Psalm 103:1-5; Judges 4; Luke 19:1-10

Psalm 103:1-5: The first two verses of this psalm are the words to the popular praise song, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Alter translates the Hebrew word that every other translator calls “soul” differently: “Bless, O my being, the LORD, and everything in me, His holy name.” Maybe it’s my engineering point of view, but I greatly prefer Alter’s us of ‘being’ because ‘soul’ is so ephemeral, but ‘being’ is so identifiably tangible. (Even though “Bless my being, O my Lord” doesn’t scan very well as a lyric…)

‘Soul’ is great; yes I have one, but what exactly is it? My ‘life force?” The piece of me that connects with God? The little thing that floats up to heaven when I die? But ‘being’ connotes all of that and more: my physical being, my thoughts, my feelings and yes, my connection to God. ‘Being’ is all of me, and it is certainly all of me that God has blessed.

The next few verses are almost a catalog of all that God does for me: At the top of the list, “He forgives my wrongs.” And then he “heals my illnesses.” I can sure identify with those two!

And then, He “redeems [my] life from the Pit, crowns [me] with kindness, compassion,” (3) I am saved and my grateful response to being “crowned” with kindness and compassion. Notice the connection: Being redeemed is not just a personal act that occurs in individual isolation, it natural qualities are kindness and compassion, which I in turn, must give to others.

And then, He “sates [me] with good while [I] live— [I] renew [my] youth like the eagle.” (4) How easy it is to focus on the “what ifs” and the “should haves” and all that is missing and wrong, while forgetting that God has showered me in what is good. And, yes, my physical youth is long behind me, but that does not prevent me from having a youthful outlook together with the experiential wisdom that age provides. What a marvelous combination!

 Judges 4:  Having “again [done] what was evil in the sight of the Lord,” Israel lives under an oppressor, Sisera and his 900 iron chariots. They finally  cried out to the Lord for help;”(3) Deborah, the prophetess, who was judging Israel at the time, tells Barak, heading the Israel army to “‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun.” Barak asks Deborah to accompany him, and she replies, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” (9) Speaking with the authority of one who is clearly in command, Deborah tells Barak, ““Up! For this is the day on which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. The Lord is indeed going out before you.” (14) Barak and the Israel army seize the day; all of Sisera’s army except him are killed.

Then there’s Jael, who at first comforts the quaking, defeated commander Sisera, offering him a place to sleep and water. Then calmly drives a tent peg through the head of the sleeping general. Again, a woman who is unafraid. Her single line, spoken to Barak, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.”(22) indicates a steely resolve that men had better not trifle with.

When I hear that various evangelical churches (and the other one based in Salt Lake City) will not allow women on their board of elders, I always wonder how they can ignore Deborah’s and example of leadership. She clearly has the combined qualities of prophet, judge, and strategist. She speaks authoritatively; Barak respects her so much he won’t go into battle without her.  Same for Jael’s cleverness and courage. Apparently Paul’s view of women as people who need to wear hats in church and be quiet trumps these examples of God-led faithfulness, strategic brilliance and courage in a woman.

Both women indicate qualities of leadership (Deborah) and courage (Jael) that are examples to men (here, represented by Barak) and to me, anyway, prove that before God, character and faithfulness are what matter; not gender.

Luke 19:1-10: My familiarity with the story of Zacchaeus dates back to my earliest years in Sunday school. After Jesus’ very heavy prophecies about the coming of the Son of Man, this story, told with whimsical humor but with a very serious lesson is a respite.

Zaccheaus stands in stark contrast to the rich young ruler as he says, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” (8) Here is a man who has his priorities straight; worldly possessions no longer matter to Zaccheaus. More importantly, he wants to set things right. Zaccheaus is a living example of redemption: of complete turning around.

And then those famous words, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (10) Yes, Jesus came to save, but notice the other verb: ‘to seek out.’ Jesus is not just waiting around for people figure out how bad they are and to hit the sawdust trail, but is actively looking for us. It was Jesus who called out to Zaccheaus to come down from the tree; Jesus sought out the tax collector, who up to that moment had simply been an observer.

This is one of those places that underscore for me why the Lutheran theological view that Jesus comes to us rather than us having to somehow stumble across him is so much richer, and yes, so much better than the “Come to Jesus” sermons and the endless “Just as I am” hymns I grew up with. What comfort there is in knowing that, like the short tax collector, I have been sought out by Jesus.

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