Sunday 28th May – Psalm 7
1 Lord my God, I take refuge in you;
save and deliver me from all who pursue me,
2 or they will tear me apart like a lion
and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.
3 Lord my God, if I have done this
and there is guilt on my hands—
4 if I have repaid my ally with evil
or without cause have robbed my foe—
5 then let my enemy pursue and overtake me;
let him trample my life to the ground
and make me sleep in the dust.[c]
6 Arise, Lord, in your anger;
rise up against the rage of my enemies.
Awake, my God; decree justice.
7 Let the assembled peoples gather around you,
while you sit enthroned over them on high.
8 Let the Lord judge the peoples.
Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness,
according to my integrity, O Most High.
9 Bring to an end the violence of the wicked
and make the righteous secure—
you, the righteous God
who probes minds and hearts.
10 My shield[d] is God Most High,
who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a righteous judge,
a God who displays his wrath every day.
12 If he does not relent,
he[e] will sharpen his sword;
he will bend and string his bow.
13 He has prepared his deadly weapons;
he makes ready his flaming arrows.
14 Whoever is pregnant with evil
conceives trouble and gives birth to disillusionment.
15 Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out
falls into the pit they have made.
16 The trouble they cause recoils on them;
their violence comes down on their own heads.
17 I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.
This Psalm is about an enemy. We don’t know of a Benjaminite named Cush who is mentioned in the title but perhaps he was a servant of King Saul the Benjaminite who was definitely a fierce enemy of David. There is no doubt that David was genuinely fearful of this enemy who would “pursue him and trample him to the ground” (v5) and he feels unjustly pursued pleading his innocence before God. We know too much about David to picture him as a perfectly obedient servant of God, but in this case he is pleading innocence of wrongdoing.
Sometimes things happen to us that aren’t our fault but we suffer because of them. We may not be living in the warrior climate of the ancient Near East but things can be done to us or said about us that can make us fear and cause us trouble. The whispers of neighbours, the nasty office politics, the family grievances and many more can seek to tear us apart. If you are struggling with something today, what are your fears? David is your partner in this. Bring them to God in prayer.
Perhaps though our Enemy is something else: Coronavirus or some other illness? They can seem to pursue us, perhaps like Cush they come from a Darker Enemy elsewhere. Whatever it is, it can certainly have a harsh effect and David prays for vindication and for God to bring an end to the forces of his opposers (v9)
As with last week’s Psalm we need to make David’s way ours. First tell it to God; tell him what you are struggling with; tell him about that lion that pursues you, secondly, remember that he is a shield for you as you look to Him (v10), and thirdly, give thanks. David was no paragon of virtue but he had faith in God and that’s why these Psalms point us in the right direction when we are in a mixture of suffering and anger so commonplace in human life.
READINGS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
If you don’t have a bible at home you can find the readings on a website such as www.biblegateway.com or an app such as YouVersion
MONDAY Mark 12:13-17
In their attempt to trap him Jesus’ opposers sent people representing two sides of the political situation the Jews were in at the time. The Pharisees were on the side of the Jewish zealots who wanted freedom from the Roman yoke and the Herodians were those with power under the Romans. They wanted to catch Jesus out by making him fall into one side or the other by asking him a question about taxes to Caesar.
People today are still the same calling matters ‘political’ when really they are matters of truth about themselves and their duties. Jesus made his accusers face up to the truth by having them produce a coin with Caesar’s image representing the authority of the present governance and management of the state, telling them that civil support was right, but then turning the question around to his opposers, challenging them to give to God what is God’s (by implication their own lives), which were made in the image of God.
TUESDAY Mark 12:18-27
The Sadducees were what we might call the secular party today. They didn’t believe in the resurrection, they were the “when you’re dead your dead” boys and they thought they would make a fool of Jesus by quoting one of the early rules of the people about what was called Levirate marriage. You can read about it in Genesis 38 and Leviticus 25 but that is beside the point in this passage. They challenged Jesus about whose wife a woman be if there was a resurrection and she had had more than one husband during her earthly life? Seven in fact.
This can be a sensitive subject for any who have been married more than once so it’s important to consider it. Jesus tells them they are mistaken about resurrected life because the kind of relationships we have down here are not to be imagined in the same way in the resurrected life. He lays marriage aside as not something applicable to the life we will have then. That doesn’t mean a loss of the kind of closeness and unity we have with our married partners here but rather something much more. The kind of life we will have in glory will be so much bigger and more expansive than the pair or coupled type we have down here for our unity in Christ binds us to all our brothers and sisters in Christ who will be resurrected in him. What we know and experience in the smallness of coupled married life and family here will be exploded into a glory so much larger with all God’s people together in Christ that it is hardly to be compared.
And to his doubters about the resurrection, Jesus points them to scripture where God says He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in other words he is not the God of the dead but the living.
WEDNESDAY Mark 12:28-40
In these verse we are brought back, with a warning, to the Teachers of the Law but we also see a good teacher whom Jesus commends. About the generality, Jesus tells his hearers to beware of them because they exploit their status to gain benefit for themselves. This is a danger in any situation in life. John Millar a former Moderator of the Church of Scotland but known for his long pastorate in Glasgow’s Castlemilk area told of his early decision to stop wearing a dog collar around his parish. In the Post Office one day he was spotted by the cashier and called forward in front of others. He said he vowed after that not to have his status allow queue jumping anywhere and so ceased wearing his dog collar around the parish. Any sense of self importance before others is never a quality of Christian life, those who are first need to be prepared to be last.
The good teacher of the law who is mentioned recognised that Jesus teaching was wise and listening to him bringing Deuteronomy 6 and Deuteronomy 10 together in answering his question, he agreed and commended Jesus. Jesus answer is of course the cardinal rule that has come down the centuries – to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. In these two laws all else is incorporated.
This of course is not the end of the gospel as some moral teaching would have it because the cardinal work of Jesus was yet to come. Without his perfect sacrifice on the cross all moral teaching would disappear into a failed rescue of sinful mankind. Shouting over the edge of the ship to the drowning man to swim means nothing unless someone goes out to help him and to bring him onboard.
The poor widow who puts in her two coins is praised by Jesus because it wasn’t the amount given but out of what resources she had that showed her heart.
THURSDAY Mark 13:1-37
This chapter is sometimes called “The Little Apocalypse and Mark gives it to us as an extended answer by Jesus to a remark about the magnificent temple that Herod had financed in Jerusalem. It is called the little apocalypse because it resembles some of the Old Testament prophets psychedelic-like words about the nature of God’s dealings with the world, e.g. the sun being darkened, the moon not giving light and the stars falling from the sky (Isaiah 13 among other places).
Because it is written like this it can’t just be read off like simple prosaic details of what’s to come but at the same time it must not be bypassed or ignored.
The background is the temple and the future, and as post resurrection people we know that Jesus spoke of his body as being the new temple so the future was going to be about him and not just some bricks and mortar in Jerusalem. Having said that, some have postulated a replacement theology which sweeps away the Jewish people as no longer part of God’s story – we ought to beware of that! You can read many commentaries on this chapter and those similar in the other gospels, and by all means do, though perhaps reading and meditating on it in your personal devotions and asking God to reveal his word in those words may be as best as you can do.
A Prayer: Lord as I live my life before you, keep me in touch with you in the midst of swirling earthly events. Amen.
FRIDAY Mark 14:1-11
The chief priests and teachers of the law, the woman with the alabaster jar, and Judas, these are the people that this passage tells us about and in doing so shows us that Jesus’ presence evokes two opposite reactions. There is the absolute murderous intent of the leading Jewish priests and teachers of the law who were no longer thinking about it but planning how to do away with Jesus. There was also Judas, a much more complicated character who was looking for an appropriate opportunity to hand Jesus over to these leaders. The chief priests and teachers had viewed Jesus from outside as it were, Judas had been close fellow with him during his active ministry. People can be opposers of Jesus from outside, just as many throw brickbats from inside Christian life and community – terrible though that is, there can be hope, think of Paul the apostle. With Judas however those who turn against Jesus from a knowing position of closeness have stepped out of hope for the future. C.S.Lewis said what happens if in the last analysis you find God is the very person you can’t stand? Well then, the last card has been played, the game is over. And with Judas it was indeed over when in due course he went out into the night.
The woman with the alabaster jar was another character altogether for her effusive love of Jesus was not to be put off by those who sniffed at her over-the-top action. Tears of emotion, thanksgiving and praise are never out of place before the lover of our souls. God is good all the time.
A prayer: Almighty God who in Jesus Christ has taken the pain of our sins and brought us into your family with love and compassion may we ever give and be given for your glory and honour. Amen.
SATURDAY Mark 14:12-26
In this closing act Jesus gives himself in the bread and wine of the Supper to his disciples before leaving for the Mount of Olives. We can often intellectualise the gospel, thinking of it in words and ideas but in the sacrament of Holy Communion we are given something for our bodies, showing that our salvation is for all of us and not just for some dreamy soulish presence. We need to come to Communion not just to listen but to receive from God as we take the bread (“This is my body which is for you”) and receive the wine (“the blood of Christ, the new covenant”) with the open hands of humble reception.
In the upper room he also reveals his betrayal to the astonishment of the eleven though not to the one who will go about his nefarious business. It always seems an utter mystery to God’s people how anyone could take the road of betrayal and opposition walking away from the one they know as the lover of their souls. Ultimately speaking evil is not understandable, it is the universal surd, the absolute irrational for if we could give it a reason it would mean it held some purpose. It does not. We are given a glimpse of it on the cross and are staggered by it but in the resurrection we see it defeated and, in the profoundest sense, that is all we will ever know. There will always be mystery in the face of it.
Elizabeth Cecilia Clephane put it well in her hymn “There were Ninety and Nine” where in v3 she says,
“But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night which the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.”
If the mystery of Evil is past understanding, the deliverance from it is similarly past knowing. That is why the gospel and plan of God in the sacrament of Christ is often referred to as the mystery.
A Prayer. “Almighty God who gave your Son to be our Saviour, may we ever cleave to you in faith and trust as we wait for the final revealing of your Kingdom. Amen.