Psalm 51:13–19; Job 25–27; 1 Corinthians 4:1–15

Psalm 51:13–19: Where the NRSV has the psalmist pleading, “cast me not from Your presence,” Alter uses a more violent verb, “Do not fling me from Your presence.” (13). The mental state of the poet such that he sees himself as mere garbage that God would roughly toss to get the sinner out of his holy presence. Such is the magnitude of his–and our–sins.

And then an important Trinitarian clue: “and Your holy spirit take not from me.” (13b) We have to observe, however, that the poet sees this as an attribute of God, not as the capitalized third person of the Trinity.

But more than pleading for forgiveness and being able to remain in the presence of God, the psalmist now asks God to transform his life, first by restoring the “gladness of Your rescue/ and with a noble spirit sustain me.” (14) Notice that without first a restoration of a right relationship with God, nothing else can happen. But once that has been accomplished by God’s generous forgiveness, then we can act on God’s behalf in relation to those around us: “Let me teach transgressors Your ways.” (14a) And our teaching and example will have an impact on others: “…and offenders will come back to You.” (14b)

Perhaps the most radical part of this psalm –at least to the Jewish contemporaries of the psalmist–is the realization that God is not seeking blood sacrifice: “For You desire not that I should give sacrifice,/ burnt offering You greet not with pleasure.” (18) Rather, God desires a contrite heart: “A broken, crushed heart God spurns not.” (19) Notice how the nature of sacrifice has moved from external action to internal condition. In these few verses the psalmist has truly laid the groundwork for Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice and the consequent indwelling of the Holy spirit.

 Job 25–27: Bildad interrupts Job’s disquisition and asks a profound question: “How then can a mortal be righteous before God?/ How can one born of woman be pure?” (25:4) After all, he notes, before God we are mere maggots and worms. (25:6) (Now, there’s an image to describe our sinful natures!)

Job answers his friend generously: “How you have counseled one who has no wisdom,/ and given much good advice!” (26: 3) Bildad has caused Job to realize that God is all-powerful and therefore unknowable. After all, he suggests, this is the God who causes “The pillars of heaven [to] tremble,/ and are astounded at his rebuke.” (26:11)  And an all-powerful God is unknowable to mere mortals: “how small a whisper do we hear of him!/  But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (26:14).  These are crucial words to remember when we pretend to understand God, or even when we ask God, “Why?” when some disaster occurs. God is not going to tell us why, and even if he did, we would not comprehend his answer.

This insight is basically an intermezzo to Job’s long speech blaming God for his plight, “As God lives, who has taken away my right,/ and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter,” (27:1) But Job than says something next that those who shake their fist at God often do not. He will not abandon his firm belief that despite his woes he has remained faithful–that what has happened to him has not been the result of any faithlessness or wickedness on his part: “I hold fast my righteousness, and will not let it go;/my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.” (27:6) 

Because of his unrelenting faithfulness to God, Job sees his situation, as hopeless as it seems, as superior to that of the wicked who live in apparent ease and prosperity. Job has the one thing that they do not: hope. He reminds his listeners, “For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts them off,/when God takes away their lives?” (27:8) Job remains convinced that in the end, despite all appearances to the contrary, the wicked will receive their just desserts: “Terrors overtake them like a flood;/ in the night a whirlwind carries them off./ The east wind lifts them up and they are gone;/ it sweeps them out of their place.” (27:20, 21). In short, it is far, far better to live in suffering with a firm faith in God than to live in abundance but in the emptiness of a life without God. Something for us to remember as we look around at a culture that increasingly abandons God and attempts to dismantle the moral system that 3000 years of Jewish and Christian belief have laid in place.

1 Corinthians 4:1–15: Paul contrasts himself to those in the Corinthian church who have clearly come to various conclusions about Paul, Apollos and other leaders.  Paul notes that while “ I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It os the Lord who judges me.” (4)  Using himself as the example he states that we cannot judge others because we do not have all the facts in the case. Only God has all the facts: “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” (5) Like the Corinthians, we have been slow to take  Paul’s sound advice to heart.

Rather than complaining, Paul advises us to rejoice in all that we in the church already have: “Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings!” (8) Almost inexplicably, he notes that those in the church are better off than the Apostles themselves: “We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.” (10).

To me this means that our basic stance as Christians is one of thanksgiving for the riches we have received in Christ. That is why I rejoice in the theme at Saint Matthew to reflect on–and be thankful for–all that has come to pass here in the last 50 years. What was true in Corinth is true on Wiget Lane.


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