Psalm 34:8-18; Exodus 14:19-15:21; Matthew 22:15-22

Psalm 34:8-18   In keeping with the theme of generations we’ve been encountering in the Exodus readings, our psalmist echoes the same idea of passing along what we’ve learned about God and his great mercy to our children: “Come, sons, listen to me, / the LORD’s fear will I teach you.”  And what lessons they are.  From the daily reminder, “keep your tongue from evil / and your lips from speaking deceit,” to what guides the course of our lives: “Swerve from evil and do good,  seek peace and pursue it.”

The verb, “swerve” evokes an image of someone moving rapidly toward evil and then changing direction at the very last moment, just before the collision.  A far more dynamic and optimistic image, IMO, than the NRSV’s “Depart from evil” which suggests we’ve already arrived at the evil place and now it’s time to leave.

But even if we’ve come to the evil place, God is still listening: “Cry out and the LORD hears, and from all their straits He saves them.”  Again, Alter’s translation suggests a much less passive role on our part than the NRSV’s “The Lord is near the brokenhearted,”  We cry out to God is fear, desperation and yes, from foxholes.  God hears us, and he saves us.  Here is one of those places that demonstrates so beautifully why we always come back to the Psalms for succor in our nights of shadow and dark terrors.

 Exodus 14:19-15:21  Cecil B DeMille has made it impossible for me to read the passage of crossing the sea on dry land and then, of Moses raising his arm and the waters crashing back in over the Egyptians without running his movie in my mind’s eye.  But in the words here, there’s a definite tinge of God’s creative power that we see in Genesis 1 and also in the Psalms: “He made the sea dry ground, and the waters were split apart.” (14:22)  Here, God is in the process of creating a nation, of transforming a complaining, ragtag crowd [“Was it for lack of graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness?” (14:13)] into a God-fearing nation that finally “gets it” about what God has been doing through Moses: “Israel saw the great hand that the LORD had performed against Egypt, and the people feared the LORD, and they trusted in the LORD and in Moses His servant.” (14:31)

Moses’ poem in chapter 15 recapitulates all that has happened so far.  It signifies the end of the first great stage of the Israel story: the plagues, capped by the Passover.  They have escaped Egypt and the next great part of the narrative–the wilderness journey–is about to begin.

Moses’ poem ends on an optimistic note, “The Lord shall be king for all time.” Although like so many triumphal conclusions, it does not fully come true.  Some hundreds of years later the people ultimately decided that they needed a human king–and we know where that got them.

Aaron’s sister, Miriam, adds a final musical coda: “Sing to the LORD for He has surged, O surged, Horse and its rider He hurled into the sea!” (15:21).   Almost like an organ postlude as we leave the joys of worship and return to the trials of daily life.  Which, as we will see, is exactly what happens in the next verse…

Matthew 22:15-22  Those Pharisees just don’t give up, and one has to admit that the question about taxes is pretty clever.  But Matthew is clearly showing his impatience with the leaders by the smarmy, quasi-obsequious opening dialog he assigns to the questioner, “we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.” (22:16).  Yes, those qualities are all indeed true, but they are asked with an ulterior motive to trap Jesus.  The phrase, “we know you are sincere” is rife with irony because the Pharisees certainly aren’t.

How like the Pharisees we are: giving lip service to Jesus, all the while not really believing in who he is or worse, planning in our own hearts some act which will ultimately expose our duplicitous nature, our hypocrisy.

The Bible is chockablock with warnings against the smooth words of those who would do evil, and we have no finer example than the Pharisee’s oily words we read here.  As Matthew makes clear,  Jesus, “aware of their malice,” is not fooled.  But how many people have been taken in by unctuous tele-evangelists  pretending to speak for Jesus, but whose hearts have indeed already turned to deceit?



Speak Your Mind