Psalm 102:1-11; Joshua 24:14-Judges 1:16; Luke 18:1-17

Psalm 102:1-11: This psalm, which describes exactly what it is in its first line, “A prayer for the lowly when he grows faint / and pours out his plea before the LORD.” stands in stark contrast to the psalms of shouting, worshipping and singing that precede it. This juxtaposition suggests that the editors who compiled and ordered the psalms want to remind us that life is  not just about joy. There is sorrow and desperation as well.

The psalmist pleads to God, “Incline Your ear to me. / On the day I call, quickly answer me.” (3) One wonders about why “quickly” until the next verse, “For my days are consumed in smoke, / and my bones are scorched like a hearth.”  Quotidian life is like smoke wafting up into the sky; each day as ephemeral as the one before. Life is a wisp. But the almost frightful image of bones “scorched like a hearth,” we’re reminded that life has done damage to the psalmist’s health and well being. A man near death: “My heart is stricken and withers like grass, / so I forget to eat my bread.” (5)

And now he has reached the point near death, in a striking image that makes one think of a person in the painful final stages of cancer: “From my loud sighing, / my bones cleave to my flesh.” (6)  In a remarkable trilogy of bird images, “I resemble the wilderness jackdaw, /I become like the owl of the ruins. / I lie awake and become like a lonely bird on a roof.” (7b,8) we see a man lying away, near death, thin and lonely.

And yet, even in this state near death, his enemies still torment him: “All day long my enemies revile me, my taunters invoke me in curse.” (9). He ascribes his present woeful state to one cause: “because of Your wrath and Your fury, for You raised me up and flung me down.” (11). He has decided that God has done this to him.

Yet, now he comes to God, seeking succor. It would be difficult to find a more dramatic description of a man brought to the point of desperation that now he is ready to seek the one final Hope that remains: “And You LORD, forever enthroned, and Your name—for all generations.” When all seems lost, there is One to whom we can turn. There is only One, who even though He may seem to be the source of our desperation, is also at once the source of all hope.

Joshua 24:14-Judges 1:16: Joshua comes to the closing of his last speech, asking, “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” (14) Worship and fidelity is what God asks of Israel–and us.

But we must never forget that we have a choice in the matter about whom we will serve. God or the ungods in our lives: “Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living;” (15a)  Joshua makes the choice he has made crystal clear in the famous lines, “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”(15b)  Joshua reminds us that following God is not something that “just happens,” but that it is the major decision of our lives; the center point of how we decide to exercise the gift of free will that God has given us.

At the end of this book we see that the old generation that came out of Egypt and made it to Canaan has truly passed away: Joseph’s bones are buried at Shechem; Joshua dies; Eleazar, the son of Aaron has died. A new era begins.

The book of Judges opens the people are leaderless and ask, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” (1) God answers clearly:  “Judah shall go up. I hereby give the land into his hand.” (2) And we witness a peaceful transition of power.  There is still much to do, and more battles against the Canaanites ensue. Perhaps most significantly for the future of the nation, “Judah fought against Jerusalem and took it.” (8) As well as the surrounding territory. Thus Judah’s name is forever associated with this all-important real estate.

The question is, will Israel conquer all the Canaanites?

Luke 18:1-17: The parable of the widow and the unjust judge seems to be about persistence. The judge had no regard for justice, but because of the widow’s unrelenting pleas that become hounding, he grants justice just to get her off her back. Jesus seems to be saying to the Jews (the “chosen ones”) that God will quickly grant them justice if they but ask. But then the ominous question, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” It seems that praying to God for justice does not necessarily mean that those praying have faith.  And we certainly know that ultimately, the Jews did not have faith in the Son of Man, Jesus.

That the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector immediately follows is Jesus’ illustration of the point he just made about the difference between those loudly crying to God and real faith.  The public prayers of the Pharisee may sound good to others, but there is no real faith in his heart; it is all about show. True faith is demonstrated in a private, humble conversation with God, as that of the tax collector. True faith expresses itself in prayers that are not about public eloquence or what other people hear.

Jesus command to bring the children to him is all well and good and a clear demonstration of his kindness, but it is not really the “take away” lesson here. The point of this incident, and its juxtaposition with the two parables that precede it, is that true faith requires no presuppositions and no ego. Just as a child is innocent of the ways of the world and has no sense yet of having to control things, so must we come into the Kingdom, shedding our desire for control and turn everything over to Jesus, exactly as a child trusts its parents to meet its every need.


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