Monday, December 24, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 74-77 and Matthew 10-11

Psalm 73 – Psalms 73 to 83 (and 50) are twelve ascribed to Asaph. Asaphites were “temple singers” (Wikipedia). He might have been an individual though. Chronicles notes that Asaph was a descendant of Gershom the son of Levi. In 1 Chronicles 6:39, David appoints a man named Heman as the main musician or cantor and Asaph is named his assistant.

“Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts pure. But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong. They don’t have troubles like other people” (73:1-5). These guys have ALWAYS been around.

“Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?” (73:13)

“I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is! Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked. Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction” (73:16-18). Interesting reading this just after finishing Matthew 8 where the demoniacs’ demons are cast into swine and those swine slide over a cliff to drown in the sea.

“Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant—I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth” (73:22-25).

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever” (73:26).

Psalm 74 – “O God, why have you rejected us so long? Why is your anger so intense against the sheep of your own pasture? Remember that we are the people you chose long ago, the tribe you redeemed as your own special possession! And remember Jerusalem, your home here on earth” (74:1-2).

The enemy has destroyed the city and God’s enemies have been victorious. “[T]hey burned down all the places where God was worshiped. We no longer see your miraculous signs. All the prophets are gone, and no one can tell us when it will end” (74:7-8).

“Why do you hold back your strong right hand? Unleash your powerful fist and destroy them! You, O God, are my king from ages past, bringing salvation to the earth. You split the sea by your strength and smashed the heads of the sea monsters” (74:11-13).

“Both day and night belong to you; you made the starlight and the sun” (74:16).

“Remember your covenant promises, for the land is full of darkness and violence! Don’t let the downtrodden be humiliated again. Instead, let the poor and needy praise your name” (74:20-21).

Psalm 75 – “We thank you, O God! We give thanks because you are near. People everywhere tell of your wonderful deeds. God says, ‘At the time I have planned, I will bring justice against the wicked. When the earth quakes and its people live in turmoil, I am the one who keeps its foundations firm’” (75:1-3).

Psalm 76 – Written in celebration of a victory over Sennacherib in 701 BC, the Assyrian son of Sargon II:

“God is honored in Judah; his name is great in Israel. Jerusalem is where he lives; Mount Zion is his home” (76:1-2).

“You are glorious and more majestic than the everlasting mountains. Our boldest enemies have been plundered. They lie before us in the sleep of death” (76:4-5).

“At the blast of your breath, O God of Jacob, their horses and chariots law still” (76:6).

“Human defiance only enhances your glory, for you use it as a weapon. . . Let everyone bring tribute to the Awesome One. For he breaks the pride of princes, and the kings of the earth fear him” (76:10-12).

Psalm 77 – We are people of the story – the story it is our comfort and our hope. Like us today, the writer here is almost inconsolable, trying to find God’s presence with the power he has heard of.

“I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help” (77:1-3).

“I think of the good old days, long since ended, when my nights were filled with joyful songs. I search my soul and ponder the difference now. Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me?” (77:5-7).

“[T]hen I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works. O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you? You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. By your strong arm, you redeemed your people” (77:11-15).

“Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters—a pathway no one knew was there! You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep, with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds” (77:19-20).

Matthew 10 – Jesus summons his twelve disciples and sends them out with authority over unclean spirits to cast them out and to cure illnesses.  They are Simon, Andrew, James and John (sons of Zebedee), Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector, James (son of Alphaeus) and Thaddaeus, Simon the zealot and Judas Iscariot.  Matthew’s list is the same as Mark’s—only with the order of Matthew, the tax collector and Thomas reversed.  Also Matthew (the gospel writer) identifies himself as the tax collector. Luke adds a Judas, son (or brother) of James and lists Andrew after the brothers Zebedee. 

He orders them to stay away from the Gentiles and Samaritans but go “rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6). Neither Luke nor Mark have Jesus specifically instructing his disciples to stay away from the Gentiles or Samaritans at this point.  But that is not to say that there are not passages in all of them that suggest he was supposed to be ministering only to Israel.  See Mark 7:27 or Luke’s parable of the banquet in 14: 21.  

They are to take nothing of value, and not ask for pay. They may ask for hospitality “because those who work deserve to be fed” (10:10). Meet whoever is worthy. If people won’t listen “shake off the dust from your feet as you leave” (10:14). It will go better for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town (10:15).

“I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves” (10:16) You will suffer because of me, but do not worry what you will say “for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (10:20). Brother will betray brother and you will be hated because of Jesus.  But endure to the end—“truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (10:23). Mark says some will not taste death (9:1) and Luke says the same in 9:27. Jesus certainly did give his followers reason to believe that the “Second Coming” or the end times would come pretty quickly. It is easy to see this expectation in the early church letters. They either misunderstood or he meant it to be “seen” (interpreted) differently – maybe spiritually or metaphorically.

A disciple is not above his teacher. If they call God Beelzebub, they will call you worse. Have no fear. Nothing is now covered that will not be uncovered or revealed – “all that is secret will be made known to all (10:26). What I tell you in the dark, proclaim in the light. Do not fear those who can kill the body, but rather him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without God’s knowledge. You are of more value than sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before other, I will acknowledge before God in heaven; whoever denies me I will deny (10:32).

Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (10:34-35).  

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me and “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (10:38). Those who lose their lives for my sake will find them. Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me and the one who sent me (10:40).

Matthew 11 – “John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing” (11:2). So he sends his disciples to ask if Jesus is the one they’ve been expecting (11:2).

Jesus tells them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (11:5). A Jerusalem Bible note says John is confused because of the way Jesus is—he expected the messiah to be different.

Jesus talks to the crowds about John and himself—what the people are hoping for from them both.  He suggests that they are more than prophets but rather a fulfillment of the scripture that says, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you” (11:10). John is the greatest so far born of woman; but “yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (11:11).

From the days of John until now “the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (11:12) I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. A note lists various ideas that have been put forward to explain this line: that he is referring to those who are trying to “enter the kingdom” by austere self-deprivation; those who see the kingdom as something to be established by force—the zealots; those who are resisting the kingdom by persecuting the righteous; or that perhaps the kingdom will forcefully advance despite every effort the unrighteous exert to prevent it. Jesus refers to John as the Elijah to whom Malachi was referring (in Mal 3:2).

Jesus speaks of his frustration with this generation.  It is like children sitting in the market calling, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn” (11:17). A note suggests that this refers to Jesus’ frustration at the way the Jews have rejected all God’s approaches—“the stern penance of John or through the gentle courtesy of Jesus.”

My own thought here is that from the very earliest days of God’s work with Israel, he has approached the people in two ways—through the blessing and through the curse.  The word of God is brought forth from the two mountains – Mt Ebal and Mt. Gerizim (the mount of blessing and the mount of curse).  Moses addresses the people with blessing and curse in Deuteronomy.  Even Luke keeps this tension in his version of Jesus’ sermon.  Despite their (and our) inability to respond consistently to either approach, God will still bring his cause to fruition.

Jesus upbraids Chorain [Korazin] and Bethsaida (and Capernaum) for their failure to repent, for his presence unto them leaves them no excuse.  He warns them of a stern judgment to come.  The leaders and smart people of the society may reject him, but the “infants” who follow him have responded. 

Then he says, “’My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’” (11:27). This is a very Johannine sounding passage.  John could easily have taken lines like this and expanded them into the long exhortations Jesus delivers in his gospel.

But to the lame, the lowly, the burdened individuals he says, “Come unto me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (11:28-30).

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