Psalm 35:19–28; Exodus 19:10–20:21; Matthew 23:23–32

Psalm 35:19–28: Our psalmist pleads to God, to “Let not my unprovoked enemies rejoice over me/ let my wanton foes not leer.” (19) observing at the same time that he did not prokive their actions and that they are pretty much intrinsically evil. He expands their evildoing ways to be a threat to all people of good will, not just him personally: “For they do not speak peace/ and against the the earth’s quiet ones plot words of deceit.” (20)

As always, outside of physical danger it is what comes out of their mouths that is their most offensive sin: “They open their mouths wide against me.” (21a) And to make sure God gets his point the psalmist quotes what they are saying against him: “They say ‘Hurrah! Hurrah! Our eyes have seen it!” (21b) [I presume “it” here is the psalmist’s supposed wrongdoing.]

Not only has our psalmist witnessed these depredation and evil speech, but he asserts that God himself has seen his enemies evil deeds and these should sure prod God to act [or at least speak] against them: “You, Lord, have seen, do not be mute.” (22a) Having noted that God has surely heard him, now he should surely act on his behalf: “Rouse Yourself, wake for my cause,/ my God and my Master, for my quarrel.” (23).

Our psalmist believes he’s on the side of the angels and his enemies clearly are not: “Judge me by Your justice, Lord, my God,/ and let them not rejoice over me.” (24) He goes on even more specifically about what he needs God to do:
“Let them not say in their heart,
‘Hurrah for ourselves.’
let them be shamed and abased one and all,
who rejoice in my harm.
Let them don shame and disgrace,
who vaunted over me.” (25, 26)

On the other hand, our psalmist knows he still has a few friends and he asks, “May they sing glad and rejoice,/ who desire justice for me.” (27a)

So, the eternal question is can we pray for harm to our enemies? I think the answer even here is clearly ‘no.’ But can we pray for them to “don shame and disgrace?” I really think we can because we are praying for them to “enjoy” the consequences of their wrongful and hurtful words and deeds. One of the greatest frustrations of life is to see others commit injustice and, yes, for them to persecute us and God lets them get away with it. Our poet is praying for justice and  therefore I think he is on firm theological ground with this prayer.

Exodus 19:10–20:21: It is time for the Israelites to experience God up close and personal—or at least reasonably up close. God instructs Moses, ““Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes.” (19:10) Consecration, that is preparing ourselves to encounter the holy, is a prerequisite to worship and hearing God. This action is also a precursor to Baptism: a sacred act.

There is also a hint of a Resurrection to come many years down the road when God announces that all must “prepare for the third day, because on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” As indeed Jesus appeared on the third day.

All of Mount Sinai becomes holy ground as God declares it to be off limits on pain of death. IN preparation for worship the people must not only be clean but men are told to abstain from sex, “do not go near a woman.” (15) On the third day God speaks to Moses, apparently in the sight of the people. Like all theophanies, this one is quite dramatic: thunder, lightning and a trumpet blast whose origin is unclear. God? Angels perhaps? “As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder.” (19) God again warns Moses, ““Go down and warn the people not to break through to the Lord to look; otherwise many of them will perish.” (21)

Inasmuch as Exodus was probably written during the Babylonian captivity, I believe our priestly authors are recounting this scene at the foot of Sinai as a clear precedent to the nature and rules of worship in the Temple, where the Holy of Holies was set off and only the appointed high priest—a descendant of Moses and Aaron—could enter but once a year.

With this elaborate set-up for worship on the mountain, God speaks to Moses. And we know what he said: the Ten Commandments, beginning with the most important one, reminding the people exactly who he was and what his bona fides were: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before  me. (20:2, 3)

I think it’s crucial to note that at this point these commandments were spoken, not written. But what a speech it was—all lightning and crashing thunder— because “When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance,” (20:18) And they told Moses they would listen to him, but could he please make God stop speaking. Moses replies,“Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” (20:20)

There we have a basic terms of the Old Covenant: Fear God and you will be motivated not to sin because otherwise you will die.” And the Ten Commandments list the specific ways in which you are not to sin. But as the history of Israel amply demonstrates, they (and we) are unable to follow the law simply because we fear God. Our self-centeredness and desire to control our own wants and needs are simply too strong.

Matthew 23:23–32: Matthew’s Jesus continues his long discourse about the shortcomings of the religious leaders. In what can only be described as a longstanding human trait, the focus on the tangible trivial while ignoring the really important things. Jesus excoriates them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” This is a verse that should be read prior to every Church Council meeting in the land.

Jesus continues relentlessly, giving us the best metaphor of all about the nature of hypocrisy: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” (27). He challenges their assertion that they would not have killed the prophets as their ancestors had. But Jesus points out their bad logic by observing, “Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets.” (31)

I’m sure that Matthew has included these Jesus speeches, (that spoken by anyone else we would call a tirade), in his gospel to make sure that his primarily Jewish audience understood that the leaders of the Old Covenant were corrupt. The corrupt old order is self-contradictory, finished, and Jesus represents a revolutionary and brand new order.  And, as we are soon to see, this revolutionary new order, what we call the New Covenant, turns on the hinge of history: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


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