Psalm 87; Deuteronomy 29:22-31:8; Luke 10:17-24

Writing this morning from the La Fonda Hotel on the Plaza in Santa Fe, NM.

Psalm 87: This paean to Jerusalem [“The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” (2)] appears to have been written by a poet from somewhere else, [“Look, Philistia and Tyre together with Cush, —this one was born there.” (4)] but who may have converted to Judiasm, as he observes that “of Zion it shall be said: every man is born in it,” (5) and that “The LORD inscribes in the record of peoples:  this one was born there.”(6)

And not just that God writes his name, but that God is the source of life, ““All my wellsprings are in you.” (7)

As usual, God is in the details and keeps careful records. Moreover, God knows us by name.  These verses must certainly have been on Paul’s mind when he wrote the letter to Phillipi (4:3) and on John’s mind when he writes of the “book of life” in Revelation.

Deuteronomy 29:22-31:8: The author paints a picture of the destruction of Israel should it disobey the commands and break its Covenant with God: “What is this great smouldering wrath?’ And they will say, ‘For their having abandoned the Covenant of the LORD, God of their fathers,” (29:24) for the greatest sin of all, “they went and worshipped other gods and bowed to them, gods that they did not know…”(29:25)

Here is one of those places where we see the angry, wrathful God that so disturbs us, but as I’ve learned in therapy, anger may be a secondary emotion, but it is still a legitimate feeling. Nevertheless, verse 27 is remarkable for its use of the many synonyms of anger: “And the LORD tore them from upon their soil in wrath and in anger and in great fury…” And in either a prediction or observation of the Babylonian exile, the verse concludes, “…and flung them into another land as on this day.’”

But in chapter 30, there is the promise of return, because God knows that ” you shall turn back to the LORD your God and heed His voice…” (30:2) and “He [God] shall turn back and gather you in from all the peoples to which the LORD your God has scattered you.” (30:4)

The angry God is actually a loving God, whose anger is justified, and in one of the most beautiful verses in Deuteronomy, “the LORD your God shall circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your being for your life’s sake.” (30:7)

The circumcised heart is one which, to use Oswald Chambers’ construction, is a heart that has completely abandoned ego and given itself wholly over to God.  And unlike Israel, which operated wholly under the terms of the Old Covenant, we have been granted grace under the terms of the New Covenant. The question always remains: can I abandon my ego to Christ?

After many, many chapters of rules, commands, imprecations and threats, Moses “finished speaking these words to all Israel.” (31:1) and tells his listeners, “A hundred and twenty years old I am today. I can no longer sally forth and come in, and the LORD has said to me, ‘You shall not cross this Jordan.’” (31:2)

One final plea, reminiscent of Henry V’s St. Crispin Day speech, encourages all Israel, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear and do not dread them, for the LORD your God, He it is Who goes with you. He will not let go of you and He will not forsake you.” (31:6) and passes the con to Joshua.

These final words are increasingly apropos for those of us living in an increasingly post-Christian world surrounded by hostility to those who dare speak out against the prevailing culture.

Luke 10:17-24:  Once again, one of those Moravian parallels.  As the psalmist rejoices that his name was written in the book of Zion, Jesus promises and even better thing, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (10:20)

For guys like me, what Jesus says about how to discover God and God’s purposes is profoundly important.  I cannot intellectualize myself into heaven, for “you [God] have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”  (21b) We must come to the kingdom as innocent babes.

Jesus has intentionally picked disciples who are not scholars or “wise,” but in keeping with Luke’s theme that Jesus turned things upside down and inside out, it is the seemingly foolish who are first in the Kingdom and to whom much has been revealed, “I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” (24)

And even though Paul did not have Luke’s gospel in front of him when he wrote his letter to Corinth, he says the same thing about the wise and the foolish. You’d think I’d have figured this out by now and abandoned intellectual pretense.

Psalm 85:8-13; Deuteronomy 27:14-28:24; Luke 9:37-50

Note: I will be posting only sporadically for the next several weeks as Susan and I are shifting coasts and will be in Massachusetts for the remainder of the summer. But we are taking a long time to get there…

Psalm 85:8-13: Once God has rescued Israel (again!) and Israel will finally see the error of its ways, “when He speaks peace to His people and to His faithful, /that they turn not back to folly.” (8) Then, a new era will be brought into being.   Its qualities are described in a remarkable verse that pairs two pairs:  “Kindness and truth have met, / justice and peace have kissed.” (10) Truth is no longer harsh and forbidding; it is gentle and kind. Extending this almost romantic image is the bold, almost sexual metaphor, “justice and peace have kissed.”

We can imagine four allegorical figures: two men and two women.  I have no basis other than cultural stereotyping for this, but I suggest that truth and justice have masculine qualities and kindness and peace are softer, more feminine. God introduces truth to kindness. Truth, even when it’s a hard truth, is ultimately an act of kindness. Protecting people from truth inevitably leads to a bad end. Speaking truth firmly and gently, even with compassion, is an act of kindness.

There can be no peace without justice. Thus the even more forthright kiss and, we imagine, embrace. They go hand in hand.  Then, with a vertical thrust and energy, which underscores their masculine qualities, “Truth from the earth will spring up, as justice from the heavens looks down.” (11) Heaven and earth are the totality of God creation. Truth and justice can only exist together.  Without truth there can be no justice.  Absent truth, justice os far off.

The psalmist knits all four of these qualities into a whole that describes in very human terms that demonstrates that God’s blessings are far greater than better crops and winning battles.

Deuteronomy 27:14-28:24: The last half of chapter 27 lays out twelve (one for each tribe?) acts, which resemble the decalogue, but focus on idolatry and sexual sins. In an interesting psychological device, these are not mere proscriptions in writing. This is not just “don;t do this,” but “cursed be he.” Cursing had even greater impact in that society than our, for it meant being cast out of the community.

Further underscoring the seriousness of these sins in this catalog, each one is spoken aloud and Israel must reply, “Amen.”  This is much more the nature of spoken vow, as one would do before testifying in court.  When we speak aloud and then say, “Amen,” we have spoken before the community and they will hold us to a higher standard than we might hold ourselves.

From the curses at the end of chapter 27 to the blessings of chapter 28… Here is the deuteronomic deal: obey God and you will be blessed. Obedience must come first. “If you truly heed the voice of the L ORD  your God to keep to do all His commands … all these blessings will come upon you and overtake you when you heed the voice of the LORD your God.” (28:2,3)

An amazing catalog of blessings will result. Blessings in town and field (4). and possibly the greatest blessings of all, fecundity: “Blessed the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your soil and the fruit of your beasts, the get of your herds and  the offspring of your flock.” (5)

God’s side of the Covenant is reiterated, “The LORD will set you up for Him as a holy people as He has sworn to you when you keep the command of the LORD your God and walk in His ways.” (28:9).

But absent that obedience, blessing is replaced by curses, as the catalog of blessings is turned inside out and repeated in essentially the same order as the blessings above. Including barrenness, “Cursed the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your soil, the get of your herds and the offspring of your flock.” (28:19) Perhaps worst of all, “The LORD will strike you with consumption and with fever and with inflammation and with burning and with desiccation and with emaciation and with jaundice, and they will pursue you till you perish.” (28:23)

It’s little wonder that the Jews of Jesus’ time saw such a string correlation between a person’s behavior / circumstances and God’s favor or disfavor. But I think it’s worth remembering that these blessings and curses here in Deuteronomy are pronounced on Israel as a whole. The Pharisees had taken things too far, I think, in applying the rules of blessing and curses at the level of the individual person.

Luke 9:37-50: Luke makes an crucial point about Jesus’ healing of the demon-possessed boy. After the boy is healed, “And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” (43) He does not say “all were astounded at the greatness of Jesus.” Even though they had not witnessed the Transfiguration, the crowds are figuring out that there is a direct connection between Jesus and God.

In a brilliant interplay of the light of healing and darkness of Jesus’ ultimate death creates the tension that drives this gospel forward with such force, Luke immediately shifts the scene to the intimacy of Jesus and his disciples. In stark contrast of the joy of the healed boy, the scene grows dark as Jesus tells them he is going to be “betrayed into human hands.” Which has zero meaning to the disciples who are befuddled.  Which was probably not a surprise to Jesus.

The disciples are afraid to ask the question because they intuit that they won’t like the answer. Another point that proves the psychological veracity of the gospel. I know I would have been afraid to ask, as I have been afraid many times in my life of what the truth might actually be.

One has to wonder, though.  Is this where Judas begins to think about hatching his plot?  Luke has certainly laid down a clue for us.

 

Psalm 85:1-7; Deuteronomy 26:1-27:13; Luke 9:28-36

Psalm 85:1-7: In this prayer of supplication, the psalmist reminds God that he had once looked on Israel with favor and has restored and forgiven before: “You favored, O LORD, Your land, / You restored the condition of Jacob. / You forgave Your people’s crime,/ You covered all their offense.” (1,2)  God’s anger has been quenched before: “You laid aside all Your wrath, /You turned back from Your blazing fury.” (3)

But clearly, something has gone dreadfully awry and the psalmist believes God has turned his back once again on his chosen people. Of course, one casual glance at Israel’s history and it’s easy to see that Israel had turned its collective back on God. So, the psalmist pleads “Undo Your anger against us” and like a small child asking its parent, “Will You forever be incensed with us,”–and not just we who are standing here praying, but “will You draw out Your fury through all generations?” (5)

The poet answers the question in the next line, as confidence increase: “Why, You—will again give us life, / and Your people will rejoice in You.” (6) Notice the symbiosis: God gives us life and we respond by “rejoicing in You.” That’s what relationships are all about; they go both ways. Yes, like the psalmist, we know that God will “again give us life” and rescue us, but if we are not changed, even transformed, by that, then we have abandoned the relationship. It is not God who turned His back on us, but we who turned away form Him.

Deuteronomy 26:1-27:13: Like the psalm, the bringing of tithes as an offering reflects the two-sidedness of a covenantal relationship. After all, God heard Israel’s cries in Egypt and “He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (9) It is an honor, not an obligation to be able to bring first fruits as an offering.

Wo knew there was a billboard set up at the entrance to the new land? “You shall set up for yourself  great stones and coat them with plaster. And you shall write on them the words of this teaching when you cross over, so that you may come into the land that the LORD your God is about to give you,.”  (27:3) Inscribing the words of the Torah on stone underscores their permanence.  They are in effect the constitution of the newly formed nation of Israel.

And not just “write the words,” but “you shall write on the stones all the words of this teaching  very clearly .” (27:8) It’s not unfair to take “clearly” in both its meanings.  That the law is clear and transparent to all.  These are the rules, guys; abide by them.

Also, “clearly” as in easy to read.  In big letters. You cannot claim you did not see the law, whence our concept of “ignorance of the law is not an excuse.”  If we really, truly followed God’s words, inscribed, as it were, on our hearts, we would spare so much energy by not being in denial of our sins, or continue to offer up lame excuses for our wrongdoings.  God’s law is clear.  But so, too, his mercy.

It is with the crossing of the Jordan that this ragtag difficult-to-control mob at last becomes the nation of Israel: “Moses, and the levitical priests with him, spoke to all Israel, saying, “Be still and listen, Israel. This day you have become a people to the LORD your God.” (27:9)  God made Israel a nation.  But there are responsibilities, as well: “And you shall heed the voice of the LORD your God and do His commands and His statutes which I charge you today .” (27:10)

Luke 9:28-36: The divine and the human meet on the mount of Transfiguration. It’s clearly night because “Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep” (32) and something seems to have awoken them.  The three men see a strange sight in their half-awake half-dream sleep: Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah.  

It’s fascinating that as they awakened, Peter, James and John recognized exactly who Jesus was speaking with. The speculation of Herod and the crowd thinking that Jesus was perhaps the returned Elijah or another “awakened prophet” (Moses would be a fine candidate) is fully answered here. Jesus is not any of them, but at this point anyway he is clearly their peer.  Astounding enough.  But then the theophany in the cloud and God’s clear voice making it crystalline that of the three, Jesus is his Chosen One.

God has now made it clear for all time that Jesus is greater than Israel’s most renowned prophets. Jesus is greater than Israel. As the OT states many times, God is the God of all creation, not just this little nation. Jesus has been chosen by God not just for Israel, but for all humankind.  And if I were an eyewitness I’d say stupid things like Peter and I’d be terrified, too. 

This was one time where it was easy to “keep silent.” The Transfiguration–which I’ll argue is second only to the Resurrection in terms of God interceding in history–was just too fantastic to be able to tell others and not bet thought a lunatic.

Psalm 84:8-12; Deuteronomy 24:14-25:19; Luke 9:12-27

Psalm 84:8-12: This psalm’s prayer has great energy for its contrasts between being with God and being outside His protection.  The most famous of these (or at least the verse turned into a song) is “For better one day in Your courts / than a thousand I have chosen,.” (9) While the first half of the verse focuses on time, the second half emphasizes place: he second part of the verse emphasizes place: “standing on the threshold in the house of my God, than living in the tents of wickedness.”

This verse evokes the futility of the endless seeking of substitute for the fulfillment that God brings to our hearts.  I have wandered across my years, from place to place, from object to object, from distraction to distraction and none of them are superior to even the briefest encounter with God.  Our society is packed with–and caters to–those who seek to fill the emptiness of their hearts with the metaphorical equivalent of cotton candy.

Like the psalmist we would do well to pause on our journey and reflect on God’s magnificence, as in the first half of this psalm, and on God’s grace in the second: “The LORD grants, He does not withhold bounty to those who go blameless.” (11) This is not necessarily physical bounty, but the bounty that is our heart when it realizes that it is in God that is the proper time and place for us.

Deuteronomy 24:14-25:19: Rules and law are what defines a civilized society.  We may bridle against stupid laws and rules–and goodness knows, there seem to be many. Many of the rules laid out in these two chapters have come down to us today–as another has said, a “gift of the Jews.”

Certainly at the top of the list is the law that punishment is borne by the offender. If someone kills another man’s son, the offender’s son shall not be killed.  This measure-for-measure punishment that killed innocent parties was (is?) apparently quite common in the Middle East. It would seem that the Israeli’s who killed the Palestinian teenager as revenge for the death of Israeli teenagers are committing exactly the sin outlined here.

Then, “When you reap your  harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field , you shall not go back to take it. For the sojourner and for the orphan and for the widow it shall be,” (24:19) And the same rules apply to olive trees and vineyards. Don’t strip everything bare; leave some for those less fortunate, which by this definition includes not just widows and orphans, but “sojourners,” those who are not of Israel, or more broadly of our tribe.

One looks at the humanitarian crisis at our southern border as all those children flee to the (hopefully) safe haven of the US.  Those who want to seal the border and deport those children are in effect saying, “this wheat, these olives, these young grapes are all mine. You may not share in the fruits of this nation; in fact you may not even be sojourners her.”  Deuteronomy has its extremely harsh places, but it we do well to remember that among the laws and rules there is also the command that we exhibit grace.  Which is exactly the point of the last verse of chapter 24: “And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt.” (22)

We could also apply these verses to what it means to be good stewards of the land and resources; that we not take it all, but remember those who come after us.

Happily, not all rules still apply, particularly the one that required women to marry the brother of her husband should she be widowed. (25:5 -9) or the rather unpleasant one about a wife intervening in a brawl between brothers… (25:12)

Luke 9:12-27: Luke makes clear distinctions between Jesus’ public ministry and his interactions with his disciples.  Publicly, he feeds the 5000 and one thing I’d not noticed before is Jesus saying, ““Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” (14). When you think about the sheer logistics of feeding all those people, this is brilliant: smaller groups (at least a hundred of them) could share and eat in a reasonable time.  There was no poor soul waiting for lunch at the end of the queue of 5000. Jesus dealt with large crowds but always at the top of his mind was the needs of the individual.

So, now that he’s among just his disciples, exactly why did Jesus ask that loaded question, “Who do you say I am?” Was he testing them to make sure they were being good disciples? Did he want to see if his message was getting across? Did he want to see just how much they had learned about him and his mission of working in the Kingdom? (After all, the disciples had already gone out on their field trip, so they had some basic missionary experience at this point.)  Or, did he simply want them to verbalize who he was?

Jesus psychology is brilliant: First, he asks them what the crowds are saying.  It’s the same list that Herod gave earlier in the chapter: “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” (19)  Then, making a clear distinction between the crowd and the disciples, implicitly telling them they are set apart from the crowd (and even Herod), he asks them the same question. As always, it’s a question, not a declaration. He does not tell them who he is; he makes the disciples tell him. (Or at least Peter, but I presume he was speaking for all of them.)

So it is with us. Beware of a prophet who comes announcing who he is.  It’s all about discerning who Jesus is based on his words and actions. And if his words and actions reveal who he is, so too for us: our words and actions are ultimately what reveal our own belief about who Jesus is. That, I think, was the subtext to Jesus’ question.

 

Psalm 84:1-7; Deuteronomy 23:1-24:13; Luke 9:1-11

Psalm 84:1-7: This psalm evokes the an image of group of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for a festival, perhaps Passover.  They are camped for the night somewhere along the way and gathered around the campfire.  Perhaps they have just finished their evening meal. The stars shine brightly and perhaps the moon has already risen.

God’s great creation is visible even at night. The pilgrim, looking up at the stars, leans back and sighs, “How lovely Your dwellings, / O LORD of armies!” (1) (BTW, I don’t think “armies” connotes a militaristic tone to this psalm; it’s “armies” in the sense of “many.”)

Creation is so glorious and his heart is so full that he begins to sing, “My heart and my flesh sing gladness to the living God.” (2b)  There’s enough light that our singer spies a bird in the tree above him, settling in for the night, “Even the bird has found a home, / and the swallow a nest for itself, / that puts its fledglings by Your altars,” (3).  God protects all His creation, even the birds.  And we realize that we, also, are God’s creation and that is where true joy–the joy of this one evening and the joy of our lives–comes from: “Happy are those who dwell in Your house, / they will ever praise You.” (4)

The psalmist realizes that all of life is on a pilgrimage, and creates a gorgeous metaphor, “Happy the folk whose strength is in You, / the highways in their heart.” (5). Am I sufficiently aligned to God and in tune with His creation that I remember that my strength in in God on all the highways in my heart? It is God who walks that highway with me.

Deuteronomy 23:1-24:13: This section deals with the intimate details, ranging from castrated men (I feel personally for these guys!) to the problem of nocturnal emissions and digging and using latrines. (I have to wonder how preachers who “preach through the Bible” deal with the practical applications of passages like this…)

More puzzling, however, is the command to permanently shun/avoid  the Ammonites and the Moabites, while effectively embracing the Edomites and Egyptians.  Edom didn’t seem to treat Israel much better than the Ammonites or Moabites, and the Egyptians wanted to kill or at least capture all of Israel. Such are the mysterious ways of God, and/or the editors of this book who may have had certain political axes to grind.

Plus, we can bask in the irony that Ruth of the hated Moabites is King David’s great-grandmother, and of course, Jesus is descended from the same line. So much for various OT proscriptions.

Divorce is the topic that opens chapter 24, and the opening verse is probably claims a place among the top ten misused verses in the Bible: “When a man takes a wife and cohabits with her, it shall be, if she does not find favor in his eyes because he finds in her some shamefully exposed thing, and he writes her a document of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her away from his house,” (24:1) However, the verse is ripped out of its larger context of a special case of divorce, remarriage and divorce, rather than addressing the contentious issue of divorce as a whole. Unfortunately, that has not bothered too many men who cite this passage as justification for their actions.

On the other hand, a newly-married man has certain privileges such as being exempt from military service for a year and his household is exempt form taxes. This makes great sense from a societal perspective in terms of establishing families as the basis of stable community. Too bad marriage and establishing families is now basically a vestigial act in American society–and for which we are paying a heavy price.

Luke 9:1-11: While Matthew gives us the Great Commission, Luke provides us with the practical details of what it means to be on mission and how we should go about it.  Jesus clearly did not share the obsession about church growth and knew (as he had preached in the parable about the seeds) that the message would not be well received everywhere. Rather than persistently beating one’s head against in immovable wall, he says, “Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (5) Working in the Kingdom requires the wisdom to recognize futility when we see it.

Word of mouth was the mainstream media of the day and word about Jesus gets back to Herod.  Obviously his court advisors (not unlike advisors today) were not fully informed but were willing to fake a guess or two about “arisen prophets” so they would continue to look wise and well-informed.  We know that Herod had been fascinated by John the Baptist and no doubt his interest in the Jesus was just as strong, maybe stronger.

Luke leaves us hanging with his tantalizing sentence, “And he [Herod] tried to see him [Jesus].” (9) The meeting surely never took place, and it’s a good reminder that Jesus did not feel compelled to hobnob with the politically powerful. Instead, as Luke tells us in the next section, Jesus went about his primary work.  The crowds “followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.” Which is exactly our template for Kingdom work. As the disciples found out on their mission,  we work most effectively where we are welcomed.

Psalm 83:9-18; Deuteronomy 22; Luke 8:40-56

Psalm 83:13-18 : Worse than conspiring against the men of Israel, the enemies conspired against God: “they conspired with a single heart, against You they sealed a pact—” (6) There is remarkable specificity in this psalm, as the poet names places and chieftains. Their conspiracy notwithstanding, they are utterly destroyed.

I particularly like the image, “They were destroyed at En-Dor, / they turned into dung for the soil.” Recycling has early roots!  And  then transformation into weeds: “O God, make them like the thistledown, / like straw before the wind.” (14) Not just blown away but then burned up: “As fire burns down forests /and as flame ignites the mountains,” (15)

But the worse fate awaits, “May they be shamed and dismayed forever /may they be disgraced and may they perish.” (18)  Of course this raises the ethical issue: do we pray for the destruction and death of our enemies? No question that war is a special case, and that’s what’s being described here.  I think this psalm is an exhortation to the troops just before battle.  So perhaps we should dwell on the psalm’s psychological impact rather than its theology.

Finally, we are reminded, as always, that God rules over all the earth and all peoples, not just Israel: “And may they know that You, Your name is the LORD. You alone are most high over all the earth.” Unlike all the small-g gods, there is nothing localized about God. He is the Creator and he reigns “most high” over all the earth and all that dwells therein.

Deuteronomy 22: The exegesis on the decalog continues with detailed rules and examples. If you “see your brother’s ox or his sheep slipping away,” it’s not just a courtesy to ensure they don’t escape, it’s a command. “You shall not be able to ignore it.” (4)

More rules for daily life: “There shall not be a man’s gear on a woman, and a man shall not wear a woman’s garment,” (5). A difference almost, but not quite, lost in our increasingly androgynous culture.  As for the rule that you can keep the fledging birds in a nest you discover, but “send the mother off,” it is apparently a good omen, “so that it may go well with you and you will enjoy length of days.” (7) More practically, not eating both the mother and her eggs ensures that the species survives.

We also see why houses in the Middle East have flat roofs: “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you not put bloodguilt in your house should someone fall from it.” (8).

It makes sense about not trying to plow with an ox and a donkey together: certainly a way to prevent cruelty to the donkey. But I don’t get it about not wearing wool and linen together or about  the tassels.

Things get more disturbing farther into the chapter when it comes to sexual matters.  The right of a man to “hate” his wife because she might not be a virgin is disturbing, although we have to remember that marriage in that culture was basically a financial transaction between the woman’s father and the husband, who would not want to marry “damaged goods.”  Pretty alien to our ears that think mostly about the love of the couple for each other.

But the command to stone the woman to death who has had premarital sex (21) is just plain disturbing.  Why don;t those who are obsessed about homosexuality pick up on this command? (He said snarkily.)

Luke 8:40-56: Jesus heals the woman with the hemorrhage and then revives Jairus’ daughter.  I’m struck by how Luke weaves the two miracles together.  Jairus comes up and begs Jesus to come to his house and heal his dying twelve-year-old daughter.  On the way, the other woman “came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped.” (44) Much to the surprise of the crowd, Jesus is not annoyed, but commends her as an example of faith that he would heal her.  He then goes on to Jairus’ house and revives the daughter.

I think Luke is telling us that we can interact with Jesus both ways.  One is by asking for his healing as Jairus did. That would be the “interrogatory or intellectual method.” The woman with the hemorrhage uses “emotional or feeling method.” Just reaching out wordlessly. Both approaches to Jesus are clearly valid and efficacious.  But the end result for both is identical: healing.

It’s also worth noting that those healed in this story are women. This certainly demonstrates female worth and equality with men in Jesus’ eyes, and therefore in the Kingdom. Luke is also showing us that both these women were represent persons at their most vulnerable. One is a child; the other had been ritually unclean for a long time. And both are healed and become heirs to the Kingdom.

What a contrast to the male rulers, priests and Pharisees, who focused on power as indicative of worth! For Jesus, who as usual turns things upside down, it is vulnerability that connotes worth. Unfortunately, there are still way too many Pharisees in the church today.

 

 

 

Psalm 83:1-8; Deuteronomy 19:1-20:09; Luke 8:16-25

Psalm 83:1-8: There is real urgency, a sense of emergency in the opening verse of the psalm: “O God, no silence for You! Do not be mute and do not be quiet, God.”  The doubled intensity of “do not be mute” and “do not be silent” connotes desperation. The following verses lay out the details as to why God had better answer–and answer soon!

They’re not just Israel’s enemies, they’re “Your enemies,” God, who rage and hate, not just against the nation, but against God Himself.  This is real desperation. The Hebrew verse style of repeating the same thought with different wording is used to powerful effect here. Not just rage and hate, but “Against Your people they devise cunning counsel and conspire against Your protected ones.” (3) Again repetition–“cunning counsel” and “conspire against” that intensify each other.

What they have conspired to do is frightening indeed: “They have said: “Come, let us obliterate them as a nation, and the name of Israel will no longer be recalled.”” (4).  It’s almost as if current events in Israel and Gaza have been lifted out of the psalms. The psalmist then catalogs the tribes and nations that are arrayed against Israel: “Edom and the Ishmaelites, / Moab and the Hagrites, / Gebal and Ammon and Amalek, / Philistia with the dwellers of Tyre.” (6,7) And Assyria, too, which has allied itself with “the sons of Lot.” (8).  So, too, 3000 years later. This is why those optimists who somehow think we’re “improving” as human beings or peace can somehow be achieved in that part of the world are deluded, IMHO. Enmity that is three millennia old will not yield to an optimist’s ministrations.

Deuteronomy 19:1-20:09: This chapter is similar to Numbers 35, where the towns of asylum are laid out. Here, the issue is manslaughter, the murderer who “strikes down his fellow man unwittingly and who was not a foe to him in time past,” (4) an accidental death (5).  The reason is to prevent the endless chain of vengeance: “Lest the blood avenger pursue the murderer when his  heart is hot and overtake him [the murderer].”

Moreover, “innocent blood will not be shed in the midst of your land …and there would be bloodguilt upon you.” (10)  As we examine events in Israel and Gaza the past week, innocent blood has indeed been spilled.  And no one seems to be following the command, which though formulaic, must be repeated over and over with good reason, especially here were we are dealing with emotionally-driven vengeance: “I [Moses] charge you today to do it, to love the LORD your God and to go in His ways for all time,” (9)

The famous formulation, “a life for a life, an eye for an eye, 21 a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot.” (21) is a definition of justice that we represent today as the balanced scales of held in the hand of the blindfolded lady.  The message is crystalline: do not over-punish for what has happened. Unfortunately, it has been turned on its head as a call for vengeance. You took my eye? Well, I’m going to take yours.  And probably a bit more. And vengeance escalates because of all that hot blood. Too bad those towns of asylum no longer exist.

The reason for restraint when it comes to justice appears in chapter 20. “When you go out to battle against your enemy and you see horse and chariot, troops more numerous than you, you shall not fear them, for the LORD your God is with you,” (20:1).  How quickly we forget God, or worse, never considered Him in the first place, when His promise stands right here: “the L ORD your God goes before you to do battle with your enemies to save you .”  (20:4)

And with that assurance, our armies can fight the battles with sufficient confidence that we can tell the man who has planted a vineyard or built but not yet dedicated his house to go home and “enjoy it.” Alas, we lack so much faith and trust in God’s promises. Just like Israel.

Luke 8:16-25: Did Jesus really ignore his mother and brothers? Luke doesn’t tell us why they showed up in the first place.  Did they want to share the limelight? Did they show up to tell him his notoriety was bringing shame on the family? Or dod they just want to become part of what Jesus was doing? We don’t know. But Jesus’ words make it clear that he has higher priorities than his earthly family.

Luke doesn’t tell us how the crowd reacted to that statement.  Given the priority of family as the key structural unit in that society and how the honor of family was above all else, Jesus’ reply must have been even more shocking to the crowd than it is even to us.

Jesus is talking about the Kingdom and that those who hear the word and then act on it–just do it–are his new family.  I think we’re too ready to see Jesus’ earthly family and the Kingdom family as mutually exclusive, but I don’t think that’s Jesus point.

I think he’s telling us that it’s a personal decision to hear God’s word and then do.  Our earthly families can’t do it for us, nor by virtue of being a “religious” family does that make us “religious.” I know that while I was raised in the faith by my earthly family, it was not until I was an adult that I felt that I had found my own faith.  Only then did it become mine, not my family’s.

Psalm 82:5-8; Deuteronomy 17:8-18:22; Luke 8:1-15

Psalm 82:5-8: God continues his soliloquy in verses 5 through 7. The small-g gods, who would seem to be the judges referred to in the first half of the psalm are basically incompetent because “They do not know and do not grasp, in darkness they walk about.”  It is their blind stumbling that has led to the present injustice that pervades the world.

Moreover, the injustice is so great, so rampant that “All the earth’s foundations totter.” (5)  God has clearly overestimated these gods, who thought they were so high and mighty, “As for Me, I had thought: you were gods, and the sons of the Most High were you all.” (6) But in what must be a stinging rebuke if you’re a small-g god, God compares them to humans noting that they will meet the same fate: “Yet indeed like humans you shall die.”

It’s not a stretch to compare these small-g gods, their pride, and their basic incompetence to those who claim to be our political leaders. I’d even argue that this psalm is about the consequences of narcissism. All its qualities–self-absorption, self-centeredness, claims to greatness, the cult of celebrity–are empty and ineffectual. As a result, it is the poor, the widows and the orphans that bear the burden of the injustice these “leaders” have unleashed on the world.

Deuteronomy 17:8-18:22:  Contrary to the theme of the psalm, these passages outline in detail how justice and leadership is to be carried out, including even the rules for who should become their king, if the nation ultimately chooses to go that way, which of course it did. Above all, you must “put over you a king whom the LORD your God chooses.” (17:15) and he must be prevented from acquiring excessive military power, “Only let him not get himself many horses, that he not turn the people back to Egypt.” (16)

The leader is to “write for himself a copy of this teaching in a book before the levitical priests.” (17:18). As I know well, it is only by writing things down that the content is more completely absorbed and understood (which is why I write these reflections almost every day!)  Above all, “he may learn to fear the LORD his God , to keep all the words of this teaching and these statutes, to do them, so that his heart be not haughty over his brothers.” (17:19,20). Notice how “brothers’ links leaders and led, even the poorest.  This quality of mind, that those who are led are brothers, is at the heart of servant leadership.

The leader is not to be “haughty,” not prideful. Israel’s subsequent history provides dramatic illustration of which kings followed this command and which kings ignored it. Would that more leaders today reflected on this passage…

Chapter 18 deals with the duties and responsibilities of the priests.  the Levitical priests are forbidden to practice a whole catalog of pagan divination and practice: “There shall not be found among you one who passes his son or his daughter through fire, a speller of charms, a soothsayer, or a diviner or a sorcerer, or a chanter of incantations or an inquirer of ghost or familiar spirit or one who seeks out the dead.” (18:10-12)

A major difference between the divination of what the small-g gods might be saying and Israel’s monotheistic God is that God communicates via spoken language through those He chooses: “A prophet I shall raise up for them from the midst of their brothers, like you, and I shall put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I charge him.” (18:18)

God speaks through prophets. As Israel’s history proves, God’s prophets were mostly ignored. But that does not stop God from speaking His ultimate Word through the person of Jesus Christ.

 Luke 8:1-15: I always wonder what churches that insist on exclusive male leadership and subjugate the role of women in the church make of the fact that Luke goes to the trouble to mention that Jesus had many women followers. Even more striking, he names three of them and points out that there were “many others, who provided for them out of their resources.” (3b).  

In our world that seeks (over-seeks?) gender equality we fail to appreciate just how radical this was in Jesus’ world. It’s no accident Luke includes their names; the Kingdom of God does not discriminate on sex, status, or ethnicity. Paul of course makes this abundantly clear in his epistles. But here in the middle of the story, just before Jesus tells–and explains–the epistle that talks about the different qualities of followers, Luke’s listing of these women’s names and “many others” makes it clear that ” these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.” (15)

I’m never quite sure what to do with Jesus’ enigmatic words about the purpose of the parables: “‘looking they may not perceive,  and listening they may not understand.’” (10).  I think it has to do with the operation of the Holy Spirit. If we don’t care, or we ignore the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, we will neither perceive nor understand the point of Jesus’ story. But if we are “good soil,” which I will take as being open to the guiding of the HS, then we will indeed eventually perceive and understand “the secrets of the Kingdom of God.”

 

Psalm 82:1-4; Deuteronomy 15:19-17:7; Luke 7:39-50

Psalm 82:1-4: Looking as if it was lifted out of Job, this psalm focuses on the problem that injustice is far more widespread than justice.  The setting is unique, God is standing in an assembly of mythological small-g gods: demonstrating that above all all the other gods in our lives, God seeks justice and he is the only One qualified to render judgment: “in the midst of the gods he renders judgement.”

God begins speaking at verse 2: “How long will you judge dishonestly, /and show favor to the wicked?” Which is what the world at large, ruled by its small-g gods does. In contrast, and aligned to the theme that threads throughout the OT, the small-g gods–and we–are commanded to “Do justice to the poor and the orphan. / Vindicate the lowly and the wretched. / Free the poor and the needy, / from the hand of the wicked save them.” (3,4)

And people thought Jesus was a radical for saying words to this effect? How much clearer does God need to be?  And yet, here we are 3,000 years later asking exactly the same questions, and we are doing exactly the same thing: still following the siren song of the small-g gods.

Deuteronomy 15:19-17:7: After issuing instructions regarding the rights of firstborn animals (15:19) and what to do about eating blind or lame animals (15:21-22), the editors of Deuteronomy write the instruction manual for three major pilgrim festivals: Passover (Alter: “Festival of flatbread”), Weeks, and Booths (Alter: “Festival of huts”).

In alignment with today’s psalm, the latter part of chapter 16 lays out the responsibility of those rendering justice. (Which I presume is what the judges of Israel did before the nation decided it preferred kings.)

The judges and their judgement must possess three key qualities. Judgement must be honest: “You shall not skew judgement” (19a); it must not show favoritism: “You shall recognize no face” (19b); and “no bribe shall you take, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the innocent” (19c). Here is where we realize how much our justice system today owes to God and to Jewish law.  We have examples all around, especially in other countries, where these requirements are neither met completely or ignored all together. And as the psalmist notes, it is the widows and orphans who suffer most.

This being Deuteronomy, the editors inevitably return to the prohibitions against worshipping small-g gods for their example of how to go about rendering justice.  Only now it’s expressed in the context of justice.  If a man or woman is accused “go[es] and worship[s] other gods and bow to  them, to the sun or to the moon or to any of the array of the heavens which I did not command,” (3) it must be investigated before judgement is rendered: “you  inquire well and, look, the thing is true, well-founded,” (4) only then “shall you take them out and stone them to death.” (6)

The key to all this is that judgement is a carefully defined process; it is one of the defining marks of the difference between civilization and mob rule.  Yes, we see injustice every day, as well as injustice rendered by the “justice system.”  But the alternative is far worse. I am grateful to God for establishing the rules of civilization.

Luke 7:39-50: Simon the Pharisee misses the point, claiming that if Jesus claimed to be a prophet he would have known he was being anointed by a sinner (likely a prostitute). Jesus gently tells Simon “I have something to say to you” and tells the famous parable of the debtors. Simon “gets” the point of the story.  But as usual, jesus carries his point farther to an unexpected place.

He contrasts Simon’s lack of hospitality (no water for my feet, no kiss, no anointing of oil) with the three acts of the woman (“she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair”; “she has not stopped kissing my feet”; “She has anointed my feet”)  The acts of the woman are not mere hospitality, they are signs of her love for Jesus. The woman knows she is sinful and shows great love, “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (47b) 

This story is not about sin; it is about love. It is about the pride in pointing out other’s sins but not in realizing our own. Without that realization, we still place ourselves at the center, where it is in fact impossible to really, truly love Jesus. Because, like Simon, we still love ourselves more.

Psalm 81:11-16; Deuteronomy 14:22-15:18; Luke 7:31-38

Psalm 81:11-16:  God continues to speak, now with regret at Israel’s missed opportunity, as the nation persisted in its disobedience: “But My people did not heed My voice and Israel wanted nothing of Me.”  (11) That’s human pride as seen from God’s point of view: we “wanted nothing of Me” because we think we can live life more successfully absent that ever-nagging God, Who keeps demanding obedience.

God gave us the gift of free will, which we can freely use to ignore Him. So God must stand by: “I let them follow their heart’s willfulness, they went by their own counsels.” (12)  Economists talk about “opportunity cost,” the implicit cost of the path not chosen. And for Israel, the opportunity cost of not following God has been enormous. God describes what could have happened: “If My people would but heed Me, / if Israel would go in My ways, / in a moment I would humble their enemies, / and against their foes I would turn My hand.” (13,14)

So, what have we missed because we’ve not followed God? What would God have given us or done for us had we not decided we could do it better ourselves.  The psalm ends with a marvelous image of repast, “I would feed him the finest wheat, and from the rock I would sate him with honey.” (16) What wonderful meals–real and symbolic– have we missed?  Looking back over the past 67 years, there’s little question I’ve missed a lot. And of course we could look on a community or even national level and realize just how little our collective pride has yielded compared to the riches our loving God would have liked to bestow on us.

Deuteronomy 14:22-15:18: Inasmuch as God is to be worshipped only in a central location, this section deals with the practical issue that carrying a tenth of agricultural or livestock produce to give to God can be impractical.  So a means is provided to convert the title to silver, carry the silver to the central worship place (in Jerusalem) and use the silver to buy the animals required for sacrifice.

(Which explains why there were moneychangers at the Temple in Jesus time. I’m guessing that by then the role of the moneychangers had evolved from the simple exchange described here to many more “full service banking” activities, which lay outside the purview of what God has ordered here in Deuteronomy, whence Jesus’ anger. Of course, Jesus overturning the tables also symbolically marks the end of the Temple cult and the consequent need for moneychangers.)

And when you spend some of your tithe on the journey, don’t forget the others: “the Levite shall come, for he has no share and estate with you, and the sojourner and the orphan and the widow who are within your gates, and they shall eat and be sated,” (14:26)  As always, the visitor, the orphan, the widow.  God never forgets the least. And we are commanded not to forget as well.

In chapter 15, the terms of the 7 year “remission” or what today we might call a “reset,” are described. It’s interesting that the rules about lending are conflated with the rules about generosity.  Lending to outsiders is OK, but generosity within the community is essential: “The foreigner you may dun, but that of yours which is with your brother your hand shall remit.” (3) This is a verse Shakespeare must have had in mind when he wrote the character of Shylock and his famous soliloquy in Merchant of Venice.

Underneath all the details is the command to be generous, especially to the poor: “Therefore I charge you, saying, ‘You shall surely open your hand to your brother, to your poor and to your pauper, in your land.’” (11)  The beginnings of a common purse, and then welfare to help those less fortunate begins right here.

Luke 7:31-38: Jesus makes an observation about public opinion, which is just as true today as then.  We have childish expectations about how someone is supposed to respond to a given stimulus: “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;/ we wailed, and you did not weep.’” (32)  If they don’t behave the way we want or expect, then they’re anathema.

 Nor is the response of the crowd logical or consistent as Jesus points out about John and himself.  John “has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’” (33)  And Jesus has done the opposite, “the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”  In short, the crowd is never pleased, never gives the benefit of the doubt, and always takes the darkest, most negative interpretation of any action.

These observations certainly describe what passes for “political discourse” in 2014 America.  Like children, we expect the knee-jerk, pandering response and when we don’t get it, we accuse the person of inconsistency–or worse, up to and including demon possession.

Once again, we witness Luke’s masterful juxtapositions.  In the next scene Jesus is at dinner in a pharisee’s house and a woman comes and weeping, anoints Jesus’ feet.  She understands who Jesus is and what he has done for her, that he has forgiven her sins. The intimacy of this scene of the weeping woman is a stark contrast to the ignorant rantings of the crowd.

But the Moravians are making us wait until tomorrow to reflect on the Pharisee’s reaction to the woman.