Psalm 115:1-8; 1 Samuel 23; John 5:1-15

Psalm 115:1-8: The psalmist knows that it is God who gave the victory, “Not to us, O LORD, not to us /but to Your name give glory/ for Your kindness and Your steadfast truth.” (1)

Then, the psalm draws a neat contrast between Israel and the surrounding nations it has just conquered. The conquered nations wonder “where is their God?,” who unlike their physical idols does not seem to be anywhere. The psalmist, along with the rest of Israel knows, “our God is in the heavens— all that He desired He has done.” (3) In other Israel’s God acts from afar and remains invisible.

This psalm reveals just how different God is from all those small-g gods: “Their idols are silver and gold, the handiwork of man,” (4) and as a result are powerless because they lack all the senses and are implicitly dead. They may have mouths, but cannot speak; “eyes” but cannot  see; ears, but cannot hear; feet but cannot walk.

Such are the idols, the little gods that are the handiwork of man, while men–men who can conquer nations–are the handiwork of Israel’s God. A revolutionary concept then, and now as society abandons God to create its own inanimate small-g gods that in the end are completely powerless. These gods have fancier names or seem invisible such as “new age” spirituality that insists that “god is within us.” But as our own self-centered creations they are just as powerless–and just as dead.

1 Samuel 23: This chapter underscores again and again how close David was to God. He asks if he should go to war: “David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” (2) God tells him ‘yes,’ but his men are afraid, so David asks God if he will have a victory and again, God answers, ““Yes, go down to Keilah; for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” (4) and the victory is theirs.  Then as Saul pursues David, he comes to God again, “And now, will Saul come down as your servant has heard? O Lord, the God of Israel, I beseech you, tell your servant.” (11) And again God answers, and he escapes to the hill country where “Saul sought him every day, but the Lord did not give him into his hand.” (14)

The authors are clear: David is connected to God, unafraid to ask direct questions and Daivd is protected by God. Saul says things like “God has given him into my hand;” (7) but Saul has never spoken to God. We can say “God has done this” or “God has done that,” but if like Saul we actually never ask God directly then we are blinded and confused by our own religiosity.

David and Jonathan are reunited and Saul’s son says, “Saul shall not find you; you shall be king over Israel, and I shall be second to you; my father Saul also knows that this is so.” (17) Now we know for sure: Saul “knows this is so” and is so consumed by the jealous rage that David will overthrow him that he knows he must kill David first.

Saul is the archetype of the leader who does not follow God but follows his own fears, consumed by jealousy of someone obviously greater than oneself. These people are so self-centered, so unaware of God that they would rather bring down the kingdom than to accede power. Unfortunately, the history of Israel and all the history ever since tells us that Sauls are always around.

John 5:1-15: Jesus heals the lame man at the Pool of Bethsaida. But again, John has a different take on these miracles than his synoptic peers. Jesus does not just run up to the man, touch him and say, “You’re healed.” Instead he asks the crucial question: “Do you want to be made well?” (4) The man replies affirmatively, and offers proof of that by telling Jesus he can never get to the pool fast enough. Satisfied, Jesus then tells him to get up and walk.

There is something crucial happening here: we must first answer Jesus question whether or not we may wish to be healed. This may seem obvious, yet there are many people today that really do not wish to be healed, but would rather play the victim. Like the man at the pool we must first answer the question. Do we really want to be rescued and transformed from lame to ambulatory by Jesus’ power? And many will say ‘no.’

The Pharisees are unhappy about Jesus doing the work of healing on the Sabbath. Rather than a debate, though, John uses the device of the healed man carrying his mat to raise their ire. As far as the healed man is concerned, being healed trumps obeying the law of the Sabbath. John, in his usual indirect way, is telling us that Jesus trumps the established rules, just as Jesus’ work in Samaria trumped the preconception of Jews being exclusively invited to the party. The revolution is happening right in front of everyone as the edifice of the Old Covenant is being dismantled and replaced one individual at a time by the New. But it’s happening so subtly that it will not be obvious what Jesus has done until the end of the story in the garden. Such is the brilliance of this gospel.

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