Psalm 78:56-64; Deuteronomy 4:1-31; Luke 5:1-11

Psalm 78:56-64: Even though Israel conquered and now occupies the Promised Land [“And He drove out nations before them and set them down in a plot of estate, and made Israel’s tribes dwell in their tents.” (55)] they are the same contentious crowd that complained about leaving Egypt and complained and rebelled for forty years in the wilderness.  Crossing the Jordan appears not to have changed their behavior one whit: “Yet they tried God the Most High and rebelled, and His precepts they did not keep.  They fell back and betrayed like their fathers,” (56,57a).

Having not completely wiped out the Canaanites, they adopted their idol worship, and this was most egregious of all: “They vexed Him with their high places, incensed Him with their idols.” (58) and in the deuteronomic opinion of the psalmist, God responded appropriately, “God heard and was angry, wholly rejected Israel.” (59)

We are then presented with a passage describing God’s retribution in detail. Israel is conquered by its enemies, “He let his might [i.e. Israel] become captive” (61). The psalmist reports the outcome in gruesome detail,

He gave over his people to the sword,
against His estate He was enraged.
His young men the fire consumed
and His virgins no wedding song knew.
His priests fell to the sword, (62-64)

This retributive theology (“if you sin, God will punish you directly for it”) certainly explains why, in Jesus time, the rich were blessed and the poor were being punished and why lepers were paying for someone’s, if not their own, sins. In the face of this belief, Jesus articulated his radical idea about how things operated quite differently in the Kingdom. For which we can be grateful.

Deuteronomy 4:1-31: Deuteronomic theology is, of course, at the core of this eponymous book.  Moses is crystalline on the matter: “for every man that went after Baal Peor did the LORD your God  destroy from your midst. But you, the ones clinging to the LORD your God, are all of you alive today.” (4,5)

But it is also the very foundation of our own laws and concept of justice today: “And what great nation is there that has just statutes and laws like all this teaching that I am about to set before you today?” (8)  As well as the concept of personal responsibility, “Only be you on the watch and watch yourself closely lest you forget the things that your own eyes have seen and lest they swerve from your heart— all the days of your life, and you shall make them.” (9)

Moses reveals he will not be crossing the Jordan with them, and in this benedictory speech, asks the people to remember one thing above all, “Be you on the watch, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He has sealed with you,” (22), warning them especially to avoid idol-making, which of course is what led to the outcome the psalmist describes in today’s passage.

Moses describes the vast difference between idols, “gods that are human handiwork, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.” and God, “And you shall search for the LORD your God from there, and you shall find him when you seek Him with all your heart and with all  your being.”  There it is: the radical difference between the monotheistic God of Israel and all the small-g gods. God created us–not the other way around– and lives within us through the power of the Holy Spirit. If we seek God he will always find us.

But just as Israel goes awry as it falls for the man-made gods, so do we.  Our gods may be more technologically clever, but conflict between the desires of our selfish hearts and the God’s desire to dwell in our hearts is exactly the same three millennia later.

 Luke 5:1-11: One of the things Luke makes clear is that Jesus knew these fishermen.  He didn’t just materialize on the beach and ask them to follow him.  Jesus knew them well enough to ask to use the boat as a pulpit, as he “he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.” (3)

But then, in a brilliantly written passage that itself becomes a metaphor, Jesus suggests the fishermen go fishing, and they enjoy enormous success.  This of course is the metaphor for what Peter and the disciples will accomplish in the early church that Luke describes in Acts.

Not surprisingly, Peter is the first disciple to speak in Luke’s account, and after basically telling Jesus his plan won’t work (“we have worked all night long but have caught nothing”) he agrees to it anyway, (“Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”) (5) He soon realizes that he is in the presence of someone who has unimaginable power directly from God.  And is in effect, standing on holy ground for which he is not worthy, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (8).

Which, when you think about it, is how we all come to a honest relationship with Jesus Christ.  First, skepticism, then eventually (and this can be a long time for a lot of us) agreement to do what Jesus suggests, and then we stand in awe at what he has done, realizing our own sinfulness and how puny our own results are compared to Jesus’.  But like Peter, and his partners, James and John, Jesus calls us to follow Jesus.

That’s the crucial moment. Jesus has come to us and asked us to follow him.  What do we decide? Do we drop everything and follow? (I’ve long wondered what became of those two boatloads of fish.)  Or do we hang on to our fish, which is so often our economic security, just as it was for Peter, James and John?  Or are we willing to leave it all on the beach and follow Jesus?

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