Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Psalm 104 – This Psalm apparently has common elements with Ikhnaton’s Ode to the Sun:
“Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord mu God, you are very great. You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent” (104:1-2).
The clouds are His chariot – “he rides on the wings of the wind” (104:3).
“He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains” (104:5-6).
“The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them” (104:8). This entire psalm is totally beautiful; it is hard to omit any of it.
“You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work” (104:10-13).
“Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening. O Lord, how manifold are your works. In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great” (104:24-25).
“There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it. These all look to you to give them their food in due season” (104:26-27).
“When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth. May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works” (104:29-31).
“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more!” (104:33-35).
Psalm 105 – “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the people! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!” (105:1-2).
“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! (105:4).
“He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, which he confirmed to Jacob as a statue, to Israel as an everlasting covenant” (105:9-10).
He protected his people as they “wandered from nation to nation” (105:13), permitting “no one to oppress them” (105:14). He sent Joseph ahead of them to Egypt and then Jacob came. After bringing his people to Egypt and seeing them oppressed there, “He sent Moses, his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen” (105:26). They performed signs and miracles. “He sent darkness, and made the land dark; . . . [h]e turned their waters into blood and caused their fish to die” (105:28-29).
After all the plagues God sent, he brought Israel out of that land, through the desert and “gave them the lands of the nations” (105:44). They took possession of that land and its fruits “that they might keep his statues and observe his laws” (105:44-45).
Matthew 20 – This has got to be one of the most difficult parables or teachings of Jesus that there is in the whole Bible. I wonder what the “Occupy Wall Street” movement would say in response?
Here Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a landowner who goes out early in the morning to hire laborers. He gets some at 9, some at 3 and some at 5. All are paid the same wage. The ones hired first “grumble” because it is not fair to them that they should have worked the entire day and only get paid the same as one who worked for an hour. The owner tells them, “Friend, I have not cheated you. After all, you agreed to do a day’s work for one silver coin. Now take your pay and go home. I want to give this man who was hired last as much as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do as I wish with my own money? Or are you jealous because I am generous?” And Jesus concluded, “So those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last” (20:14-16).
I remember a movie I loved called Matewan - about the drama surrounding organization of coal miner’s in West Virginia in 1920. One of the main characters, Danny, is a young man – boy – who is gifted with a call to Christian ministry. When he is asked to deliver a sermon on this particular Jesus story, he totally rebels and says he can’t believe Jesus would have taught this. I loved it.
Jesus’ message must be seen as relating to a deeper truth than wages for work we do here on earth. And the “money” Christ has charge of is not just “capital.” It is God’s love and desire to save that I think Christ is talking about, but that won’t stop “literalists” from taking that line: “Don’t I have the right to do as I wish with my own money?”
Jesus tells his disciples the third time of the trials ahead. The mother of the Zebedee boys comes to him with her sons and kneels to ask him a favor—to have her sons at his right and left in his kingdom. Jesus tells her she does not know what she is asking. He asks them if they are able to drink the cup he is about to drink. They say yes. He tells them they will indeed drink his cup, but it is not for him to say who will be at his right and left. It “is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (20:23).
When the other 10 hear about this, they are annoyed with the two brothers. Jesus tries to diffuse their anger by telling them all that in his kingdom “whoever wishes to be great. . .must be your servant” (20:26) “just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (20:28).
Leaving Jericho, two blind men by the roadside shout after Jesus to have mercy on them. They call him Son of David. The crowd orders them to be quiet, but they continue. He goes over to them and asks them what they want. They tell him they want their eyes to be opened. He touches their eyes and they see (20:34) For the third time, Matthew doubles the number of subjects: Legion, and the two blind men in chapter nine. In fact this healing may be a repetition of that.