Psalm 131; 1 Kings 13:23–14:20; John 17:1–19

Psalm 131: Unlike many of the other “songs of ascents,” this compact psalm is intensely personal—a prayer uttered one-on-one between God and the penitent:
Lord, my heart has not been haughty,
nor have my eyes looked to high,
nor have I striven for great things,
nor for things too wondrous for me.” (1)

There is no pride, no preening here. There is only deep humility before God. I’m not sure I could honestly pray this prayer. How many times in my life have I been ambitious and sought ascendancy over others? Have I always been content with my lot in life?

Rather than focusing on outward distractions, our psalmist centers himself on God: “But I have calmed and contented myself.” (2a) And then in a remarkable simile he compares himself to the contented babe on a mother’s breast, seeking nothing more than God’s encompassing comfort: “like a weaned babe on its mother—/ like a weaned babe I am with myself.” (2b)

Can I find such wonderful contentment in prayer the ay the psalmist has? Can I focus only on resting in God, free of the distractions and temptations of the world. Free of the prideful desire that has motivated so many of my actions and relationships through the years? But then, what I have done n the past matters little to God when I am content to come to him in humility and peace. Today is what matters.

1 Kings 13:23–14:20: The young prophet, who disobeyed God by supping with the old prophet, meets his fate: “as he went away, a lion met him on the road and killed him. His body was thrown in the road, and the donkey stood beside it.” (13:24) When the old prophet hears of this, he comes and finds the lion standing beside the dead prophet: “The lion had not eaten the body or attacked the donkey.” (13:18) He takes the body and buries it in his own grave, “and they mourned over him, saying, “Alas, my brother!” (13:30)

The old prophet realizes that while his young counterpart had disobeyed God, he had nonetheless performed God’s work before Jeroboam, saying, “He proclaimed by the word of the Lord against the altar in Bethel, and against all the houses of the high places that are in the cities of Samaria, shall surely come to pass.” (32)

But Jeroboam does not heed the prophet’s warning and quickly falls deeper into sin, reestablishing the high place at Bethel and appointing as priest anyone who applied for the job. As our authors note ominously, “This matter became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth.” (13:34)

Which of course is exactly what happens. Jeroboam’s son falls ill and he sends his wife in disguise to same old prophet, Ahijah, to ask what will happen. The disguise was apparently not very good, for Ahijah instantly recognizes the woman as Jeroboam’s wife.

The prophet delivers bad news. God delivered the ten tribes of Israel to Jeroboam, but the king has “not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my sight.” (14:8) Instead, he has “done evil above all those who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods, and cast images, provoking me to anger.” (14:9a) And in an interesting turn of phrase, the prophet concludes, speaking in the voice of God, that Jeroboam has “thrust me [God] behind your back.” (14:9b) A challenging phrase since I think everyone of us has thrust God behind our backs many times in our lives.

Jeroboam’s fate is the worst possible outcome, as the prophet concludes, “I will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free in Israel, and will consume the house of Jeroboam, just as one burns up dung until it is all gone.” The woman returns to find her son dead.

The prophet also predicts a dire outcome for the entire nation of Israel: God “will root up Israel out of this good land that he gave to their ancestors, and scatter them beyond the Euphrates, because they have made their sacred poles,  provoking the Lord to anger.”  (14:15) Which of course is exactly what happens, although not as soon as the prophet implies.

Jeroboam reigns 22 years and is succeeded by another son, Nadab. Apparently, the house of Jeroboam is not quite over yet.

John 17:1–19: Jesus has concluded his discourse to the disciples and now prays what has become known as the High Priestly Prayer, which opens with Jesus’ clear statement that something extraordinary is about to happen, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” (1) But the line that intrigues me follows shortly, “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (3) The implication—for me anyway—is that eternal life is much greater than merely going to heaven after we die, whatever that might mean. Rather, eternal life lies in knowing Jesus.  For me, “eternal,” in this context means “beyond time” not just “forever,” which implies we are stuck in time. I take this as a far greater, far better thing because it affects me in the here and now, not in some abstract future. Our relationship with God through Jesus transcends the four dimensions in which we are trapped here on earth, right now, right here.

Once again, Jesus makes the crucial point that his returning to the Father is the loving act that brings true joy to us here on earth: “But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.” (13)

The other key point is that while we, as Jesus’ disciples, may be in the world, we are no longer of the world: “the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” (14) In other words, we are not possessed by the world, but through faith we will ultimately transcend the world. And while we are here, Jesus has asked God to protect us: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” (15) As Peter makes clear in his epistle, we are “resident aliens” in the world, but the world cannot claim us as its own.

The problem of course is that I too readily claim the world as my own rather than, like the psalmist above, finding comfort in God’s all-encompassing embrace, which Jesus has made available to us.


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