Psalm 24; Genesis 43; Matthew 15:10-20

Psalm 24  This marvelously liturgical psalm poses two enormously important questions.  First, “Who shall go up on the mount of the Lord,/ and who shall stand up in his holy place?”  The answer of course is “The clean of hands and the pure of heart.”  But who is that, really? Were the Israelites clean of hands and pure of heart?  Are we? But God’s justice demands clean hands and a pure heart in order to approach him.  For Israel, under the terms of the Old Covenant it was via the sacrificial system.  For us under the New Covenant, it is the intermediary power of Jesus Christ.

The second question asks, “Who is the King of Glory?”  Of course we know the answer, but I believe this is a question whose answer we must acknowledge each time we gather for worship.  For in uttering the psalmist’s answer, “The Lord of armies, He is the king of glory,” we recapitulate our own relationship with God.  He is the king of glory, not we.  This helps me avoid the tendency to put God in a little box of my own devising, reminding me that I am the created, not the Creator, and that God’s power is far greater than I can ever imagine.  I really think that we must maintain this awestruck mystery about God–and that we will never fully comprehend God.  Yes, we are his beloved children and yes, he is our “abba,” but he is also the King of Glory.  We forget that reality at our peril.

Genesis 43  Finding the silver in their bags has truly freaked the brothers, and Jacob tells them to double the silver and bring other items back to Egypt as tribute (including pistachio nuts!) as insurance to make it clear that their intentions were pure. When Joseph elects to have dinner with his brothers, their anxiety goes through the roof, as the believe the invitation means “in order to fall upon us, to attack us, and to take us as slaves, and our donkeys.” (43:18)  But Joseph’s servant explains that “Your God and the God of your father has placed treasure for you in your bags.” (43:23).

Joseph’s brothers have assumed the worst: the silver in the bags is a plot to frame them and make them slaves.  Joseph’s servant says, “No, the silver is a gift from God.”  How very much like us: assume the worst, even when it is actually a gift from God?  I think it’s our intrinsically sinful and suspicious nature to always start out assuming the worst.  Just as Joseph’s brothers did.  But in fact the “worst” may very well be a gift from God.  That’s how I feel about my cancer: could anything worse have happened to me? Yet, in many ways it has been the greatest gift of my life because of how it has so impacted my spiritual journey and brought a fulness to my life that I otherwise in all likelihood would have missed…

Matthew 15:10-20  If money is one of Jesus’ “Big Topics” so, too, is the problem of spoken words: “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (15:11) Because even when we say defensive things like, “I didn’t really mean to say that,” the truth is that we did indeed mean it, and Jesus explains why: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.” (15:18).  Our sinful inner being lays the root of what we say.

Like the Pharisees, I’d rather focus on surface issues like washing our hands before eating, rather than on the real problem of my heart.  Controlling my tongue has been a constant battle through the years.  I’m pretty good with words and can use them to harmful effect on others (especially Susan)–even to the point of seeming like it was a compliment.  This passage that directly connects my tongue to my heart is an ongoing challenge for me.

Finally, in the nature of unexpected gifts in my own bags, I received the following email last night from a guy I’ve never met, but is on one of the prostate cancer Internet boards I inhabit.  I think he has discovered the same thing about unexpected silver in the bag as I have.  He wrote,

“I want to thank you for a couple of things. For your book, which was enlightening; it convinced me that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts and emotions. It helped me come out of the darkness. I also want to thank you for your expressions of faith–I fought faith for a long time after the diagnosis and was angry with God. I finally realized that the cancer and heart attacks were the only times my faith had been seriously challenged. I’ve come around, in part thanks to you. I’ve finally let go and let God and it’s an entirely new world for me now. I have hope for the first time in about a year. Thank you again.”

Speak Your Mind