Psalm 30:1-5; Exodus 1:1-2:10; Matthew 18:15-35

Psalm 30:1-5   This psalm’s superscription indicates it was sung “for the dedication of the house,” which I would take to be the Temple or some new part of the Temple.  (although probably not renovated restrooms or a new soundboard…)  The singer begins with praise, “I shall exalt You, Lord.”  But it’s not just general praise; there’s a personal statement  of rescue: “…for You drew me up,/ and You gave no joy to my enemies.”

Unlike so many other psalms where the poet asks for general destruction of his enemies, this note, “You gave no joy to my enemies” is really quite magnanimous.  The enemies are still there, and still threatening, but at least they are unhappy at being defeated.  Obviously, this generosity is a reflection of the upbeat tone of the psalm, but I think we would do well to think in terms of our enemies being denied the joy of victory over us rather than their complete destruction.

This certainly seems more congruent with what Jesus implied when he said, “turn the other cheek.”  That simple act denies our enemy of joy and neutralizes his triumph.

This sense of joy suffuses the psalmist’s relationship with God, as well: “But a moment in His wrath,/ life in His pleasure.”  It’s this very simple view of proportionality that allows our psalmist to “bed down weeping,/ and in the morning, glad song.”  The sheer joy that an intimate relationship with God brings far outweighs the woe, and especially that feeling of God’s abandonment that occurs so often in the Psalms and in our lives.  Is this psalm too upbeat, too unrealistic about life as it actually is?  Perhaps, but untrammeled joy should occupy our lives, even more than the darker times.

Exodus 1:1-2:10  As promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, their progeny was indeed fruitful and multiplied faster than the Egyptians.   As the author slyly notes at 1:19, the midwives report to Pharaoh that “‘For not like the Egyptian women are the Hebrew women, for they are hardy.'”  Even though the Hebrews become slaves they continue to multiply causing the Egyptian aristocracy to feel threatened, even to the point, “should war occur, they will actually join our enemies and fight against us.” (1:10).  Thus, the Egyptian rationale for slavery, but also for embarking on genocide, “Every boy that is born you shall fling into the Nile, and every girl you shall let live.” (1:22)

I’m struck by the parallels to the never-ending immigration debate here today, including even the reality that Hispanic birth rates are higher than Caucasians, as we whites will eventually become a minority.  Clearly, many feel threatened by moving form majority to minority status.  I’m sure a similar rationale was used in the 19th century Antebellum south against freeing the slaves, lest they proliferate uncontrollably and overrun the white landowners.  As usual, human nature–especially when it feels threatened–has changed not a whit in thousands of years.

In Sunday School we started right out with the story of the infant Moses set adrift in the wicker basket, conveniently skipping right over the Pharaoh’s genocidal intentions.  This story, of course, is a conscious allusion to the Noah story, and Alter points out that the word used for wicker “ark” is the same as the ark of the Noah story.  I don’t think it would be a stretch to note that this is also a form of baptism; that in water the next great act in this story of God and his chosen people begins.  Water, which also marks major turning points in Moses’ own life, from the crossing of the Red Sea to Moses’ striking the rock, to looking at, but not crossing, the Jordan River at the end of his life.

It’s certainly no coincidence that the Pharaoh’s daughter names the child Moses, “For from the water I drew him out.” (2:10).

Matthew 18:15-35   Jesus takes up the uncomfortable issue of church discipline.  I’ve always been struck that the issue of things going wrong comes up as the first real discussion about the church soon after Jesus has told his disciples that “upon this rock I will build my church.”  In any event, Jesus makes it clear that if the first one-on-one attempt does not result in “the member listen[ing],”witnesses become essential.  This one-on-one meeting happens only when the one who has sinned agrees that’s the case and repents.  The logical next step couldn’t be clearer: “…take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (18:16)

I think the church has generally come down wrong on either side of this issue.  On the one hand there are some strict congregations, whose leader simply pronounces judgement rather than seeking reconciliation.  On the other, churches tend to avoid the entire issue of discipline–and in our litigious age, probably with good reason.  But neither is ultimately healthy for the body, as Paul and I presume every leader since then understands all too well.

That Jesus’s most detailed disquisition on forgiveness immediately follows is no coincidence.  Forgiveness must be the foundation of every issue of discipline.  The message of the parable is crystalline: God forgives; so must we.  And it’s not just the self-serving and very insincere, “if I’ve offended anyone, please forgive me,” we hear form politicians and celebrities, but as Jesus makes terribly clear, it must be “from the heart.”


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