Psalm 35:1-10; Exodus 17:1-18:6; Matthew 22:41-23:12

I’m late today, as this being written on UA 1660 from SFO to ORD, so it probably won’t go out until this evening…

Psalm 35:1-10  In asking God to help “fight those who fight against me.” David prays a prayer that in our politically correct “enlightened” society we are probably loathe to emulate.   Clearly, he is praying from a place of deep agony and hurt in what he perceives as his innocence, “For unprovoked they set their net-trap for me, unprovoked they dug a pit for my life.”

David lives in an eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth framework, for he asks that God do the same to his enemies as they did to him, basically that they be hoisted on their own petard: “Let disaster come upon him unwitting and the net that he set entrap him.”

So, are we entitled to pray the same kind of prayer in times of personal disaster?  When really bad things have happened to us?  I would argue yes. For isn’t better to cry out to God for him to see that our enemies come to the same bad end where we find ourselves than to try to take action ourselves.  Action which will invariably come to a bad end for us.

David’s prayer is the prayer that reminds us that vengeance is indeed the Lord’s.  But there is no prohibition in crying to God for vengeance to occur.  The key point is that we cry out or pain, our agony and yes, our desire to get even to God.

Exodus 17:1-18:6  Wandering through the desert is admittedly arduous on our own when we have equipped ourselves with ample food and water.  How much more difficult for an entire nation that is now nostalgic for its previous life as slaves, but slaves whose thirst and hunger were satisfied.  Water at Meribah, then food via manna, and now the troops are thirsty again, and complaining loudly: “Why is it you brought us up from Egypt to bring death on me and my children and my livestock by thirst?” (17:4).  Moses, who has never been confident of his leadership skills anyway, is at the end of his rope, “What shall I do with this people? Yet a little more and they will stone me.” (17:5).  But as always, God comes through and water comes from the rock.

In Moses, who was very human, we see a common fate that befalls every leader.  No matter how brilliant the leader, no matter how much he delivers for those he lead, there will always be complaining among the troops.  And discouragement for the leader. Leaders—especially in churches—can turn in only one direction: to God.  Which, of course, is the whole point of God-led leadership.

But if it’s not one thing, it’s another.  The thirst crisis is barely resolved and “Amalek came and did battle with Israel at Rephidim.”  (17:7) As if in an ironic demonstration of Moses’ leadership, the battle goes well for Israel as long as Moses holds up his staff. As an engineer, I’ve always admired the very practical solution of propping up Moses’ staff with a rock.  I suppose we could be symbolic here and say that when we (and especially leaders) are weary, we must rely on the Rock of our salvation rather than the strength of our own arms.

Matthew 22:41-23:12  Jesus turns the table on the Pharisees test by asking “Whose son is the Messiah?”  They reply, falling neatly into Jesus’ trap: “The son of David.” (21:42)  Jesus once again turns things upside down by quoting a psalm of David that results in a paradox: “If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” (22:45)

Which for me is always the answer when we ask questions about Jesus out of our earth-bound human frame of reference.  In human terms, Jesus is a complete paradox: inevitably the very opposite of what we expect. What we expect him to be.  What we expect him to do.  And not just for the Pharisees and Sadducees and the Jerusalem crowd on this Passover week.  But for us, as well.  Something we do well to remember when we try to tame Jesus by putting him into our well-defined, comfortable little boxes.  (Which is one reason why the song, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” bothers me.)  CS Lewis had it right: Jesus is all-loving, but dangerous—especially to our pre-conceived notions of who he should be.

Jesus makes it clear what the problem is that he has with the leadership: “do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” (23:3).  And once again, Jesus turns everything upside down: “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (23:12) True for us as Jesus’ followers, but also true for Jesus himself in just a few days, as he will endure the greatest humiliation the world has ever visited on a single man.

It’s all so non-intuitive, and yes, paradoxical: the idea that we must first descend in order to ascend.  The crowd may think Jesus is on top of the world right now.  But not for long.

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