Saturday, January 5, 2013

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 111-113 and Matthew 23

Psalm 111 – “Praise the Lord! I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. . . . Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty. His righteousness never fails” (111:2-3).

“All he does is just and good and all his commandments are trustworthy. They are forever true, to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity” (111:7-8).

“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom” (111:10).

When I read “fear” I personally translate it as “awe” – some have trouble with the term fear, but awe works.

Psalm 112 – “How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands. Their children will be successful everywhere; an entire generation of godly people will be blessed” (112:1-2). They will be blessed with wealth and success in all they do.

“They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. They will have influence and honor” (112:9). The success of the godly will infuriate the wicked. And the success of the ungodly will also infuriate the godly. Both are themes in the psalms. I do believe God will “fix” it in the long run.

Psalm 113 – “ Praise the Lord! Yes, give praise, O servants of the Lord. . . . Blessed by the name of the Lord now and forever” (113:1-2).

“Who can be compared with the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high? He stoops to look down on heaven and on earth. He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump” (113:7).



Matthew 23 – Jesus tells the crowds that the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees occupy “Moses’ seat” so they have a right to interpret the Law of Moses; the problem is not with what they teach – it is that they do not DO what they preach. They are hypocrites. They are great “sayers” of the truth, as early Friends might have said, but abysmal “doers.” And when they DO pious things, they do it for the praise, position and power it gives them in the community. Jesus warns his followers not to seek titles of respect, even the titles of “Teacher” or “Father” or “Leader“ (23:8-10). Have the goal of “serving” others – this is what the Lord really wants.

These hypocritical leaders stop people from entering the “kingdom of heaven”; they cross land and sea to convert people but make them worse than they are; they don’t even use common sense in interpreting the tradition—telling people that if the swear by the sanctuary they are not bound, but if they swear by the gold of the sanctuary they are. Which is more precious? They act as if they were blind.

Jesus goes on and on reprimanding the Pharisees and teachers of the Law for all the ways they are blind, self-righteous and superficial.  The are “full of greed and self-indulgence” (23:25); “like white-washed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth” (23:27); they build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous and tell everyone if you had been alive you would not have taken part in shedding their blood, but “you testify against yourselves” (23:31) by killing and crucifying the prophets, sages and scribes “I send.”  It does seem that Jesus is explicitly stepping into the voice of God here.

Then his anger turns to pain: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’” (23:37-39).

This also seems as in Luke 19:41 to be a specific reference to the kind of rejection of the Christians in the synagogues in Jerusalem that made Peter cry out against them and made them see in the destruction of the Temple a rebuke and punishment from God. I asked my theology teacher, Fr. Luttenberger, what common source Luke and Matthew had for these angry anti-Pharisee diatribes.  He agreed that they sounded too angry to have been a part of “Q” if “Q” is a collection of “saying.”. They also seem to be most like in an environment in which there is struggle between the synagogue and the Jesus believer.

Reflection: The overall theme of this teaching is that pride, and particularly pride in being righteous, is death to those who really seek to please God.  The key is not to know everything God wants but to do it – obedience is the key and obedience not only in a superficial way, but obedience that runs up from a rooted sense of God’s voice being part of one’s experience inwardly. As Isaac Penington says, “Keep to the sense, keep to the feeling; beware of the understanding [part], beware of the imagining, conceiving mind.”  In the gospel, Jesus also extends his teaching to condemn those very ordinary human practices, which build up pride in people – the way we relish in status, titles, positions, honors. These are things Quakers took very much to heart, refusing even titles such as Mr. And Mrs.

Certainly titles such as are common in the Catholic Church were considered anathema. I do not think the hierarchical organization of the church is per se inconsistent with this teaching of Jesus, but the outward etiquette seems to me problematic.  What a witness it would be for the Pope to lay it down!  I can dream can’t I?

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