Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Psalm 118 - "Give thanks to the Lord, because he is good, and his love is eternal" (118:1). Everyone should have these words on their lips. "It is better to trust in the Lord than to depend on people. . . on human leaders" (118:8-9). The very famous words that Jesus repeats in Matthew are here: "The stone which the builders rejected as worthless turned out to be the most important of all"(118:22).
I wasn't sure what the psalmist was talking about here, so I googled around and found a very interesting blog at http://thinkhebrew.wordpress.com/2009/08/27/the-stone-the-builders-... - in the post I found there, the blogger talks about how the psalm is part of the Hallel, a Jewish song of praise (psalms 113 through 118) that is recited during Passover. In brief, what he says is that there was a story in Jewish tradition that explained the words of the psalm as follows: when the Temple was being constructed, builders had to shape the stones that were used at a distance from the Temple so that worshippers would not be disturbed by the noise. The most important stone was the capstone, which had to be put in last, but it was made at the beginning and then "set aside" (or rejected) until they had finished the building. It was always the LAST stone to be put in place. By the time they were ready to put it in place, they had to find it under years of overgrown grass. Ultimately, it would be put in its place of honor.
Psalm 119:1-88 - This is an extremely long psalm, so it is divided between today and tomorrow. It starts with praise for all those who live their lives according to the law God has given through Moses. It is intended to inspire young people. It is wonderful to learn how to serve God with our whole heart. "Open my eyes, so that I may see the wonderful truths in your law. I am here on earth for just a little while; do not hide your commands from me" (119:18-19).
When I read psalms like this one that pray so earnestly for God's guidance and presence and favor, I remember how stressful it must have been to be a king in these days - the pressures, the threats, the incredible political, military and personal challenges they must have faced every day; so I am not really bothered by the earnest pleas for favor and help. "Keep me from paying attention to what is worthless; be good to me, as you have promised" (119:37). He says that the law God gave "means more to me than all the money in the world" (119:72). When he suffers defeats or pain, he ascribes it to just punishment imposed by God for his failures to obey the laws. And he sometimes expresses frustration at how long he seems to have to wait for God's help.
Matthew 16 - The Pharisees and Sadducees try to trap Jesus by asking him to perform a miracle to show how much God favored him. But he tells them that the "only miracle you will be given is the miracle of Jonah" (16:4). Then we go to the disciples of Jesus; they forget to bring any bread with them when they crossed the lake. When Jesus says to them, "be on y our guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees," they think it's because they forgot the bread. He get annoyed with them because they don't GET what he's saying. He is not talking about bread; he's talking about the influence of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
When they come near the town of Caesarea Philippi, he asks his disciple, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" (16:13). Simon Peter says, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." (17:16). And Jesus praises him and says, "this truth did not come to you from any human being, but it was given to you directly by my Father in heaven. And so I tell you, Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church, and not even death will ever be able to overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven" (16:17-19). Weighty words! Meaningful to me as a Roman Catholic and a proponent of Quaker spiritual insights. This question of Jesus is very central to Quakers - every one of us is put in Simon Peter's place and asked, "Who does thou say I am?"
After trying his disciples and finding them worthy, he speaks to them more plainly and openly about what he must endure. "I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life" (16:21). Peter can't accept that this is going to happen, so here - three verses away from having been made the pillar of the church Jesus intends to found, he is told he is "Satan" and Jesus says, "Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thought of yours don't come from God, but from human nature" (16:23). What about what he says on earth will be validated in heaven???? The dilemma of the church from the very beginning - the dilemma of all who try to live purely according to the will of God. We're too entangled in the limitations of our human condition. Jesus tells us that we must carry our cross and follow him (16:24). Easier said than done, but we will try.