Psalm 88:7–12; Deuteronomy 31:9–32:9; Luke 10:25–42

Psalm 88:7–12: Our psalmist starkly describes the ultimate darkness—death—and basically blames God’s anger for bringing him to the edge:
You put me in the nethermost Pit,
in darkness, in the depths.
Your wrath lay hard upon me,
and all Your breakers You inflicted. (7,8)

[By “breakers,” I believe he’s describing drowning in a rough sea.] Our poet does not hold back in blaming God for his woes of broken relationships and physical trauma even though he has cried out to God in agony:
You distanced my friends from me,
you made me disgusting to them;
imprisoned, I cannot get out.
My eyes ache from affliction.
I called on You, Lord, every day.
I stretched out to You my palms. (9,10)

Down through the centuries humankind has prayed desperately only to hear nothing in response. These verses are a stark reminder of the depth of agony we can feel when we are terrible straits and it seems that God is not listening to us.  Our psalmist takes up an argument that we’ve seen before in the Psalms: God, who loves creation and above all, humankind, loses the relationship with ones he loves if they are dead, who cannot by definition worship him:
Will You do wonders for the dead?
will the shades arise and acclaim You?
Will Your kindness be told in the grave,
Your faithfulness in perdition?
Will Your wonder be known in the darkness,
Your bounty in the land of oblivion? (11-13)

This is certainly a “go to” psalm in those times when it seems all hope is lost and we cannot find the words of agony and frustration. This psalmist has expressed that emptiness eloquently.

Deuteronomy 31:9–32:9: Moses gives the command that all Israel needs to have his lengthy sermon read at the festival of booths every seventh year. There’s a very practical reason beyond simply refreshing people’s memories: “so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.” (31:13)

God commands Moses and Joshua to appear before him in the tabernacle. Not content with the repeated commands to worship only God that have consumed much of this book, our authors now have God himself predict that the people will indeed stray from the terms of the Covenant: “Then this people will begin to prostitute themselves to the foreign gods in their midst, the gods of the land into which they are going; they will forsake me, breaking my covenant that I have made with them.” (31:16)

We have a sense that God’s predictive speech is retrospective and is based on experience as our authors describe how Israel fell away from the Covenant and the terrible consequences that arose: “they will become easy prey, and many terrible troubles will come upon them. In that day they will say, ‘Have not these troubles come upon us because our God is not in our midst?’ ” (31:17)

God commissions Joshua as Israel’s new leader with a solemn promise:“the Lord commissioned Joshua son of Nun and said, “Be strong and bold, for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them; I will be with you.” (31:23)

At this point our authors assert that Moses has written the Pentateuch: “When Moses had finished writing down in a book the words of this law to the very end,  Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, “Take this book of the law and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God; let it remain there as a witness against you.” (31: 24-26)

And as one final reminder, God commands Moses to write a song to be taught to the Israelites that pretty much summarizes Israel’s national history and the terms of the Covenant.

For me, this song is a reminder of the perils of forgetting history and ignoring its lessons—which certainly seems to be the case today:
Remember the days of old,
    consider the years long past;
ask your father, and he will inform you;
    your elders, and they will tell you. (32:7)

Luke 10:25–42: In this important reading, we hear Jesus answer the lawyer’s question, “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (25) Jesus, being Jesus, responds with the question, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” (26) The lawyer who answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (27). Jesus responds, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (28)

But the lawyer, being a lawyer, asks the next and perhaps the most important question of all, “And who is my neighbor?”  (29) Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with a parable. Perhaps after the parable of the prodigal son, the Parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ best known parable—even to the extent that it is well known outside the church.

As is the case of many parables, there’s an unexpected twist. The neighbor is the person that is the object of Jewish hatred: the Samaritan. Jesus includes the detail of the priests and Levites ignoring the injured man in their self-righteousness, doubtless believing they deserved his fate. It is the hated Samaritan who shows mercy.

This is one of those places where we are reminded that human nature has not changed one whit in the last two millennia. We are still cruel in our self-righteousness. The scenes at our southern border are a stark reminder that we are mostly priests and Levites, much happier to pass by scenes of suffering than to stop and administer aid.  And now we have government entities doing the ignoring for us, insulating us from the awful reality of human suffering. What possible goal does ripping children from their parents accomplish? The issue here is not about legality; it is about morality.

Today’s reading concludes with the famous scene of Martha being annoyed at her sister Mary for abandoning household chores to sit at Jesus’ feet. Rather than asking Mary herself, Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to get to work. In Jesus’ famous reply—“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things” (41)— we see ourselves distracted by endless to-do lists as we rush to the next task, becoming spiritually impoverished.

Today, we live in a society obsessed with getting things done and ignoring opportunities where we can stop and just listen. I know I am guilty myself. I think Jesus is not telling us that we should just go to church and hear about him, but that we should take time to refresh ourselves spiritually, whether it be in nature, or just sitting in silence. As the old cliche goes, a man on his deathbed does not wish he spent more time at the office.


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