Psalm 102:12-22; Judges 1:17-2:23; Luke 18:18-30

Psalm 102:12-22: In a remarkable shift from the personal agony of a man near death, the psalm suddenly takes up a new topic: the woeful state of the nation of Israel, as the psalmist asks for God’s mercy on the nation as previously on an individual: “You, may You rise, have mercy on Zion, 14 for it is the hour to pity her, for the fixed time has come.” (14) The nation is in a desperate state: “For Your servants cherish her stones / and on her dust they take pity.” (15)  Only stones and dust remain.

Unlike the earlier section, there is faith that God will indeed rebuild Zion: “For the LORD has rebuilt Zion, / He is seen in His glory” because God answers their plea: “He has turned to the prayer of the desolate / and has not despised their prayer.” (17) God has answered because He looked and heard: “He has looked  to hear the groans of the captive, / to set loose those doomed to die,” (21).

This is why we pray. We know that we are the creatures of not only a loving God, but an observant and listening God. We are not praying into empty space, but to God who “has gazed down from His holy heights,/ from heaven to earth He has looked.” (20) This image of God peering down from Heaven may be theologically cliched, but it is comforting to know we are indeed not alone and that our cries are indeed heard.

Judges 1:17-2:23: Judah and the others who Joshua left in charge of the army are only partly successful at driving out the Canaanites, although their partial victories cause the Canaanites to end up doing forced labor in most cases.  This first chapter provides a complete inventory of partial success and failure (and some very recognizable place names: Gaza, Ashkelon, among others).  After the victories cataloged in the book of Joshua, this book starts out ominously in terms of the Israelite’s ability to keep their side of God’s Covenant.

For a while things are OK, “The people worshiped the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel.” (2:7). But when that experiential memory dies with Joshua and his staff, the immediacy of the great things God had done for Israel dies in Israel’s collective memory as well.  In its unemotional statement, we see the roots of the tragedies that will eventually befall Israel: “Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” (2:10)  Worse, “they abandoned the Lord, and worshiped Baal and the Astartes.” (2:13)

Form earliest times, every subsequent generation, having not listened to the warnings of its elders, has to learn the same hard lessons all over again. And eqaully true today, as we baby boomers thought we could bring about a new peaceful world and never again, we stupidly thought, would we have to do something so terrible as fight a war.

To bring order out of what was growing chaos in Israel, “the Lord raised up judges, who delivered them out of the power of those who plundered them.” (2:17) But even that fails to work: “Yet they did not listen even to their judges; for they lusted after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their ancestors had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord; they did not follow their example.” (2:18) And there is the tragedy summed up in a nutshell: “they did not follow their example.”

We, who are the younger generation, always think we know better. We ignore the example of those who came before us, thinking somehow we’re morally superior and “now better.” And worst of all, we abandon God in our quest for new, more attractive Gods. It’s difficult to think of a more apt passage to so accurately describe our present pass in history.

Luke 18:18-30: In the end, it’s a question of ordered priorities. If, like the rich young ruler, we lack the imagination to really hear what Jesus is saying, then we’ll never get through that little door–the eye of the needle–into the Kingdom. That’s because we think we have to give up all our stuff, which won’t fit through that eye, in order to “be saved.”

But I think what Jesus is really saying is if you really, truly follow me with your heart, you will happily abandon all the other possessions, including family, into which you’ve placed your hope and security. It all seems to boil down to this: If it’s about me, then my stuff matters and I’ll miss entering the Kingdom; if it’s about Jesus, then I don’t care about my stuff because I’ll come to realize that the Kingdom is far greater.

And then in answer to Peter’s statement, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” we really “get” what Jesus is telling the rich young ruler–and us: Kingdom priority means that “for the sake of the kingdom of God, [there is no one] who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (30) 

There’s something important to notice in what Jesus is saying in this last verse. If we abandon our worldly values and priorities and make the Kingdom as our first priority, we will enjoy “very much more in this age.” That’s right here, right now. And then, later, the promise of eternal life after we die.

How many folks have failed to enjoy the fruits of their Kingdom labor right here on earth because they’ve only focused on “getting to heaven?” The Christian life is infinitely more than “pie in the sky bye and bye.” Jesus is telling the ruler–and us–your very best choice is to work in the Kingdom now because you will really, really love doing so and you will reap rewards you cannot even imagine. Kingdom rewards that are so much better than all our wealth and all our stuff.


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