Psalm 122; 1 Kings 6; John 13:18–30

Psalm 122: This is the third of fifteen “songs of ascents,” this one dedicated to David, and suggesting it was sung on a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem: “I rejoiced in those who said to me:/ Let us go to the house of the Lord.” (1) This psalm clearly states that the singers do not live in Jerusalem as they arrive at the city gates: “Our feet were standing/ in your gates, Jerusalem.” (2) Like the rural farmers they probably were, the pilgrims are impressed by the city: “Jerusalem is built like a town/ that is built fast together,/ where the tribes go up.” (4)

Jerusalem is the epicenter of the what it means to be a citizen of Israel, where both God and the king dwell: “An ordinance it is for Israel/ to acclaim the name of the Lord./ For there the thrones of judgement stand,/ the thrones of the house of David.” (5) This sense of Jerusalem at the center of Jewish life extends to today with the benediction/blessing uttered by many Jews, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

This psalm is also a benediction over Jerusalem which 3000 years later remains at the center of Judaism, not to mention Christianity. As such, we should sing with these pilgrims,
Pray for Jerusalem’s weal.
May your lovers rest tranquil!
May there be well-being within your ramparts,
tranquility in your palaces.” (6,7)

That Jerusalem remains the center of global conflict as well as religion is a stark reminder of the central role in the human experience that it has played for more than three millennia. For those of us, although far from Jerusalem, but who care for the welfare of that city and its inhabitants, we cannot surpass the intensity and deep meaning of the prayer for Jerusalem that we read here: “For the sake of my brothers and my companions,/ let me speak, pray, of your weal.” (8)

Our pilgrims have continued their ascent, beginning at Jerusalem’s gates; they have admired David’s palace, and now they arrive at the temple, still praying, “For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,/ let me seek your good.” (9) Amen. That we would every day seek the good that God has given us. (Rather than whining on Facebook when things don;t go our way.)

1 Kings 6: My architect son-in-law would appreciate this chapter—a detailed and loving description of the first temple at Jerusalem. At last, 480 years after the Exodus, God is finally going to get a permanent earthly abode. The central part of the temple, the “house of the Lord” is 90 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 45 feet high.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of its construction is that “the house was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron was heard in the temple while it was being built.” (7) Its walls are lined with cedar and the inner sanctuary is constructed entirely of cedar, lovingly carved, “had carvings of gourds and open flowers; all was cedar, no stone was seen.” (18)

This house is eminently acceptable to God, whose word comes to Solomon, “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes, obey my ordinances, and keep all my commandments by walking in them, then I will establish my promise with you, which I made to your father David.” (12) Notice the condition: God will keep his side of the Covenant only of Israel keeps its side. This statement must have had no little irony for our authors writing in exile in Babylon. How far Israel and Judah had fallen since the glory days of Solomon.

Extravagance abounds everywhere: “Solomon overlaid the inside of the house with pure gold, then he drew chains of gold across, in front of the inner sanctuary, and overlaid it with gold.” (21) The temple’s furnishings are equally impressive, especially the giant (15 feet high) carved cherubim made of olive wood.

The temple takes seven years to build and we can imagine that despite its power and wealth, Israel’s treasury was considerably smaller at the end of this magnificent project.  The message here for me is that like Solomon, we are to give our very best to God, not what is left over.

John 13:18–30: Our gospel writer is in full theo-philosophical mode as he underscores jesus’ words by quoting Psalm 41: “it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’” (18) Once again, we read how completely intertwined Jesus’ relationship to his Father is: “I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (20) This father-son aspect of the Trinity is seen more intensely in John than in the synoptics.

Before Jesus’ discourse can continue there is a betrayer to be dealt with. Jesus brings up the subject himself by announcing, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (21) Needless to say, this raises consternation and confusion among the disciples as this announcement seems to have come straight out of the blue. John inserts a quasi-autobiographical note here, “One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him,”  (23) although he does not name him. [BTW, my own belief is that John the beloved disciple is not necessarily the same John who authored his eponymous gospel, but this is not an crucial issue.]

Peter, being Peter asks who Jesus is talking about, although as written here his inquiry appears to be sotto voce since Peter is also reclining next to Jesus. [This is also why John mentions he’s also reclining at Jesus’ side: it allows him to hear Peter’s question and Jesus’ answer.] Jesus responds that the person to whom he hands the bread will be his betrayer and hands it to Judas.

What’s fascinating here in this ironic reverse eucharist is that John is telling us that up to that moment, Judas was acting on his own out of some sort of frustration—probably that Jesus had not pronounced himself the Davidic Messiah and started a revolt against the Romans. Or perhaps he was having second thoughts about his plan. However, as Judas “received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him” (27) and he departs—much to the puzzlement of the other disciples. The reference to Judas acting as an instrument of Satan is theologically crucial. It is not Judas, mere human that he is, that betrays the Son of God. Rather, Judas is simply the means to a larger end in the great cosmic battle between good and evil, between God and Satan.

The final sentence of this passage—”And it was night” (30)—is fraught with far greater meaning than that it was simply dark outside. This is a clear reference back to the long discourse on light and darkness. Jesus is light; the act of Satan through Judas is the utter antithesis of that light. And at this point it appears that the darkness will successfully quench that light.

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