Psalm 119:73–80; 2 Samuel 15:30–16:23; John 9:13–34

Originally published 10/24/2017. Revised and updated 10/24/2018.

Psalm 119:73–80: One of the remarkable aspects of this overlong psalm is how skilled its author is at recapitulating the same themes again and again and yet, there’s usually something new to be discovered in each stanza. Here, there is the connection between God as creator and how he instills our moral awareness: “Your hands made me and set me firm.” (73a)

Moreover, the psalmist’s piety is not only visible to God, but is an object of praise by other pious folks:
Those who fear You see me and rejoice,
for I hope for Your word
. (74)

Our psalmist has but one overriding purpose in life to connect with God through his word:
May Your mercies befall me, that I may live,
for Your teaching is my delight.
 (77)

As always, the psalmist can barely conceal his desire for God to curse those who have slandered him, while by contrast, he will attend to his sacred duties regardless of what others may say:
May the arrogant be shamed, for with lies they distorted my name.
As for me, I shall dwell on Your decrees. (78)

But there is more than simple self-righteousness going on here. The psalmist writes as someone in power. Perhaps he is a priest who has been abandoned by his followers because of false charges brought against him by his enemies:
May those who fear You turn back to me,
and those who fear You turn back to me.
 (79)

Finally, he prays for personal piety:
May my heart be blameless in Your statutes,
so that I be not shamed.
 (80)

The question for me is, would I be able to ignore public shaming and turn back to God? Or, rather than merely writing about it in a psalm, would I lash out at my enemies? Clearly, it would be far better to resist that temptation and leave it up to God to shame them.

2 Samuel 15:30–16:23: A weeping David is on the run after his son, Absalom, has usurped the throne. Even his most trusted advisor, Ahithophel, has conspired against him. However, as a faithful man of God, David has not lost hope. He enlists his faithful servant, Hushai the Archite, to return to Jerusalem as his spy. David instructs Hushai to report what he hears at Absalom’s court to Zadok the priest and his son, who are also David’s ally.

Nevertheless, David still has plenty of enemies. Shimel, from Saul’s house is happy to see David brought low. He curses and throws rocks at David and his companions as they pass by, shouting that David has finally received his comeuppance: “See, disaster has overtaken you; for you are a man of blood.” (16:8) Abishai, who is with David, asks permission to kill this miscreant. But as always, David leaves vengeance up to God, pointing out, “My own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Let him alone, and let him curse.” (16:11)

Meanwhile, back at Jerusalem, the spy, Hushai, shows up and appears to give obeisance to the usurper king. Absalom is suspicious, wondering why David’s friend would throw his lot over to Absalom: “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?” (16:17) Hushai replies that “the one whom the Lord and this people and all the Israelites have chosen [i.e., Absalom], his I will be.” (18) And promises to serve Absalom. David now has ears inside Absalom’s court.

Now that he is on the throne, Absalom asks his counselor, Ahithophel, what he should  do to consolidate his power. the counselor replies that he should have sex with all of David’s concubines. Moreover, he should do so in public by pitching a tent on the palace roof.

Can Absalom’s morality sink any lower? Can anything get worse for David?

John 9:13–34: Jesus’ healing of the blind man has caused an enormous stir among the Pharisees, who continue to investigate how the man had been healed. There is dissention within the group. Some assert that Jesus has worked on the sabbath, “But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” (16) Still others doubt the man was ever blind at all.

On this latter doubt, the Pharisees send for the man’s parents. However, the parents are smart enough not to walk into the trap. They tell them to ask their son directly, “He is of age; ask him.” (23) So, they drag the poor man back in front of them a second time and again ask for the details of the healing. Understandably miffed, the healed man replies, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?” (27a) But then is an act of unintentional irony, he adds, “Do you also want to become his disciples?” (27b).

This response elicits more anger as the Pharisees assert, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” (29) John uses the healed man’s reply to drive home the overriding theme of this healing: “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” (30) The blind man continues with startling theological insight, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (33) Enraged, the pharisees curse him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” (34)

Our gospel writer is making sure that his community (and we) understand that Jesus is much greater than Moses and that this incident is physical proof of what he has asserted in the opening lines of his gospel: Jesus is the Word, who unlike Moses, has come directly from God. Moreover, we may have been born in sins, but when we believe in Jesus, we are indeed given much more than physical sight; like the blind man, we are given spiritual insight. But also, like the Pharisees, we are cynical and far prefer to remain trapped in our own preconceptions—unwilling to accept the new reality that Jesus has brought to earth.

 

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