Psalm 123; 1 Kings 7:1-33; John 13:31-38

Originally published 11/12/2014 (Psalm published 11/13/2014). Revised and updated 11/12/2018.

Psalm 123: Slaves keep their eyes down except when they raise them to the Master:
To You I lift up my eyes, 
O dweller in the heavens. (1)

This is one place where we get the sense that heaven is “up there.” God is clearly in the heavens up above, although this may be more indicative of God’s superior position than to his geographical location.

In that framework, we humans are like supplicating slaves:
Look, like the eyes of slaves to their masters,
like the eyes of a slavegirl to her mistress,
so are our eyes to the Lord our God(2).

There is only one thing that will aid us: God’s grace. The word is repeated three times:
…until He grants us grace. 
Grant us grace, LORD, grant us grace.” (2b, 3)

In this case, I take “grace” to me “relief from,” as the psalmist prays for relief from being “sated with scorn” (3b). Unlike many psalms that are asking for relief from more specific oppression, this one is more general, because
Sorely has our being been sated
with the contempt of the smug,
the scorn of the haughty. (4)

There is always this great divide: those who follow God and acknowledge our slave-like status (as Paul makes clear elsewhere) or those who attempt to live in their own self-sufficiency, believing that makes them better that those people who need the “crutch” of belief in God. Many of us know this scorn and haughtiness personally. Only God can heal.

1 Kings 7:1-33: While the Temple only took seven years to build, Solomon takes thirteen years to build his own house. Which includes of the House of the Forest, the Hall of Pillars, the Hall of the Throne, and his own residence  “in the other court back of the hall,” (8) as well as as separate residence for his Egyptian wife. As we read in the Psalms, Jerusalem is both where God resides, but it is also the center of temporal and political power. Clearly, through these magnificent structures, Solomon made a statement to the rest of the world that Israel was wealthier and more powerful than all the other nations and that these buildings were ample proof that Jerusalem truly was at the center of civilization.

Not only buildings, but furnishings., especially the bronzework made by Hiram of Tyre, all described in loving detail by our author. The bronze and copper molten sea,”a laver that was 15 feet in diameter and 7 1.2 feet high, resting on 12 bronze oxen, must have been particularly impressive.

When we realize that I Kings was written during the exile in Babylon, we can only imagine the author writing with a mix of passion and bitter nostalgia of what had been and was never to be again.

 John 13:31-38: Judas has “gone out,” and only the small band of true disciples remains in the room. Jesus is making it clear that his end is near, “I am only with you a little while longer.” (33a) And then what must have seemed like the rally bad news, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” (33b) Which for me is a reference to the entire chain of events that will be occurring over the next few days, ending finally at his ascension. But in his impending absence, Jesus gives the disciples something that will fill the void of his physical absence: love.

Loving each other is not just a suggestion; it is a commandment. I forget this a lot. Because as a commandment, it means we are to love the unlovable, and worse, to love those who are our enemies. In this regard, Jesus turns the world upside down with this simple single commandment. Even those who don’t accept Jesus died and was resurrected, are forced to confront the absolute truth of this commandment. They cannot deny the verity and wisdom of what Jesus is commanding.

And of course our collective inability to truly carry out Jesus’ command is exactly the proof of why Jesus came to earth, lived, died and rose again. As Jesus is about to demonstrate, that is where a greater love than any other human has been able to accomplish. Because what Jesus is about to do is the highest possible expression of the love of God.

But Peter, being Peter, completely ignores what Jesus has just said about love. In his fierce loyalty to his leader his steel-trap mind got stuck on why he can’t accompany Jesus on this upcoming journey. Jesus effectively tells Peter (and us) that absent the love that he has commanded our desires and intentions are hollow. But I also know this: I would have responded exactly as Peter. And I would also have denied Jesus—just as I have done so frequently in my own life.

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