Friday, December 28, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 88-89 and Matthew 15

Psalm 88 – “O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day. I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry. For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near” (88:1-3).

This is a prayer of one totally in despair, yet still not rejecting of God, though God is seen in many ways as the one who has caused all the pain.

“They have left me among the dead, and I lie like a corpse in a grave. I am forgotten, cut off from your care. You have thrown me into the lowest pit, to its darkest depths. Your anger weighs me down; with wave after wave you have engulfed me” (88:5-7).

“My eyes are blinded by my tears” (88:9). “Are your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead? Do the dead rise up and praise you?” (88:10).

“Can the darkness speak of your wonderful deeds?” (88:12). “You have taken away my companions and loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend” (88:18).

Psalm 89 – “I will sing of the Lord’s unfailing love forever! Young and old will hear of your faithfulness. You unfailing love will last forever. Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens” (89:1-2).

“The Lord said, ‘I have made a covenant with David, my chosen servant.  I have sworn this oath to him: I will establish your descendants as kings forever; they will sit on your throne from now until eternity’” (89:3-4).

“The highest angelic powers stand in awe of God. He is far more awesome than all who surround his throne” (89:7). “You are entirely faithful. You rule the oceans. You subdue their storm-tossed waves . . . The heavens are yours, and the earth is yours; everything in the world is yours—you created it all” (89:9-11).

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants. Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, Lord” (89:14-15).

Of David, the psalmist proclaims God’s intention: “I will beat down his adversaries before him and destroy those who hate him” (89:23). “I will extend his rule over the sea, his dominion over the rivers. And he will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’ I will make him my firstborn son, the mightiest king on earth. I will love him and be kind to him forever; my covenant with him will never end” (89:25-28).

“But if his descendants forsake my instructions and fail to obey my regulations . . . then I will punish their sin with the rod” (89:30-32). But God seems to have renounced this covenant. The “walls protecting him” (89:40) have been destroyed. His enemies have grown strong. “O Lord, how long will this go on?. . . How long will your anger burn like fire?” (89:46)

Matthew 15 – Pharisees and scribes wonder why Jesus’ disciples do not keep the traditions of their fathers (here the ceremonial washing of hands). Jesus asks them why their traditions break God’s direct commands to honor their fathers and mothers by the dedicating goods to God that they should be giving to them. “So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God” (15:6).

He says Isaiah was right when he wrote, “’These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me . . . they teach man-made ideas as commands from God’” (15:8-9). Mark has the same with perhaps even more detail at 7:1, but Luke omits this one.

“’It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth’” (15:11). Jesus is concerned with the heart, with transforming it and nurturing the fruits of the heart that are good.  Jesus thinks of the Pharisees as “blind guides of the blind” (15:14), and he tells his disciples to just “ignore them” (15:14).

Jesus goes north to the district of Tyre and Sidon where he encounters a Canaanite woman who begs him to have mercy and helps her daughter who “tormented by a demon” (15:22). The disciples try to chase her away because she is not an Israelite. And Jesus says to her, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs” (15:26). Ouch, Jesus! Wisely, she responds, “’That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their maters’ table’” (15:27). He commends her faith and says, “’Let it be done for you as you wish’” (15:28). Her daughter is healed. Mark has this at 7:24.

He returns to the Sea of Galilee, and climbs up a mountain. Great crowds come to him and are cured of many things. They are with Jesus for three days when he tells his disciples to feed them. They have only seven loaves and a few fish.

“Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to the disciples, who distributed the food to the crowd. They all ate as much as they wanted” (15:35-37). He feeds 4000 men with their women and children, and there were “seven large baskets of leftover food” (15:37). Mark has this at 8:1. After he gets into a boat and goes to Magadan.

A couple of years ago in a Meeting for Worship, I felt I had an insight into these mass feeding stories: I realized something very obvious, that God can feed so many because His presence in our lives is so nourishing that we really need only a breath of it to sustain us. It is mostly the “offering of Himself” to us that feeds us, not anything very material.

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