Psalm 134; 1 Kings 16:15–17:24; John 18:12–24


Psalm 134: This brief psalm is a blessing on those who stand the watch, especially at night:
Look, bless the Lord,
all you servants of the Lord,
who stand in the Lord’s house through the nights.” (1)

While this is intended for the temple guards who had nighttime duty, we can extend this psalm to all of those, especially first responders, who are on duty through the night, willingly wrecking their circadian rhythm: Nurses, doctors, police, firemen—and all who serve while the rest of us sleep.Thank you.

And this goes for those who must work this Thanksgiving—particularly those poor souls forced to leave their families midday and go to work in retail due to the unquenchable greediness of corporate America.

The blessing is simple and reminds us of who our creator is:
May the Lord bless you from Zion,
He who makes heaven and earth.” (3)

No more need be sad other than this is something we should all say, whether we work during the day or all through the night.

1 Kings 16:15–17:24: The successor kings of Israel manage always to be more evil than their predecessors. Zimri has assassinated Elah and ascends the throne of Israel. A mere week later, Omri, the army’s commander, tells his troops, “Zimri has conspired, and he has killed the king” (16:16) and executes a coup d’etat. But before Omri can get to the king, Zimri (rather stupidly, IMHO) burns down the palace and manages to die in the process.

The coup splits the kingdom of Israel: half the people are loyal to Omri; the other half to a certain Tibni son of Ginath. Omri puts down the rebellion and reigns for 12 years over a seemingly united Israel but is as fissiparous as ever just below the surface. He establishes Samaria as the new capital of Israel, and follows the usual downward path: “Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; he did more evil than all who were before him.” (16:25)

Omri’s son, Ahab, succeeds him and exceeds even his father’s evil by marrying Jezebel and overtly serving the god Baal, and, yes, unsurprisingly, “did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.” (16:33) Wow. I guess the lesson here is that there are no limits to the penchant to commit evil; it only descends ever deeper into malevolence. It’s no wonder the Jews of Judah in Jesus’ time had nothing but contempt for their fallen brothers of Samaria.

The prophet Elijah comes to Ahab and pronounces doom: “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” (17: 1) Elijah is directed by God to leave Israel forthwith and he arrives at the “Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.” (17:5), where he is fed bread and meat by ravens. But then the wadi dries up and Elijah is led by God to Zarephath.

Elijah encounters a widow gathering sticks and asks for a little water and a “morsel of bread.” The widow, who is not Jewish, replies that she has only a little and is about to head home to die along with her son of starvation. ELijah tells her not to be afraid and promises her that “the jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” (17:14) And it was so as Elijah continued to live with the widow.

The widow’s son falls ill and is about to die. The distraught woman asks Elijah what he has against her to cause the death of her son. Elijah is equally distressed and prays aloud to God, asking the same question: “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” (17:20) He throws stretches himself over the child and pleads three times, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” (17:21) And the child is healed.

What is so wonderful about this story is that right here in the middle of the history of the deplorable succession of kings of Israel is a beacon of faith in God and of healing. More importantly, it dramatically demonstrates that God is the God of all people, here represented by the Gentile widow, not just the God of Israel. Israel may have a special place before God, but it is not an exclusive place.

Finally, this is a clear demonstration of God’s special concern for widows and the poor. Elijah found respite from the famine in the home of a poor widow, not in the king’s palace. Just as centuries later, Jesus would be born into the same humble circumstances.

John 18:12–24: Jesus is brought first to Annas, who is the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest. John adds a note we have not seen in the synoptics: “Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.” (14) This suggests that Caiaphas was acting out of some kind of concern for political good of Israel under Roman oppression. Was he? Or was this just an excuse to do away with this troublemaking rabbi?

The scene shifts and we find Peter denying Jesus. But another self-referential detail by our gospel writer: “Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest,” (15) Apparently John was not afraid to be identified as a disciple of Jesus. This disciple asks for and receives permission to bring Peter into temple courtyard, where Peter denies he knows Jesus while warming himself in fornt of the fire.

Meanwhile, Jesus is questioned by Annas, and contra the silent Jesus we encounter in the synoptics, John’s Jesus is, as he always is in this gospel, quite clear about who he is, although he doe omit some details about who he really is: “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.” (20) John’s Jesus adds rather courageously (impudently?), “Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” (21) Even though jesus’ response is certainly the correct one, he is reward by being struck in the face by one of the temple policemen. Again, Jesus is not cowed, but says, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (23)

But there is no reply to Jesus in this kangaroo court. And there is no reply throughout history. Jesus is either a madman, or he is who he says he is. Once again we encounter the theme of belief that so permeates this gospel. The question to all of us: How would we answer Jesus?

No answer by anyone there is recorded here because the question is for all of us. But Annas clearly wants to wash his hands of this troublemaker and sends him to Caiaphas.


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