Psalm 103:1–5; Judges 6; Luke 19:28–44

Originally published 8/23/2016. revised and updated 8/23/2018.

Psalm 103:1–5: Dedicated to King David, this psalm of thanksgiving opens on the psalmist’s unalloyed joy of gratitude to God:
Bless, O my being, the Lord,
and everything in me, His holy name
. (1)

In the second verse our poet reinforces this concept that every part of one’s body, not just the heart and mind participate in thankfulness and worship:
Bless, O my being, the Lord,
and do not forget his generous acts.
 (2)

The poet is reminding us that true gratitude to God is not just an abstract thankfulness, but that we are to reflect specifically on the acts of God for which we are thankful.

The psalmist goes on to list the reasons he is—and we should be—thankful:
Who forgives all your wrongs,
heals all your illnesses,
redeems your life from the Pit
,” (3,4a)

Particularly notable is recovery from illness. When we are sick there is more to true healing than just medical technology. As Jesus points out, if God cares about the sparrow, think how much more he cares about us, our health, and our entire being.

God is also responsible for instilling the attributes of righteousness within our very being. The psalmist’s use of active verbs creates a sense of God’s energy being imparted directly into our own being:
[God] crowns you with kindness, compassion,
sates you with good while you live.
” (4b, 5a)

As we should well realize, acts of kindness and compassion that we perform for others are not self-generated, but are also a direct gift from God.

And for those of us well past middle age, there is the marvelous promise, “you renew your youth like the eagle.” (5b) Our bodies may not be restored to the health and vigor of our youth, but God restores our hearts with the joy of simply being alive, and yes, our minds with feeling young again. What a marvelous gift, one that comes more fully into view when we have passed through the shadows of a dread disease. Gratitude can be our only response.

Judges 6: Following the forty years of peace under Judge Deborah, the endless cycle continues. Israel does “what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (1a) and then God’s punishes them. This time, “the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.” (1b). Israel is forced to find “hiding places in the mountains, caves and strongholds.” (2) as “the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the east” (3) robbed Israel of its produce and animals and “they wasted the land as they came in.” (5)

Desperate, Israel finally turns to God, who sends an unnamed prophet to them. The prophet delivers the usual reminder that God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt and “from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you, and gave you their land.” (9)  Israel constantly forgets its part in the Covenant that God alone was to be worshipped. Alas, as usual, God reminds Israel that “you have not given heed to my voice.” (10) Therefore, Israel has earned the straits in which it finds itself. This is not just a random event that has befallen Israel but the direct consequence of collective sin. As our society, too, will suffer the woeful consequences of abandoning God’s imperatives of upholding moral righteousness.

There is no indication at this point that God will rescue Israel. Nor should we expect God to rescue American society.

The scene shifts to Gideon who “was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites.” (11) An angel, speaking for God appears, announces to Gideon, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” (12). Gideon responds that the angel must be mixed up because he is the weakest son of the weakest clan in Manasseh. Nevertheless, Gideon invites the angel to lunch and brings meat, bread and soup. The angel tells Gideon to place the meat and bread on a rock and pour the broth over the, The angel touches the rock with his staff and the food bursts into flame. Gideon fears for his life, “Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” (22) But the angel, as they always do, tells Gideon not to fear.

The angel orders Gideon to tear down the Baal altar and use the wood of the sacred pole to make a burnt offering to God. Gideon and ten servants do this, but under cover of darkness “because he was too afraid of his family and the townspeople to do it by day.” (27) Needless to say, the townspeople are more than upset. When they find out it was Gideon, they demand his execution. But Gideon’s father, Joash, stands up to them, telling them that if Baal “is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down.” (31) Unsurprisingly, Baal does nothing of the sort.

Nevertheless, the “Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the east” are angry at this apparent sacrilege and form an army to finish off Israel. “But the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him.” (34) Emboldened by the Holy Spirit, Gideon forms an army that is ready to fight.

Even though Gideon has done all this he still has his doubts and puts God to the test in the famous fleece incident. Unsurprisingly, God passes his test.

So what do we draw from this famous story? First, God tends to choose the most unlikely candidates as leaders. Just as he chose tongue-tied Moses, God chooses the most obscure man in Israel. Second, it is perfectly natural to resist the call of God. Moses did. And Gideon did. Just as Jonah will. Third, Gideon demonstrates that it’s not unreasonable to put God to the test. But we need to be careful in how we do it. Discerning both what a fleece might be and how God will respond to our fleece requires preparation and fervent prayer.

Luke 19:28–44: We again come to Palm Sunday and the Passion narrative. Master of detail, [and unlike the other gospels] Luke includes Jesus’ instruction to his disciples about what to say to the owners of the colt he has asked to be delivered to him: “If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” (31) The scenario plays out exactly as Jesus predicted, and the owners ask why the disciples are untying the colt. While Luke doesn’t tell us what the colt owners said in reply, I think it’s safe to assume that once they heard it was Jesus who was asking  they assented because at that point he was the most famous celebrity in Israel.

As Jesus makes the trek down from the Mount of Olives to the Jerusalem gate, “people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.” (36) Luke never mentions anything about palm branches. However, the gospel writer tells us who the crowd is. Contrary to what I had always assumed, it’s not the population of Jerusalem that shouts Hosanna!’ but “the whole multitude of the disciples, [who] began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen.“(37) I’m sure that Jesus acquired hundreds of followers as he made the journey from Galilee through Jericho and to the gates of Jerusalem. The ever-present religious party-poopers, the Pharisees, demand that Jesus “order your disciples to stop.” (39). But Jesus famously replies, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (40). I’m sure that upon hearing that, the Pharisees were even angrier.

It’s great to feel triumphant, even if only for a short time. But I think that feeling never came to Jesus. One of the things we never seem to celebrate on Palm Sunday is Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (42) Writing years after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70CE , Luke’s Jesus predicts its destruction because the inhabitants of Jerusalem “did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (44)

Many civilizations have come and gone in the 2000 years since because they have failed to recognize who Jesus truly is. I see no reason to believe that we are not the next civilization to fall because, unlike the psalmist, we have failed to recognize all that God has done for us. The sin of pride is the ever-present precursor to the reality of downfall.

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