Psalm 51:1–6; Job 22,23; 1 Corinthians 3:1–11

Psalm 51:1–6: Alter questions the historical reliability of this psalm’s superscription–“upon Nathan the prophet’s coming to him when he had come to bed with Bathsheba.” However, I prefer to believe that this is truly David’s remorseful psalm of confession as he begs God for forgiveness for the awful crimes of adultery and murder.

In any event it is an eloquent and moving psalm of confession that has become part of the liturgy for both Jewish and Christian worship. This psalm does not require parsing, it requires only that as we read it (preferably aloud) that it moves our heart as we come before God knowing we have sinned and being willing to confess those sins to the Father who loves us:

Grant me grace, God, as befits Your kindness,
with Your great mercy wipe away my crimes.
Thoroughly wash my transgressions away
and cleanse me from my offense.
For my crimes I know,
and my offense is before me always.
You alone have I offended,
and what is evil in Your eyes I have done.
So You are just when You sentence,
You are right when You judge.  (3-7)

The question for me is, am I willing to come in humility before God and confess? Even though I know that my sins will be forgiven, too often my pride blocks confession. And we know that in the larger culture, and even in the church itself, we are so consumed by not denigrating self-worth that even the concept of sin itself is becoming muddied and foreign.

It’s too bad this psalm is no longer a part of the liturgy at Saint Matthew. We are all the poorer by skipping its heartfelt beauty, confessing as a worshipping body only at Lent and then only with anodyne phrases that do not convey half the self-aware agony that lies behind these verses.

Job 22,23: Eliphaz the Temanite is not convinced by Job’s description of God in the previous chapter as he accuses Job of continuing to fail to recognize that God punishes the wicked. End of story.

Again we hear only sarcasm from the would-be friend: “Is it for your piety that he reproves you,/ and enters into judgment with you?” (22:4) ‘Come on, Job, admit your sinfulness; that’s why you’re being punnished!’  He then moves from sarcasm to outright accusation: “Will you keep to the old way/ that the wicked have trod?” (22:15) He’s telling Job to just give up and admit his wickedness: “Agree with God, and be at peace;/ in this way good will come to you.” (22:21) Upon that confession, God will deign to “deliver even those who are guilty.” (22:30)

Job refuses to take Elihaz’s advice. Instead, he would rather come before God directly in God’s courtroom: “I would lay my case before him,/and fill my mouth with arguments.” (23:4) And by confronting God directly, “I would learn what he would answer me,/ and understand what he would say to me.” (23:5) It is by confrontation and reasoned argument that God would “give heed to me.” (23:6)

Job knows in his heart that he has not sinned against God: “he has tested me, I shall come out like gold./ My foot has held fast to his steps;/ I have kept his way and have not turned aside.” (23:10, 11) But then, as Job reflects, the idea of coming before God is too much to bear: “I am terrified at his presence;/ when I consider, I am in dread of him./God has made my heart faint;/ the Almighty has terrified me;.” (23:15, 16)

Job’s argument that he could come before God in innocence and argue his case is remarkably sophisticated. Where Eliphaz argues for Job to simply throw in the towel, Job wishes to come before God. But as a mere mortal the thought of standing in God’s court is terrifying. I’m sure this is where the concept of the Judgement Seat of God comes from. And what Jesus is talking about in the Olivet Discourse: That someday we will all come before God to be held accountable is terrifying–exactly as Job asserts.

1 Corinthians 3:1–11: Paul turns from the theology of God’s wisdom compared against man’s wisdom to the issue at hand: divisions within the Corinthian church. Paul speaks with a bluntness that has all but disappeared form today’s church: “For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?” (4) Alas, the same all-too-human motivations and jealousy that created the divisions at Corinth trace down through the quarreling and divisions that have divided the Church for the past 2000 years.

Right on down to today to the people who decide to skip worship when a pastor they don’t like is preaching. Or withholding an offering because they don’t like the music. It’s a clear warning to churches that are founded on personalities–the Schullers, the Osteens, among others–where it’s more about feel-good self esteem than on carrying out the hard work of the Great Commission. To extend Paul’s metaphor, these are shallow-rooted organizations that have depended on personality rather than God to fuel temporary growth. If there are not deep roots in Jesus Christ they will fade after the personality that drove them leaves the scene.

This is also a reminder of the awesome responsibility laid upon any who have a leadership role in a church. Paul reminds them, “Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.” (10b) But there’s a straightforward metric to measure how well the leader is carrying out his or her job: all must build on the foundation that is Jesus Christ. (11) Those who drift from that foundation have doomed their work.


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