Devotion on Psalm 50:16-17

Today’s Featured Verses – Psalm 50:16-17

But I will sing of your might;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been a fortress for me
and a refuge on the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love. (NRSV)

Today there is more John the Baptist and more of God’s judgment.  Reading all these passages at one time is almost too much to take, and so I have decided to quote two verses which are non-judgmental in emphasis from Psalm 50.  After you have read the rest, perhaps you, like me, will need to pause for a moment or two to reflect on God’s steadfast love and providence.

And after you have read today’s passages and reread the verses above a few times, pause for a moment to remember this simple fact:  “The one who judges us, sent his only son to die for us.”  This shows us all the steadfast and amazing depth of God’s love.

A Devotion on Job 23

Job 23 – My Paraphrase

Then Job answered and said: “Even today is my complaint bitter; my hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, if I knew where I might find God, then I would go to his dwelling place! I would make my case before him; my mouth would be filled with arguments. I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would listen to me. There the righteous might reason with him, and I would be delivered forever from judgement.

“If I go forward, he is not there; and backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left hand, where he works, I cannot behold him; And when he turns to the right, I cannot see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. My foot has held fast in his steps; His way I have kept, and I have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than any food.

But God is one, who can turn him? What his soul desires, he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me; and many such things are in his mind. Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in awe and dread of him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has caused me to tremble; since I was not consumed by the darkness, though the darkness covered my face!

Devotion

One of the things you notice when you begin to compare the various translations of scripture and the Hebrew or Greek words that lay behind them is how much of translation is educated guesswork. The fact is that the manuscripts we have, even the best of them, have missing words. At times even whole sections of sentences are missing, or words or phrases are garbled or unintelligible. This is especially true for portions of the Hebrew testament. So when studying the Bible, it is always a good thing to compare two or more versions, and even then when one version varies a great deal from the others, take what it says with a grain of salt.

With that as background, I offer my own paraphrase of Job 23. Two verses which are particularly problematic are verses 7 and 17. I don’t believe we can obtain a completely reliable translation of either of them, and so I have stuck as close as possible to the Hebrew words we have. In spite of this difficulty, the overall thrust of this chapter is easy to ascertain. First, Job wishes to confront God. He wants to have his day in court and plead his case. In essence, he wants to know why he has been subject to all the loses he has experienced. Job is sure of his righteousness, and he is also sure that the righteous can make some headway with the Divine because of who and what they are.

In this way, Job is similar to his friends. You remember that Job’s friends make the argument that Job must have done something to deserve what has befallen him. Though Job rejects this, he persists in the belief that the righteous should be immune to tragedy. Of course, both he and his friends are wrong. Tragedy comes to all kinds of people – the righteous and the unrighteous, the just and the unjust. They come even if the Divine and Satan do not place bets on what will happen when they do occur (as is the case with Job). As another has said, the death of Jesus put an end once and for all to the notion that evil befalls only the wicked and that the righteous always prosper.

The truth of this, however, does not negate the desire or need we have at times to ask God, “Why?” When bad things happen to us or to those we love, we often need answers, and the only real answers to our questions can come from one source alone: God. And so we pray, we plead, we contend and we may even blame God for what has happened. But ultimately all of this is okay, for God is big enough to handle anything we may dish out.

A second thing we can see clearly from the chapter is that Job has a degree of fear and awe of God even at this stage in the story. Later on, when Job gets to confront God face to face, this awe and fear will increase exponentially the longer he is in the divine presence. It would seem that though God can handle anything we can throw at him, the reverse is not true. Sometimes I think we forget about “fearing” God, preferring to see God as our friend and buddy, and not, as Job calls him, “the Almighty.” God may in fact be our friend, but he is so much more than that as well, and we will never (at least on this plane of existence) be able to fully comprehend this fearsome God or his ways. As Job says, “But God is one, who can turn him? What his soul desires, he does.”

Reflection on Mark 10:17-31

Mark 10:17-31 – My Paraphrase

17 As Jesus set out on the way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “None are good but one – God. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since my youth.”

21 Jesus looking intently at him, loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell all you have and give to those in the greatest need, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, take up the cross, and follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away deeply grieved, because he had many possessions.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were astounded at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is [for those who trust in wealth]* to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were exceedingly astounded, and they said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With humans – impossible, but not with God; with God all is possible.”

28 Then Peter said, “Look, we have left all to follow you!”

29 And Jesus answered and said, “Truly I tell you, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or land for my sake, or for the sake of the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this time: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-along with persecutions-and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many now first will be last, and the last first.”

*Older manuscripts do not have this phrase.

Reflection

There are few passages of scripture more challenging or difficult to rationalize away than this passage from Mark. Many commentators and preachers have tried to explain away the radical calling in these verses by saying that Jesus is only making the selling of possessions a requirement for this one man. But even if this were so, we still have to wrestle with verses 23-25. And though it would appear that some of the newer manuscripts attempted to soften the blow by adding the words “for those who trust in wealth” to verse 25, overall the effect is the same with or without these words – wealth, riches, possessions all make it difficult for those who have them to enter into God’s kingdom.

Since most of you who will read this and all of those who will hear it in my church on Sunday live in what has been called the “First World,” it becomes evident that these words especially apply to us. For instance, per capita income in the US in 1999 was a little over $21,000. If you’d prefer to take the median household income of $43,000 and divide by the average household size of 2.5 you still end up with an average of $17,200. Taking that figure and plugging it into the Global Rich List reveals that someone making that little a year is still in the top 11.76% of the world’s population in terms of income. In others words he or she would be rich. Even a person who earns as little as $2,000 a year is still in the top 18%, and would be considered rich in comparison to the rest of the world.

How hard it is for us to enter the kingdom of God. Ouch! There is no way to avoid this conclusion. Further, attempts by some commentators to say that Jesus is merely referring to a small gate in the wall around Jerusalem that required a camel to be unloaded before proceeding through simply do not hold water. Sarah Dylan Breuer puts it this way:

For example, I’m sure that many have heard that there was a gate in ancient Jerusalem (or, in some versions, Jericho) called “The Eye of the Needle,” which was so narrow that a camel couldn’t get through it unless the packs it was carrying were removed, at which point it could get through laboriously on its knees. . . .I’m sorry to say, though, that there is no evidence whatsoever that there was ever any such “Eye of the Needle” gate. It’s a kind of ecclesial version of an urban legend — invented, I would guess, as a metaphor that, as generations repeated the story, turned into a solid “archaeologists have discovered” report. But it’s fiction. Careful readers could tell as much just from Mark 10 itself. If Jesus had been talking about such a gate, his hearers wouldn’t have been astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?!”; they would have said something more like, “what a bummer to have to carry those packs yourself for 50 feet.” And Jesus would not have replied that it’s impossible for mortals but nothing is impossible for God; he would have said something more like, “gosh you all are dim sometimes — just take off the camel’s packs and you’re fine!” (Read her full commentary on this passage here)

In addition to these difficulties we have Jesus saying things like “leaving one’s family” and “the first will be last.” This passage becomes just too hard, too difficult.

Of course, this is exactly the point that Jesus is trying to make. It is impossible for us to enter God’s kingdom through anything we do. It is impossible for us to “do” anything to “inherit eternal life.” None of us are that good. Not one of us. The kingdom is ours, eternal life is ours, only because it is something that God gives to us. We are heirs to these gifts because God has adopted us as his children. If only the man in today’s reading had stayed around to hear the rest of the story from Jesus. If only he could have accepted the fact that even if he had sold all he had, given it to the poor, and carried his cross till the kingdom come, he still would have eternal life only as a gift, not because anything he had done had earned it for him.

One other note: Mark is the only gospel that has the phrase ” Jesus looking intently at him, loved him.” He does the same to each of us, of course, especially when he sees how hard we try to earn what he has already promised to freely give us.


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