Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 81-84 and Matthew 13

Psalm 81 – “Sing praises to God, our strength. Sing to the God of Jacob. Sing! Beat the tambourine. Play the sweet lyre and the harp” (81:1-2). Let us celebrate our God who gave us the narrative we live by, whose presence we have felt and whose direction has given our lives purpose.

“He made it a law for Israel when he attacked Egypt to set us free. I heard an unknown voice say, ‘Now I will take the load from your shoulders; I will free your hands from their heavy tasks. You cried to me in trouble, and I saved you; I answered out of the thundercloud and tested your faith when there was no water at Meribah” (81:5-7).

He gives his people a stern warning to listen to the Lord. “You must never have a foreign god; you must not bow down before a false god” (81:9). But the people do not listen – again and again.

“Oh, that my people would listen to me . . . follow me, walking in my paths” (81:13).

Psalm 82 – “God presides over heaven’s court; he pronounces judgment on the heavenly beings – and on earthly rulers: ‘How long will you hand down unjust decisions by favoring the wicked? Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people” (82:3-4).

The princes, it says here were once called “gods, sons of the Most High” (82:6), all of them, but they will die like other men. All nations belong to God in the last analysis.

Psalm 83 – “O God, do not be silent! Do not be deaf. Do not be quiet, O God” (83:1).

Help your people defeat their enemies – Edomites, Ishmaelites, Moabites and Hagrites; Gebalites, Ammonites, Amalekites and people from Philistia, Tyre and Assyria. “O my God, scatter them like tumbleweed, like chaff before the wind” (83:13).

“Then they will learn that you alone are called the Lord, that you alone are the Most High, supreme over all the earth” (83:18).

Psalm 84 – “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord. With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God” (84:1-2).

“I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked. For the Lord God is our sun and our shield . . . The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right” (84:10-11).

Happy is the person who puts his trust in you.

Matthew 13 – Jesus is so pressed by crowds, he gets into a boat and teaches people on the shore from it. 

He tells the parable of the sower. “A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (13:3-8).

The disciples ask why he speaks in parables.  He says they (the disciples) know “the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” but others do not: “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand” (13:13). But “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (13:16). To those who have, more will be given; of those who have nothing, what little they have will be taken away” (13:12).

The mysteries of spiritual “logic.” You would think that those who don’t see very well or hear very well would need the explanation, but they only get the parable.  What is there about the parable? If you want a modern expression of this truth, see the Life of Pi, one of the best movies I’ve seen. It explains in an entertaining way how people learn to “see” human as more than “pissing” beings, as beings who are capable of unbelievable intellectual and spiritual insight.

Could it be that explicit statement is more resisted by those who are on the wrong path? The imaginary world of parable haunts them and lives with them longer, waiting for the moment when they will have their eyes opened by some mysterious grace.

He ends by saying that many holy people have longed to see what the disciples are seeing, but did not get to. This last is in Luke 10:24 but not in this context at all. And the part above about those who have getting more is also in Luke but again in a different place—in 19:25 in the parable about the landowner who leaves his servants with money to invest.

Jesus goes on to explain the sower parable he told earlier.  The next parable is about a farmer who sows seed in his field, but when he is asleep, an enemy comes and sows weeds.  The slaves want to tear them up, but the master tells them not to uproot them.  They might uproot the wheat along with the weeds.  They must wait till the harvest.  Then they will be gathered and burned while the good wheat will be gathered into the master’s barn.

Another parable—the kingdom is like a mustard seed; it is the smallest seed planted but when it grows it becomes a tree that the birds can make nests in (13:31-32).

The kingdom is like yeast too that is mixed with flour to leaven it. This would seem a good argument for realized eschatology in that the kingdom is by definition not a place set apart, but a part of the larger whole—it’s virtue is to bring the whole to its intended end.

Jesus uses parables in part to fulfill the prophet’s words that are quoted but not referenced in any of my bibles.  It might be from Isaiah, but not sure.  He goes into a house and explains the parable of the weeds.  The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world and the good seed are the children of the kingdom.  The weeds are children of the evil one.  The harvest is the end of the age (13:37-39).

The kingdom is like treasure hidden in a field.  The finder will hide it again and go out to sell all he has to buy the field. Or it is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  When he finds one, he swells all he has to buy it.

The kingdom is like a net thrown into the sea to catch fish of every kind.  The good will be separated from the bad at the end of the age.  The angels will separate them as they were the ones to separate the weeds from the wheat.  The bad will be thrown into “the furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (13:50). He asks them if they understand, and they say yes. Then he says, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (13:52).

The note in The Jerusalem Bible is interesting on this. It says, “The Jewish teacher who becomes a disciple of Christ has at his disposal all the wealth of the Old Testament as well as the perfection of the New . . This picture. . .sums up the whole ideal of Matthew the evangelist and may well be a self-portrait.”

Jesus finally comes to his hometown and teaches in the synagogue. They can’t believe this is the son of the carpenter they know. “Where then did this man get all this?” (13:56) He could not do many deeds of power there “because of their unbelief” (13;58).

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