Archive for the ‘Psalm 79’ Tag

Devotion for Wednesday After the First Sunday of Advent, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Mouse Trap

Above:  A Mouse Trap

Image in the Public Domain

Springing and Evading Traps

DECEMBER 6, 2023


The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

By your merciful protection awaken us to the threatening dangers of our sins,

and keep us blameless until the coming of your new day,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever . Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 18


The Assigned Readings:

Micah 5:1-5a

Psalm 79

Luke 21:34-38


Their blood have they spilt like water on every side of Jerusalem:

and there is none to bury them.

–Psalm 79:3, The Alternative Service Book 1980


The scene in Micah 5 is dire.  Enemies have besieged Jerusalem and humiliated the monarch.  Deliverance, the text says, will come via a future king of the Davidic Dynasty.  There will be a way out of the trap–yet not soon.

The metaphor of a trap occurs in Luke 21:34.  The arrival of God’s new order will be like the springing of a trap, the verse tells us.  Woe to those whom the arrival of the Kingdom of God in its fullness catches unaware, the passage tells us also.  The literary context for that pericope is Holy Week, when our Lord and Savior’s opponents sought to ensnare him.  And, as a note in a study Bible told me, come ancient copies of Lukan Gospel insert the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery between 21:36 and 21:37.  In that floating pericope, which settled down eventually as John 7:53-8:11, religious authorities trapped a woman and sought to spring a trap on Jesus, but he trapped them and let the woman go instead.

The post-Babylonian Exilic period did not witness the flowering of the Davidic Dynasty and Judean national glory, contrary to many hopes.  Many people have applied Micah 5:1-5a to Jesus instead, but the events of the past two millennia have not confirmed certain expectations of Christ which some have poured into certain passages of scripture.  Perhaps the trap from which we need deliverance the most is the snare of our own incorrect assumptions.  If Jesus disappoints us, the fault resides within our minds, not with him.  There is also the matter of divine scheduling, for we mere mortals are temporal, short-lived, and often terribly impatient.  God, however, has a different perspective, one we cannot comprehend.

The full arrival of God’s order is waiting, like a yet-unsprung trap.  May we who call ourselves Christians remain alert and active, growing in active faith, doing better at loving others–our friends and enemies alike–as ourselves, being salt and light in the world, and enjoying God all along the way.  Whenever we meet God in a manner other than we do most of the time, may God find us occupied with those activities.










Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After the First Sunday of Advent, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain

“But I Say to You….”

DECEMBER 4 and 5, 2023


The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

By your merciful protection awaken us to the threatening dangers of our sins,

and keep us blameless until the coming of your new day,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever . Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 18


The Assigned Readings:

Micah 4:1-5 (Monday)

Micah 4:6-13 (Tuesday)

Psalm 79 (Both Days)

Revelation 15:1-8 (Monday)

Revelation 18:1-10 (Tuesday)


Do not remember against us the sin of former times:

but let your compassion hasten to meet us, for we are brought very low.

–Psalm 79:8, The Alternative Service Book 1980


Psalm 79 prays for divine violence against enemies while seeking forgiveness for sins and deliverance from the consequences of sin.  Micah 4 and Revelation 18 speak of that deliverance, which comes with divine violence in Micah 5 and Revelation 15 and 18.  Yet I recall Jesus teaching in Matthew 5:43-48 (The Jerusalem Bible):

You have heard how it was said:  You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say to you:  love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad man as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike.  For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit?  For the tax collectors do as much, do they not?  And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional?  Even the pagans do as much, do they not?  You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

“Perfect,” in this case, indicates being suited to one’s purpose.  Thus a sacrificial animal which met the standards was perfect, even though it had some physical imperfections.  If our purpose as human beings is to love, glorify, and enjoy God forever, as the Westminster Catechisms tell us, that is our standard of perfection.  Grace will enable us to attain it.

We cannot be suited to our high calling if we carry grudges around.  This baggage is too heavy a burden and a distraction from our sacred vocation.  Yes, sometimes oppressors refuse to cease oppressing, so good news for the oppressed is dire news for the oppressors, but the righteous ought not to rejoice in the bad fortunes of others.  The Dalai Lama, a Tibetan Buddhist, has compassion for the Chinese oppressors of Tibetans.  The Chinese oppressors are hurting themselves also, he says correctly.  He puts many Christians to shame with regard to Christ’s teaching about loving one’s enemies.  He puts me to shame in this matter.

Recognizing that a problem exists is the first step in the process of correcting it.  I know well the desire for vindication at the expense of those who have wronged me.  I also know the spiritual acidity of the desire for revenge.  God has intervened in my life with regard to this issue.  Grace has arrived and continues to be necessary, for I am weak.  Yet I keep trying to become stronger.  Even a minimal effort is something which God can use, I am convinced.  A humble beginning plus ample grace equals wonderful results.

This is a devotion for Advent, the season of preparation for the arrival of Jesus.  Liturgically the build-up is to Christmas (December 25-January 5), but the assigned readings include references the Old Testament Day of the Lord and to the Second Coming of Jesus.  The expectation in such lessons is that Yahweh or Jesus will replace the old, corrupt, and exploitative human order with the new, divine, and just order.  This has yet to happen, obviously, but that vision of how things ought to be should propel we who call ourselves Christians to oppose all that exploits our fellow human beings and denies them all that a proper respect for human dignity affords them.  The test of whether we should support or oppose something comes from Jesus himself:  Is it consistent with the command to love others as ourselves?

A perhaps apocryphal story tells of the aged St. John the Evangelist/Divine/Apostle.  He visited a congregation, the members of which anticipated what he might tell them.  The Apostle said,

My children, love one another.

Then he left the room where the congregation had assembled.  One person followed John and asked an ancient equivalent of

That’s it?  Is there not more?

The Apostle replied,

When you have done that, I will tell you more.

Often we cannot even love those similar to ourselves, much less pray for our enemies.  Thus we are not suited to our divine calling.  We can be so, however.  May Christ, who entered this world long ago on a mission of mercy, find in many people metaphorical stables in which to continue arriving among us.









Week of 8 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  Christ Carrying the Cross (1580), by El Greco

Jesus, Who Contradicts Many of Our Assumptions

MARCH 2, 2011


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Ecclesiasticus 36:1-2, 5-6, 13-17 (Revised English Bible):

Look on us with pity, Lord God of all,

and strike fear in every nation.

Let them learn, as we ourselves have learned,

that there is not god but you, O Lord.

Renew your signs, repeat your miracles,

with glory for your mighty hand and right arm.

Show mercy to the city of your sanctuary,

to the city of Jerusalem, your dwelling-place.

Fill Zion with the praise of your triumph

and the temple with your glory.

Acknowledge those you created at the beginning

and fulfill the prophecies spoken in your name.

Reward those who look to you in trust;

prove your prophets worthy of credence.

Listen, O Lord, to the prayer of your servants,

who claim Aaron’s blessing on your people.

Let all who live on earth acknowledge

that you are the Lord, the eternal God.

Psalm 79:8-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

8 Remember not our past sins;

let your compassion be swift to meet us;

for we have been brought very low.

9 Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name;

deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.

10 Why should the heathen say, “Where is their God?”

Let it be known among the heathen and in our sight

that you avenge the shedding of your servant’s blood.

11 Let the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners come before you,

and by your great might spare those who are condemned to die.

12 May the revilings with which they reviled you, O Lord,

return seven-fold into their bosoms.

13 For we are your people and the sheep of your pasture;

we will give you thanks for ever

and show forth your praise from age to age.

Mark 10:32-45 (Revised English Bible):

They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was leading the way; and the disciples were filled with awe, while those who followed behind were afraid.  Once again he took the Twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to him.

We are now going up to Jerusalem,

he said,

and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes; they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles.  He will be mocked and spat upon, and flogged and killed; and three days afterwards, he will rise again.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him and said,

Teacher, we should like you to do us a favour.

He asked,

What is it you want me to do for you?

They answered,

Allow us to sit with you in your glory, one at your right hand and the other at your left.

Jesus said to them,

You do not understand what you are asking.  Can you drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?

They answered,

We can.

Jesus said,

The cup that I drink you shall drink, and the baptism that I am baptized with shall be your baptism; but to sit on my right or on my left is not for me to grant; that honour is for those to whom it has already been assigned.

When the other ten heard this, they were indignant with James and John.  Jesus called them to him and said,

You know that among the Gentiles the recognized rulers lord it over their subjects, and the great make their authority felt.  It shall not be so with you; among you whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.  For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.


The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The readings from Sirach and Psalms come from circumstances of national distress.  Psalm 79 comes from the aftermath of the Chaldean (Babylonian) destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E.  Sirach comes from the time after the return from this exile.  The Jews were home, but they were still subject to foreign nations.  And the descendants many Gentiles who had settled in the Jewish homeland remained.  Gentiles lost their land claims.  Religious, ethnic, and cultural conflicts erupted, of course.  So it is not surprising that the full texts of Psalm 79 and Sirach 36 contain much anger toward foreigners.

These readings contain pleas for divine mercy during such difficult times.  It was certainly a feeling that many in First Century C.E. Palestine understood.  Here were Jews living in their homeland, but under Roman occupation and with many Gentiles settled among them.  National glory was something from a past nobody remembered firsthand.  And was not the Messiah supposed to expel all those foreigners?

Speaking of the Messiah, Jesus did not expel any foreigner.  No, he even found great faith among some of them.  Jesus is like that:  not what many people expect or want him to be.

When reading the Gospel of Mark, it is very important to pay close attention to how material is grouped.  For example, this day’s reading flows directly from recent readings about children, a camel passing through the eye of a needle,  and predictions of our Lord and Savior’s death and resurrection.  It seems that some Apostles have not been paying enough attention.  The author of Mark has James and John, sons of Zebedee, ask for glorious positions relative to Jesus.  Note, however, that, in the parallel reading in Matthew 20:20-28, their mother makes the request.  The two are versions of the same story, based on a close reading of them.  (Read them for yourself.)

The other Apostles are angry with James and John, probably because they were jockeying for position, too.  “How dare you two get there first?” the other seemed to ask.  At least that is my interpretation.

Anyhow, Jesus says that the first will be last, and the last will be first.  Anyone who wants to be the greatest must be the lowliest servant.  And, by the way, he will suffer, die and rise again.  I have read this before in Mark.  But here we have these statements repeated.  We humans do not always listen closely enough often enough, do we?  Sometimes “our tapes are running,” so we hear but do not listen.  Jesus says something plainly, but we do not understand, so he has not communicated with us.  The fault is with us, not Jesus.

I propose that the communication breaks down at our end because Jesus contradicts many of our assumptions.  He cannot mean what the words seem to indicate, can he?  Yes, he can.  How often do we need him to repeat himself?  How dense are we?

The Kingdom of God is an inverted order relative to the traditional social arrangements.  According to Matthew 5:3-11 and Luke 6:20-26, the physically hungry will be filled.  Those who are spiritually impoverished will have spiritual abundance.  Those who mourn and weep will laugh.  The meek will inherit the earth.  The merciful will not get run over and taken advantage of; they will receive mercy.  The peacemakers will not be marginalized in a militaristic and angry society; they will be called sons and daughters of God.  The persecuted will triumph in God.  Those reviled for the sake of righteousness will rejoice.  The rich have received their consolation, the well-fed will be hungry, and those laughing now will mourn and weep.  And being well-regarded in polite society does not indicate favor with God.

And, as we have read today, the first will be last, and the last will be first.  Anyone who wishes to be the greatest must be the servant of all.  I know that this is repetitive, but so was Jesus.  Some statements bear repeating.

So, after almost 2,000 years of repetition, why have we not understood yet?  Why are so many of us who claim to follow Jesus so dense?  We are invested in and acculturated to the dominant social arrangements.  It is not that the Kingdom of God is upside-down; we are.

Lord, have mercy.

We need to be right side-up.