Archives for October 2016

Psalm 119:121–128; 2 Samuel 22:1–25; John 11:1–16

Psalm 119:121–128: Our psalmist prays to God for the infamous quid pro quo:
I have done justice and righteousness;
do not yield me to my oppressors.
Vouch Your servant for good.
Let not the arrogant oppress me.” (121-122)

This is our natural human tendency in our relationship with God: “I’ve been good, so I therefore deserve God’s protection.” This desire for God’s protection is at least superior to the more common theme of God as Santa Claus that we encounter in those who believe the heresy of the prosperity gospel: “I’ve been good, so shower me with blessings.”

Despite his now having gone on for 120 verses, I have to accept the sincerity of our psalmist. Nevertheless,IMHO, he continues to be pretty overwrought: “My eyes pined for Your rescue/ and for Your righteous utterance.” (123) as he again reminds God of the quid pro quo, hoping to partake of God’s inherent generosity: “Do for Your servant as befits Your kindness/ and teach me Your statutes.” (124) And just to make sure God gets his point, he repeats himself: “Your servant I am, grant me Your insight,/ that I may know Your precepts.” (125)

However, I really should not be too hard on him: he is not asking for wealth or power; he is asking God for insight and ultimately, wisdom. That, I suppose, is a more noble supplication.

And this wisdom seems to instill the psalmist with nascent courage as it appears rather than mere contemplation, he is actually prepared to act on God’s behalf: “It is time to act for the Lord—/they have violated Your teaching.” (126) Nevertheless, what intrigues me here is the very didactic framework of the psalmist’s intended action: people are evil not because they have done bad things, but that they have “violated [God’s] teaching. Yes, in the abstract violation of God’s law what sin is all about, but let’s call wrongdoing for what it is, rather than effectively whitewashing it as mere straying from God’s teaching.

2 Samuel 22:1–25: One of the really cool things about our authors is how they interject poetry into history, reminding us that there were human beings in relationship with God, and that history is not just about intrigue, battles, and conspiracies. Here we encounter this beautiful psalm as a bookend to David’s career—a psalm the authors attribute to David as emblematic of his unshakable relationship with God.

In lines that are reminiscent of the 23rd Psalm and for me, more poignant and powerful than even that psalm, David opens his prayer with a description of the solidity of his relationship with God:
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
   my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation,
    my stronghold and my refuge,
    my savior; you save me from violence.” (2,3)

David’s prayer of gratitude is the essence worship itself: “I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,/ and I am saved from my enemies.” (4) While I have never been confronted by armies of enemies, I can say these lines with the same gratitude as God has been at my side, rescuing me from disease.

This poem includes a wonderful description of God as the God of creation. He is not some kindly bearded old uncle.  God’s apocalyptic power is on full display:
Out of the brightness before him
    coals of fire flamed forth.
The Lord thundered from heaven;

    the Most High uttered his voice.” (13)

It is verses like these that describe God’s ineffable power that keep me from casually referring to God as ‘daddy.’ Yes, he is that, but I think far too many Christians would rather ignore the thundering power of the God who created all things; the God who speaks through the forces of nature, and who created us. When we reflect on what “the rebuke of the Lord,/ at the blast of the breath of his nostrils” (16) actually implies about God, we realize that God cannot be placed into a safe little box of our own making.

David recapitulates what God has done for him in direct, powerful language, fully aware that he could not have defeated his enemies on his own:
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
    from those who hated me;
    for they were too mighty for me.” (18)

Before Jesus, there is also the inevitable acknowledgement that as our psalmist keeps asserting, there is a quid pro quo—even for David:
The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.” (21, 22)

In fact the poem ends on this note that David, having been righteous, has been redeemed by God: “Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness,/according to my cleanness in his sight.” (25)

As always, I am grateful that the terms of the New Covenant have brought me salvation through Jesus Christ rather than through my own efforts.

John 11:1–16: We come to the story of the famous resuscitation of Jesus’ friend, Lazarus— a story found only here because our gospel writer not only wants to give the most dramatic example of Jesus’ salvific power, but where I think our author wants to puts neoplatonism on full display.

We all know the straightforward theological implications of the Larus story: Lazarus is ill; Jesus refuses to go heal him for two days, and his friend dies and is buried. Jesus has a specific plan and asserts that “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (4)

Yet another socratic dialog occurs, once again around the theme of sight and blindness, light and darkness. Noting that it’s far easier to see where we’re going during daylight hours, Jesus observes, “Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” (9, 10) This statement of course operates not only at the physical level, but at the spiritual/philosophical level as well.

So when Jesus says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him” (11) our gospel writer is making it clear that Jesus is not only talking about a healing, but also that the risen Lazarus will be fully awake and fully sighted through the salvific power of the risen Christ: “Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.” (13) For me, this is very similar to Plato’s concept that we humans are stumbling around in a cave where the darkness prevents us from fully comprehending actual truth. For John the gospel writer, Jesus is the light that illumines reality and truth. And as Jesus will observe shortly, he is the sole source of truth (John 14:6). 

Jesus now turns to head back to Judea and ultimately, to Jerusalem. This is a strategically dangerous move as Thomas, who so far has not spoken in this gospel, observes to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (16) As usual, this line operates at both the physical level—after all, the authorities want to stone Jesus and presumably his disciples—but also at the spiritual level: That for all who follow Jesus, our old “Adam” dies through baptism so that we become new creatures in Christ.

Psalm 119:113–120; 2 Samuel 21; John 10:34–42

Psalm 119:113–120: By this point in this psalm there is little new left to say—either for the psalmist or for me.

Once again, he sees himself as beset on all sides and implores, “Turn away from me, evildoers, that I may keep the commands of my God.” (115) Quite frankly, I believe we can keep God’s commands even as evil surrounds us.

I’m suspicious of the psalmists’ motivations here. Is he really asking to be rescued just so he can keep God’s commands? I sense a certain intellectualism here, especially when we compare these verses to the desperate and to me, far more authentic supplications we encounter elsewhere in the Psalms, as e.g. Psalm 22. One suspects Jesus would not have uttered, “Uphold me that I may be rescued/ to regard Your statutes at all times.” (117) from the cross.

Moreover, the psalmist pretends to know God’s motivation and action in the lives of others, especially those whom the psalmist regards as wrongdoers: “You spurned all who stray from Your statutes,/ for their deception is but a lie.” (118) Really? How do you know what God has done to others? [Not to mention the annoying tautology, “their deception is but a lie.”]

But we have to admit that he’s an optimist when he asserts, “Like dross You destroy all the earth’s wicked;/ therefore I love Your precepts.” (119) Last time I looked, and as many other psalms observe, it’s the wicked who always seem to be prospering. But we cannot argue with the last line of the stanza where the psalmist recalls that God is God and “My flesh shudders from the fear of You,/ and of Your laws I am in awe.” (120) God certainly deserves greater fear and reverence than we are wont to show in our modern worship where God comes off too often as an avuncular old man.

2 Samuel 21: In the midst of a famine David inquires of God about its cause. God replies, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” (1) Our authors note that the Gibeonites, while not of Israel or Judah were under Israel’s protection—a pact Saul broke in “his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah.” (2)

David asks the Gibeonites what they desire as recompense. Their answer is stark: they wish to impale the sons of Saul. David complies, although he understandably spares lame Mephibosheth. This incident is a reminder of the blood vengeance that characterized ancient civilization. Of course we cannot be smug about our “superior morals” as we watch the destruction of Aleppo by Russia and Syria and the manifest cruelty on display elsewhere in the Mideast. The veneer of modern civilization is thin.

Saul and his sons, including Jonathan, are given a proper burial and “After that, God heeded supplications for the land.” (14) Which doesn’t sound all that different from the kinds of propitiation of the small-g gods that surrounding tribes engaged in.

The Philistines again “went to war again with Israel.” (15) Aging David “grew weary” in battle. A descendant of Goliath and a giant himself swears vengeance on David, but “Abishai son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and attacked the Philistine and killed him.” (17a) It’s clear that David’s days as active warrior are at an end and “David’s men swore to him, “You shall not go out with us to battle any longer, so that you do not quench the lamp of Israel.” (17b) So, David retires from the battlefield.

The battles with the Philistines continue who produce more giants “descended from the giants in Gath” (22) , including one with 12 fingers and 12 toes(!). They taunt Israel but all are killed by Israel’s soldiers.

Our takeaway from this chapter is one of unrelenting battles as Israel, under David’s leadership both on and off the battlefield, consolidates its territory and its power. And God continues to be actively involved as David never fails to got to God before acting.

John 10:34–42: Our gospel writer cannot resist having Jesus explain his actions using scripture. Here, Jesus refutes the assertion that he is a blasphemer by pointing out that the leaders cannot recognize “one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” (36).

Once again,  the choice is binary: “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me.”  (37) Or, “if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (38) Unsurprisingly, this assertion of God being within Jesus only enrages the leaders further and they try to arrest Jesus, “but he escaped from their hands.” (39)

Jesus flees to the Jordan and (surprise, surprise), “many believed in him there.” (42) It’s still all about belief. However, this belief of the hoi polloi seems  rooted more in Jesus’ miracles than in his words that he is God’s son.

In his effort to create a lengthy socratic dialogue between Jesus and the religious leaders, our gospel writer creates a very didactic Jesus. But for me, this is not the compelling Jesus we encounter in the synoptics.


Psalm 119:105–112; 2 Samuel 19:31–20:26; John 10:22–33

Psalm 119:105–112: This stanza includes the most well known metaphor in this psalm—and one I memorized in 5th grade Sunday School: “A lamp to my feet is Your word/ and a light to my path.” (105)

I think understanding that scripture is a guide to a live well lived is crucial not only to the Jewish life, as was our psalmist’s intent here, but to the Christian life as well. Too often, the temptation is to make the bible an end  of the Christian life rather than the means. For Christians, Jesus is the end, not the bible. Many well-meaning evangelicals would rather stay inside the safe boundaries of their church studying the bible rather than getting out into the world and living as Jesus would have us live; caring for the widows and bringing justice to the poor.

This metaphor presumes we are walking a winding narrow, often rocky, path through life. We need a light to see through the fog and darkness of the culture we live in. Scripture is our guide through life.

The psalmist goes on to observe that “My life is at risk at all times,/ yet Your teaching I do not forget.” (109) He is not living in cloistered safety, but as we have learned over and over in this lengthy psalm, he is out in the world living among his enemies: “The wicked set a trap for me,” (110a) But he can turn to scripture—and we can turn to Jesus and then to scripture —for safety: “My shelter and shield are You./ For Your word I have hoped.” (114)

2 Samuel 19:31–20:26: Before David leaves the trans-Jordan to return to Jerusalem, he wishes to have Barzillai the Gileadite who “had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man” (19:32) return to Jerusalem with him.

But Barzilla is 80 years old and speaks profound words for what it is like to grow old: “Can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women?” (35) As I approach my 70th birthday, these words have great resonance for me.

Barzilla’s only request is  to “let your servant return, so that I may die in my own town, near the graves of my father and my mother.” (37) David agrees.

We see hints of the enormous national split to come in the future in the confrontation between the people of Israel and those of Judah. Israel is upset that Judah has “stolen away, and brought the king and his household over the Jordan, and all David’s men with him.” (41) The people of Judah respond that “the king is near of kin to us. Why then are you angry over this matter?” (42) Israel counters that “We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you. Why then did you despise us?” (43) This is the same tension between Israel and Judah that eventually splits into two separate kingdoms. It has been present from the beginning. The nation will become increasingly polarized, just as America has become polarized. Will we meet the same fate?

King David is plagued by dissention in the ranks. Having not learned their lesson in the Absalom affair, “the people of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba son of Bichri, but the people of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.” (20:2)

Back in Jerusalem, David metes out punishment to the “ten concubines whom he had left to look after the house” (20:3), provides for them but locks them away “until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.” (20:3) presumably because having laid with Absalom they are now spoiled goods. One wonders if the concubines could have resisted Absalom, so to our modern sensibilities this seems to be an unfair punishment.

More intrigue follows. David gives orders to capture and kill Sheba. David’s general Amasa apparently abandons David by failing to return after three days with the army. Joab comes across Amasa in the field and believing him to be a traitor, embarses to kiss Amasa, instead stabs him in the gut.

Joab’s army approaches the town where Sheba is hiding. A woman, realizing that Joab’s army will destroy the city in the battle to capture Sheba: “I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel; you seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel; why will you swallow up the heritage of the Lord?” (20:19)

She tells Joab that she will hand over the head of Sheba in order to avoid the destruction of the city, which she does, thereby saving her city from destruction. As the authors point out, she is a wise woman. But as usual, the authors do not name her. What’s fascinating here is that it is a woman who brings peace through shrewd negotiation. Once again, a woman is a more effective peacemaker than hot-headed men.

John 10:22–33: Far more than the synoptic gospels, John describes the deep tensions that Jesus has created in Jerusalem because of his ambiguous assertions that he is the Messiah that has come directly from God. The “Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (24) But as usual, Jesus does not come right out and assert his messiahship as I’m sure many others had before him. Instead, he tells the Jews, “I have told you, and you do not believe.” (25a) Jesus asserts that the miracles he’s worked should serve as sufficient proof: “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” (25b) Once again, the overarching theme is that belief is essential. Jesus knows that even if he told them outright they would still doubt.

Knowing that what he’s about to say will anger them further, Jesus tells them “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” (26) Here is John’s binary world at its starkest. You’re either inside the sheepfold because you believe in Jesus or you’re not because you don’t believe: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” (27)

Jesus again emphasizes his relationship with God the Father: “The Father and I are one.” (30) This angers the crowd even further and they pick up stones to kill Jesus. He calmly replies, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” (32) Someone in the crowd just as calmly replies, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” (33)

So there it is: Jesus is unacceptable to conventional religion. His claims are just too outrageous. Again and again, John is reminding us that we cannot remain on the fence. Either one believes in Jesus or one does not. We cannot rationalize our way out of that decision. Either go through the gate of Jesus into the sheepfold or remain outside. Those who say Jesus is simply a “good teacher” but reject his assertions of messiahship clearly remain outside the fold.


Psalm 119:97–104; 2 Samuel 18:31–19:30; John 10:11–21

Written from Madison, Wisconsin.

Psalm 119: 97-104: Our psalmist continues his love poem to God’s teaching: “How I loved Your teaching,/ All day long it was my theme.” (97) But there’s more than mere infatuation here as he acknowledges the real benefits of following God’s laws: It makes him “wiser than my enemies” (98a) because “it is mine forever.” (98b) No other person can take God’s gift away from him.

God’s laws also provide deeper insight than any human wisdom and therefore, “I have understood more than all my teachers” (99a) again because “Your precepts became my theme.” (99b) In other words, it is his singular focus on God’s law whereby “I gained insight more than the elders/ for Your decrees I kept.” (100) Obviously, the implication here is that his teachers and elders have not been as focused in keeping God’s law as he. Once again, we see the roots of Pharisaism when our poet begins seeing him as superior to others—even those who are ostensibly his betters.

The psalmist’s religious self-righteousness again  peeks out from behind the curtain when he claims a level of moral purity and exclusivity with God not achieved by others: “From Your laws I did not swerve,/ for You Yourself instructed me.” (102) For me, he becomes downright unctuous as  he declares, “How sweet to my palate Your utterance,/ more than honey to my mouth.” (103) IMO, we see a more honest version of the poet in the last verse of this stanza: “From Your decrees I gained insight,/ therefore I hated all paths of lies.” (104)

Notice that he hates all ‘paths of lies,” which is the habit of falsity, not merely the lies themselves—a trait rather common in politicians. In fact, for me, that is the chief takeaway of this stanza: if we follow God we are less likely to follow the ‘paths of lies,’

2 Samuel 18:31–19:30: The Cushite arrives at David’s camp. David asks in desperation,“Is it well with the young man Absalom?” (18:32a) The messenger answers with superb diplomacy, complimenting Absalom but simultaneously making it clear that he is dead: “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.” (32b) David famously mourns, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (18:33)

David’s mourning dampens the morale of the victorious troops. Joab challenges the king’s public display of emotion, telling David that “You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.” (19:6) Joab goes on to make his point that “if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than any disaster that has come upon you from your youth until now.” (7) In short, David’s public mourning has put his very bona fides as king at risk.  Joab knows a thing or two about leadership and his words are a striking reminder that leaders must continue to lead despite their personal emotions—even the death of a son.

Meanwhile, the Israelites who had backed Absalom are now without a king. David sends a message to Zadok and his son that the elders of Judah should not hesitate to bring him back to the throne. David returns to Jerusalem as king. Servants such as Shimei, who had sided with Absalom, realize they are doomed if David returns and decides to exact vengeance for their treachery.

A certain Abishai asks,“Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?” (21) Shemei admits his sin and begs David for mercy, which he grants.

Saul’s grandson (and Jonathan’s son), lame Mephibosheth, whom David has granted a place in the palace, comes to greet David in a disheveled state. David asks, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” (25). M replies that he was deceived by his servant and because of his handicap could not follow David. M throws himself on the mercy of David, who responds generously, “Why speak any more of your affairs? I have decided: you and Ziba shall divide the land.” (29) M declines the offer, saying, “Let [Ziba] take it all, since my lord the king has arrived home safely.” (30)

The common theme through this passage of David receiving the news about Absalom, his mourning, the resumption of his role as king, and his generous acts of mercy all show David as the exemplar of kingly leadership. The lessons here are completely applicable to any person today in a leadership role—especially in the church.

John 10:11–21: One thing we can say about our gospel writer: he never leaves us hanging on Jesus’ often ambiguous statements which the synoptic writers do not always explain. John makes every effort to ensure we fully understand Jesus’ metaphors and parables, as he does here. There is no confusion as Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (11)

Religious authorities are mere hired hands, who are not loyal to the people they are supposed to lead: “The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.” (13) Again, John gives us a strong hint of Jesus’ fate when Jesus repeats, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” (15)

Clearly, up to this point, the sheep represent the Jews to whom Jesus is preaching. But then Jesus speaks of non-Jewish sheep: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” (16a) These ‘other sheep’ are Gentiles and Jesus has come equally for them. Regardless of race or background, all humanity can come to Jesus and “there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (16b). Paul (who is actually writing earlier than the gospel writer) of course amplifies this when he says there is no distinction among those to whom Jesus has come: neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free man.

Jesus then provides a strong hint of his death and resurrection: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” (17) Perhaps even more startling, he asserts that he is in complete control of this event: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.” (18a) Our gospel writer is telling us in no uncertain terms that Jesus’ death was not based neither on circumstance nor on human intervention. Jesus’ death and resurrection has been preordained by God himself: “I have received this command from my Father.” (18b)

No wonder many in the crowd though he was a crazy man. But others sensed that because Jesus healed the blind man—up to this point Jesus’ most astounding miracle—that something far greater than a demon-possessed rabbi was at work here. Of course since we know the outcome of the story, we know which side was right.

Psalm 119:89–96; 2 Samuel 18:1–30; John 10:1–10

Psalm 119:89–96: One of the threads running through this endless psalm is God as creator. Our psalmist views God’s word as one of the key elements of creation eternally intertwined in physical nature:
“Forever, O Lord,
Your word stands high in the heavens.
For all generations Your faithfulness.
You made the earth firm and it stood.” (89, 90)

God’s laws came into being at the moment of creation and are inextinguishable: “By Your laws they stand this day,/ for all are Your servants.” (91) For our psalmist, it is searching, understanding, and abiding in God’s law as an integral part of creation that affords rescue: “Had not Your teaching been my delight,/ I would have perished in my affliction.” (92)

Once again, there is supplication. The psalmist feels he deserves God’s rescue because he has been faithful to God’s law: “I am Yours, O rescue me,/ for Your decrees I have sought.” (94) And again, it is because he has been unjustly targeted by his enemies: “Me did the wicked hope to destroy.” (95b)

God’s law is not merely part of creation, it transcends it: “For each finite thing I saw an end—/ but Your command is exceedingly broad.” (96) God’s laws are intrinsic to creation and expressed in the wonders of particle physics. The more science seeks to understand creation, the more mysteriously wonderful it becomes. Our psalmist is exactly right. Were it not for God’s law expressed through the laws of nature creation could not exist. We are not here by coincidence.

2 Samuel 18:1–30: As Hushai had pointed out to Absalom, David is a savvy warrior. He divides his army into thirds and announces he will go into battle with his men. His generals object, stating that David is “worth ten thousand of us.” (3). They ask him to remain at the city, which he agrees to do as “the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands.” (4) However, David instructs his general to “deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” (5) Our authors note that “all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.” (5)

Unsurprisingly, David’s army is victorious and “the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men.” (7) As for Absalom, he is riding a donkey, passes under a too-low tree and his neck is caught in the branches as the donkey rides on. The man who saw this informs Joab, who is angry the soldier did not finish off Absalom right there and then. The soldier responds that he had heard David’s command to go gently on his son. Joab will have none of this mercy stuff and tells the man, “I will not waste time like this with you.” (14) as he thrusts three spears into Absalom’s heart.

The battle is over and the troops bury Absalom under “a very great heap of stones.” (17) Zadok’s son Ahimaaz asks Joab if he can deliver the news of Absalom’s death to David. Joab does not allow this and sends a resident alien instead. Ahimaaz persists in his desire to bring the news to David and proceeds to run behind the appointed messenger.

David sees Ahimaaz approach and believes that since “He is a good man, and comes with good tidings.” (27) Ahimaaz shouts, “All is well,” and when David asks about Absalom, Ahimaaz replies only that “I saw a great tumult, but I do not know what it was.” (29) Since messengers carrying bad news often met a grim end Ahimaaz is understandably afraid to tell David the truth.

Our authors have expressed an enormous range of human emotion in this brilliantly written story, which is why I believe this is authentic history, albeit written by the victors. We see David’s love for his son even though he has usurped the throne, as well as his optimism when Ahimaaz approaches. We understand Joab’s anger when he kills Absalom for what he believes is unforgivable treason. We witness Ahimaaz’s enthusiasm to bring the news and then his hesitation as he is unable to bring the bad news to David. Human passion and behavior has remained unchanged over the three millennia since these events took place.

John 10:1–10: Our gospel writer moves from the metaphor of the blind and sight to the metaphor of those under the protection of Jesus as good shepherd. In yet another echo of the underlying binary theme of this gospel—one believes or doesn’t believe—Jesus points out that there is one and only one way to the protection of the sheepfold: through the gate. And “the one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” (2)

He goes on to describe how the sheep follow the shepherd “because they know his voice.” (4) Moreover, the sheep run from a stranger  “because they do not know the voice of strangers.” (5) Needless to say, this extended metaphor is pretty opaque and his listeners (presumably his disciples) “did not understand what he was saying to them.” (6) [Nor would we at this point.]

So Jesus patiently explains the metaphor: “I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.” (7, 8) This is a shocking statement because John’s Jesus is effectively saying that all of Jewish law and tradition, not to mention the religious leaders are “thieves and bandits.” This assertion certainly seems to fly in the face of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount where Jesus say, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17)

As usual, this polarizing statement supports of John’s overarching theme: One believes in Jesus and who he says he is or one does not. Jesus’ next sentence makes this abundantly clear: “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” (9) But all others who purport to speak for God are relegated to the category of usurpers: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”  (10a) This was certainly a shot across the bow of the competitors preaching a different gospel in John’s community.

If we ever needed a clear statement of the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation, we find it here in this brief but luminous statement: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (10b) Would that we could strip away all our theological baggage and simply bask in the reality of this transcendent promise.


Psalm 119:81–88; 2 Samuel 17; John 9:35–41

Psalm 119:81–88: We reach the halfway point of this seemingly endless psalm…Our psalmist opens this stanza of supplication with a slightly romantic turn in describing his desire for a relationship with God’s word: “My being longs for Your rescue,/ for Your word I hope./ My eyes pine for Your utterance.” (81, 82a).  As we already know, he has endured some kind of trial, whose details he hasn’t really revealed. Here, he uses a rather arresting simile to describe his ability to follow God’s laws even under the most intense trials, “Though I was like a skin-flask in smoke,/ Your statutes I did not forget.” (83)

With this justification of faithfulness, the poet turns to supplication, wondering when God will give him justice: “When will You exact justice from my pursuers?” (84b) After all, he argues, unlike him, they do not follow God’s laws: “The arrogant have dug pitfalls for me,/ which are not according to Your teaching.” (85)

We finally get a glimpse of the psalmist’s heart as he abandons his rational arguments and simply cries out to God: “For no reason they pursued me—help me!” These pursuers have “nearly put an end to me on earth” (87a) while he again states his unwavering faithfulness to God’s word: “yet I forsook not Your decrees.” (87b)

The stanza concludes with a final appeal that God should rescue  him so that he can live in order to continue to obey God: “As befits Your kindness give me life,/ that I may observe Your mouth’s precept.” (88)

I think I know what’s bothering me about this psalm. The psalmist seems to desire a relationship with God’s word/ law/ precepts rather than a relationship with God himself. As I’ve observed many times already, this intense focus on word and law was certainly a foundational document for the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.

2 Samuel 17: The traitorous adviser, Ahithophel, has more nastiness toward David up his sleeve as he suggests that Absalom appoint 12,000 men to pursue David and his people. His plan would be to assassinate David only, throwing his followers into panic. He promises, “I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband.” (3) Absalom and “the elders of Israel” are pleased with this suggestion.

Unaware that Hushai is David’s spy, Absalom asks the retainer whether or not Ahithophel’s plan is wise. Hushai replies, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” (8) pointing out that A’s plan is flawed because “your father is expert in war; he will not spend the night with the troops” (8) Hushai offers an alternative plan: “my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beer-sheba, like the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person.” (11) Absalom prefers this advice and prepares for battle.

Meanwhile, Hushai goes to the priests Zadok and Abiathar and tells them to send two servants to warn David. Unfortunately, the messengers are betrayed to Absalom and forced to hide in a well. Nevertheless, they elude capture and get the word to David, telling him to take his army and cross over the Jordan.

His advice ignored, Ahithophel goes home and hangs himself. Absalom takes his army, crosses the Jordan and camps in Gilead. Our authors name the people who brings supplies to David’s army as they hide out in the wilderness. The preparations for the battle about to come appear to be complete.

Is there a theological lesson here? Not really. This story shines a light on every human quality. Mendacity and treachery are hardly new to our age. But neither is courage and kindness.

John 9:35–41: John moves to the conclusion of the most symbolically and theologically fraught miracle in all the gospels. Jesus heard that the Pharisee had driven the healed man out of the temple and seeks him out. This is a great reminder that it is Jesus who seeks us out in order to have an relationship with us—quite a contrast to the 119 psalmist who is constantly seeking God.

Jesus asks the direct question that is at the foundation of this gospel: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The formerly blind man inquires for all of us, for this is the essence of the evangelicum—the Good News: “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” (36)

At this point, John the gospel writer is no longer being symbolic or theologically sophisticated: Jesus’ answer is perfectly direct: “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” (37) And John is telling us that the man’s reply is our reply: “Lord, I believe.” (38). There it is. Three words, and once these words are uttered by the man, he worships Jesus. Exactly our response 2000 years later.

John draws his theological argument to a close by stating Jesus’ raison d’etre—why he came to earth in the first place: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”(39) Here, seeing/ blindness is strictly spiritual. Those who are formerly spiritually blind believe and thereby see Jesus and his salvific power. Those, who like the Pharisees, think they have gained spiritual insight through their own efforts and study (I’m thinking of you, 119 psalmist…) remain blind to the glorious reality of Jesus himself.

The Pharisees who come to Jesus and assert, “We see,” have not found salvation through the “seeing” of theological understanding or understanding. Thus, as Jesus informs them, they remain in sin rather than believing in him. It’s so simple that it’s obscure. Belief centers on one thing only: That Jesus is who he says he is. As usual, it’s a strictly binary choice.


Psalm 119:73–80; 2 Samuel 15:30–16:23; John 9:13–34

Psalm 119:73–80: One of the remarkable aspects of this overlong psalm is how skilled its author is at recapitulating the same themes again and again and yet, there’s usually something new to be discovered. Here, there is the connection between God as creator and how he instills our moral awareness: “Your hands made me and set me firm.” (73a)

Moreover, his piety is not only visible to God, but is an object of praise in other pious folks: “Those who fear You see me and rejoice,/ for I hope for Your word.” (74) The psalmist has but one overriding purpose in life to connect with God through his word: “May Your mercies befall me, that I may live, for Your teaching is my delight.” (77)

As always, there is the barely concealed wish for God to curse those who have slandered him: “May the arrogant be shamed, for with lies they distorted my name.” (78a) By contrast, our psalmist will attend to his sacred duties regardless of what they say: “As for me, I shall dwell on Your decrees.” (78b)

But there is more than simple self-righteousness going on here. The psalmist writes as someone in power, perhaps a priest who has been abandoned by his followers because of the untrue charges brought against him by his enemies: “May those who fear You turn back to me,/ and those who fear You turn back to me.” (79) Finally, he prays for personal piety: “May my heart be blameless in Your statutes,/ so that I be not shamed.” (80)

The question for me is, would I be able to ignore public shaming and turn back to God? Or would I lash out at my enemies, rather than leaving their shaming up to God as our psalmist does here?

2 Samuel 15:30–16:23: A weeping David is on the run after his son, Absalom, has usurped the throne. Even his most trusted advisor, Ahithophel, has conspired against him. However, as a man of God, David has not lost hope. He enlists his faithful servant, Hushai the Archite, to return to Jerusalem as his spy. David instructs Hushai to report what he hears at Absalom’s court to Zadok the priest and his son, who are also David’s ally.

Nevertheless, David still has plenty of enemies. Shimel, from Saul’s house is happy to see David brought low. He curses and throws rocks at David and his companions as they pass by, shouting that David has finally received his comeuppance: “See, disaster has overtaken you; for you are a man of blood.” (16:8) Abishai, who is with David, asks permission to kill this miscreant. But as always, David leaves vengeance up to God, pointing out, “My own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Let him alone, and let him curse.” (16:11)

Meanwhile, back at Jerusalem, the spy, Hushai, shows up and appears to give obeisance to the usurper king. Absalom is suspicious, wondering why David’s friend would throw his lot over to Absalom: “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?” (16:17) Hushai replies that “the one whom the Lord and this people and all the Israelites have chosen [i.e., Absalom], his I will be.” (18) And promises to serve Absalom. David now has ears inside Absalom’s court.

Now that he is on the throne, Absalom asks his counselor, Ahithophel, what he should  do to consolidate his power. the counselor replies that he should have sex with all of David’s concubines. Moreover, he should do so in public by pitching a tent on the palace roof.

Can anything get worse for David?

John 9:13–34: Jesus’ healing of the blind man has caused an enormous stir among the Pharisees, who continue to investigate how he had been healed. There is dissention within the group. Some assert that Jesus has worked on the sabbath, “But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” (16) Still others doubt the man was ever blind at all.

On this latter doubt, the Pharisees send for the man’s parents. However, the parents are smart enough not to walk into the trap the Pharisees have laid. They tell them to ask their son directly, “He is of age; ask him.” (23) So, they drag the poor man back in front of them a second time and again ask for the details of the healing. Understandably miffed, the healed man replies, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?” (27a) But then is an act of unintentional irony, he adds, “Do you also want to become his disciples?” (27b).

This response elicits more anger as the Pharisees assert, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” (29) John uses the healed man’s reply to drive home the overriding theme of this healing: “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” (30) The blind man continues with startling theological insight, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (33) Enraged, the pharisees curse him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” (34)

Our gospel writer is making sure that his community (and we) understand that Jesus is greater than Moses and that this incident is physical proof of what he has asserted in the opening lines of his gospel: Jesus is the Word, who unlike Moses, has come directly from God. Moreover, we may have been born in sins, but when we believe in Jesus, we are indeed given much more than physical sight; like the blind man, we are given spiritual insight.


Psalm 119:65–72; 2 Samuel 15:1–29; John 9:1–12

From Geneva, Illinois…

Psalm 119:65–72: Our psalmist continues to affirm how God’s good teaching put his life on the straight and narrow path: “Good You have done for Your servant,/ O Lord, as befits Your word.” (65) His trust now resides in only one place: “Good insight and knowledge teach me,/ for in Your commands I trust.” (65) How much better it is for us, under the terms of the New Covenant, to be able to place our trust not only in God’s commands, but in Jesus Christ as well.

God is the source of goodness and our psalmist desires to know more. Once again we see the underlying theme of this (endless) psalm: following God’s teaching is the only path to a live well lived: “You are good and do good./ Teach me Your statutes.” (68) By contrast, he observes, “The arrogant plaster me with lies—/ I with whole heart keep Your decrees.” (69)

Those who do not follow God’s teachings become indolent: “Their heart grows dull like fat—” (70a) Apparently our psalmist was once like them but then received God’s wake-up call through an unidentified peril, perhaps illness. Looking back, he sees that this event was how he turned his life around to follow God: “It was good for me that I was afflicted,/ so that I might learn Your statutes.” (71) Now, knowing God, he has his life’s priorities in the right order: “Better for me Your mouth’s teaching/ than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.” (72). The question here is, do I value the love of God more than material wealth? Are my priorities in the right place?

2 Samuel 15:1–29: History is littered with examples of the children of great men being scoundrels. Absalom is no exception. Turning those who came to Jerusalem to bring their business to King David are turned away, as Absalom announces “there is no one deputed by the king to hear you.” (3) Instead, behaves as if he is the arbiter and usurps David’s role as judge and king. “Then all who had a suit or cause might come to me, and I would give them justice.” (4) Thus, “Absalom stole the hearts of the people of Israel.” (6)

After doing this for four years, he tells his father he is going to Hebron to offer sacrifices, when in reality he is planning a coup d’etat, sending messengers throughout Israel to announce Absalom is king when the people hear the trumpet: “The conspiracy grew in strength, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.” (12)

David realizes that Absalom is now far more popular than he, and the king flees Jerusalem. While the Israelites may have forsaken David, the resident aliens in Israel have not.  Ittai the Gittite, promises undying loyalty to David, but David advises Ittai and his retinue to leave him.

In the meantime, Zadok and the Levites, “carrying the ark of the covenant of God” appear. David instructs Zadok to carry the ark back to Jerusalem, and seek what God has to say about David remaining king, stating that “if I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and the place where it stays.” (25) But if David is no longer right before God, then “let him do to me what seems good to him.” (26) Zadok complies and we await the outcome.

The point of this story is that currying favor among the people and building a personality cult is not the same as being a man of God. [And we’ve seen plenty of examples in the church, e.g., many televangelists.] As always, David consults God before taking action or in this case, seeking with all his heart whether or not he should remain king. When we examine our current celebrity-obsessed culture, we see little Absaloms all around us, including those running for political office. The lesson here is crystalline: popularity and being in fashion lead many astray and are ultimately foundations built on sand.

John 9:1–12: The story of the blind man given sight by Jesus operates on several levels. There is the incident itself: a man born blind is given sight by Jesus. What’s most intriguing at this level is that Jesus did not just heal instantly. Rather by placing saliva-based mud on the man’s eyes and asking the man to wash at the pool of Siloam, the man participated in his own healing. He had to take action himself in order to be healed.

At the sociological level, those around Jesus ask if the man is blind from birth because of his own sin or the sin of his parents. This is a perfectly natural question in a culture that believe physical disability was the direct result of sin. Jesus is not trapped into answering this two-alternative forced choice, but offers the third unexpected answer: neither. Rather than expounding on this, Jesus changes the subject, pointing out that “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (3) In short, it seems the man was born blind just so Jesus could demonstrate his power to heal.

As usual with John, there is the overlay of urgency. Jesus will be here only a short time before the end of history: “We must work the works of him who sent me[b] while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” (4). Clearly, John is telling his community that time is short and they need to get on with God’s work.

The third level of this story is of course theological: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (5) And just as Jesus has given the blind man sight, it is light that will give all believers sight—and insight. All of are blind to God’s reality and benevolence until we are healed, given sight, by Jesus.

The fourth level is that Jesus tends to sow confusion wherever he goes—one of the symptoms of blindness. The man’s acquaintances are confused: “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” (9) Even though the formerly blind man tells them, “I am the man” (10) they remain skeptical. They ask incredulously how he was given sight and he replies by simply describing what happened. But even then they don’t believe him (here’s John’s overarching theme of belief once again) and they try to find Jesus. But Jesus has left the building. Unless we believe we will remain confused by Jesus’ claims, as well as the claims of the people who have experienced Jesus’ healing powers.



Psalm 119:33–40; 2 Samuel 10,11; John 8:1–11

Psalm 119:33–40: In this stanza the first four verses are a variation on the there of learning God’s laws so the psalmist can

  • keep [your statutes] it without fail” (33);
  • receive “insight that I may keep Your teaching;” (34)
  • stay “on the track of Your commands,/ for in it I delight;” (35)
  • incline “my heart to Your precepts/ and not to gain.” (36)

Statutes. Teaching. Commands. Precepts. These are the foundational synonyms for the upright Jewish education leading to an upright life as practiced by the the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. Unfortunately, this intense education too often became the end rather than the means. Nicodemus stands out in John’s gospel as the Pharisee who truly followed the path outlined here by the psalmist by never forgetting that God’s statutes/ teaching/ commands/ precepts are the way to a fulfilling and spiritually rich life that is based in the heart rather than the head.

It appears that our psalmist had some sort of preaching or lecturing duties to communicate this teaching to others as he asks, “Fulfill for Your servant Your utterance,/ which is for those who fear You.” (38) These teachings are also the way to avoid social opprobrium: “Avert my disgrace that I feared,/ for Your laws are good.” (39)

In the end there is an subtly stated quid pro quo: “Look, I have desired Your decrees./ In Your bounty give my life.” (40) For the observant Jew, if the law was kept, God will give him life.

There is nothing wrong with this desire. Even though we Christians are saved by grace and not by the law, there’s no question that walking the path that Jesus gives us [“I came to fulfil the law”] is far more fulfilling than pretending God and God’s laws do not exist. After all, biblical precepts are the glue that has held civilization together.  As these laws are ignored or changed to suit our cultural whims, life will become far more coarse. As seems to be our present societal path.

2 Samuel 10,11: Through military power, David has established relatively peaceful relationships with surrounding nations, one of them being the Ammonites. When the king dies and his son comes to the throne, David seeks to establish an amicable relationship and says, “I will deal loyally with Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father dealt loyally with me.” (10:2). But it’s clear that the new king is young and naive as he succumbs to the wiles of the Ammonite princes and has David’s envoys stripped and half(!) their beards cut off. David will not allow this insult to pass, he “sent Joab and all the army with the warriors.” (7)

The Ammonites hire Aramean mercenaries to defend their city placing them out in the open, while the Ammonites themselves gather around the city gate. Joab sees the implications of this two-front battle and deploys “some of the picked men of Israel, and arrayed them against the Arameans” (9) under his brother, while the main Israelite forces under Joab go against the Ammonites. The Aramean mercenaries flee and the Ammonites retreat back into their city. Joab returns to Jerusalem and David pursues the Arameans, whom he conquers, “so the Arameans were afraid to help the Ammonites any more.” (10:19)

Our authors continue their narrative rhythm between battle and domesticity as they turn from David the warrior to David the lover. Strolling on the roof of his house, David spies “a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.” (11:2) David has been informed that her name is Bathsheba and that she is married to one of his generals, Uriah. Depsite this knowledge, he has her brought to him and he has  sex with her. Shortly thereafter she comes to him announcing she’s pregnant.

David tries a ruse to avoid knowledge among others of his paternal responsibility by bringing Uriah back into town so that he will have sex with his wife. “But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house.” (9) Then he gets Uriah drunk, thinking he’ll go have intercourse with his wife. But that scheme comes to nothing as well.

Now desperate, David commands Joab to “set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” (11:15) Joab obeys and “some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well.” (17)

Because of this military defeat, Joab expects David to be angry when the news of this defeat and the death of Uriah is brought to the king. Quite the contrary. David’s plan to get Uriah out of the way has succeeded and he instructs the messenger to tell Joab, “‘Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another; press your attack on the city, and overthrow it.’” (25) In short, david is saying, ‘No big deal.’ Joa must certainly have been puzzled about this response by his king.

David brings the mourning Bathsheba into his house, doubtless explaining her to be pregnant by Uriah since her husband was not around to defend himself.  Shortly after, she bore David a son.

Our authors do not whitewash the enormity of David’s sins of deception and proxy murder. David, man of God except when he thinks with his penis rather than following God with his heart, is shortly to receive his comeuppance. Even the greatest and mightiest have fallen prey to their sexual proclivities and then conspire to hide it by any means possible, even murder. Right up to current events.

John 8:1–11: The scribes and Pharisees bring an adulterous woman to Jesus. They point out that by law she should be stoned. In order to trap Jesus “so that they might have some charge to bring against him” (6a) they ask Jesus, “Now what do you say?” (5) Rather than responding verbally, “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.” (6b) Alas, John does not tell us what he was writing. They continue to nag him, Jesus finally responds with the famous admonition, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (7) John tells us that Jesus bends down again and continues writing.

It really doesn’t matter what Jesus was writing in the sand. His words, accompanied by his studied indifference to the elders and Pharisees defuses the dramatic confrontation and, “when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders.” (9) Jesus didn;t have to tell them they were sinners; they figured it out themselves.

Soon, only Jesus and the woman are standing there and he asks her if there are any accusers still there. She replies, “No one, sir,” Jesus says,“Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (11) I’m willing to bet that the woman, rescued from death, enthusiastically obeyed Jesus words.

The lesson here is that we cannot accuse others of sinning when we ourselves are sinners. Yet it is exactly this sort of pharisaical judgement that is rife in the church. This is not to say sins will go unpunished. Only that empty accusations and hypocritical mendacity are pointless.

Psalm 119:25–32; 2 Samuel 8,9; John 7:45–52

Psalm 119:25–32: Each eight verse stanza of this endless psalm is a variation on a theme: how God’s word brings our psalmist life: “The way of Your decrees let me grasp,/ that I may dwell on your wonders.” (27) And to be denied understanding God’s word is the source of pain: “My being dissolves in anguish./ Sustain me as befits Your word.” (28)

For the psalmist, it is God’s word that keeps him on the straight and narrow and thereby hopefully brings peace and grace: “The way of lies remove from me,/ and in Your teaching grant me grace.” (29) Reflect for a moment on the enormous contrast—and gift we have—of Jesus Christ as our source of grace. Here, in the Old Covenant, there is only searching the scriptures: “The way of trust I have chosen./ Your laws I have set before me.” (30) It is only by strict adherence to the Law that brings freedom from societal disgrace and disgrace before God himself: “I have clung to Your precepts./ O Lord, do not shame me.” (31)

But yet. There is some modicum of comfort in knowing God’s word: “On the way of Your commands I run,/ for You make my heart capacious.” (32) We Christians have the benefit of grace through Jesus Christ, as well the understanding—and yes, peace—that studying God’s word brings as the guidepost for living a reflective and upright life.

2 Samuel 8,9: David is the very definition of warrior-king and the battles between Israel and its neighbors continue unabated as David builds an empire.

  • David attacked the Philistines and subdued them” (8:1)
  • He also defeated the Moabites.” (2)
  • David also struck down King Hadadezer son of Rehob of Zobah.” (3)

Our authors are quick to note that “The Lord gave victory to David wherever he went.” (6) And in the process, he is building great wealth for Israel. When “King Toi of Hamath heard that David had defeated the whole army of Hadadezer” (9) hears of David’s conquest he basically rushes to become David’s vassal before David turns Israel’s strength against Hamath and “brought with him articles of silver, gold, and bronze.” (10) God remains at the center of David’s life and rather than hoard this wealth, the king dedicates it “to the Lord, together with the silver and gold that he dedicated from all the nations he subdued, from Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, Amalek, and from the spoil of King Hadadezer son of Rehob of Zobah.” (8:11, 12)

Chapter nine shifts our focus from David’s conquests as warrior to his domestic kindnesses. He asks his servant, Ziba, “Is there anyone remaining of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?” (9:3) Ziba replies that the only one remaining is Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son.

Mephibosheth is brought before David who tells him not to be afraid and that “I will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul, and you yourself shall eat at my table always.” (9:7) He then commissions Ziba who has “fifteen sons and twenty servants” (10) to become Meph’s servants and “till the land for him, and shall bring in the produce, so that your master’s grandson may have food to eat.” (10)

In these two chapters we come to understand that in following God, David enjoys unrivaled power but [unlike too many politicians today] he does not become a narcissist, thinking the world is centered around him. Rather, because he is a God-follower, he cares for those who otherwise would be ignored. No wonder the prophets speak of a Messiah with davidic qualities.

John 7:45–52: The Pharisees, who have sent the temple police to arrest this blasphemer, Jesus, are more than a little annoyed when they come back empty-handed. They accuse the police, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you?” (47), noting that neither the temple authorities nor the Pharisees believe this Jesus guy. In a gesture strikingly similar to the wholesale dismissal of poor and uneducated Americans who do not appreciate the glories of progressivism, the Pharisees sniff, “this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.” (49) Haughty attitudes abound down through history!

However, Nicodemus reminds his colleagues “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” (51) The Pharisees are not open to an honest discussion but have dismissed Jesus solely on the grounds he comes from Galilee. They tell Nicodemus that if you “Search [the scriptures] and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.” (52) As far as they are concerned, the case is closed.

This attitude is exactly like many in positions of authority today who will not listen to someone because they’ve prejudged that person. He or she is from the wrong demographic and therefore has nothing worthwhile to say. No wonder Jesus constantly reminds us to listen. Listening is not the strong suit of the Pharisees, nor is it the strong suit of too many in power today, including a certain president, who believe they know everything and that further information or examination is unnecessary.