jesus, our patience is rewarded. We may not be healed right away or when we think healing must occur. But Jesus’ presence is independent of our preferred agenda. He will heal us in his own time and in his own way.

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