This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Syria will only use chemical weapons on human beings
God’s Rule over the Nations
To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.
1 Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
2 For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
3 He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
4 He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
5 God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.*
8 God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
9 The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.
This is a psalm about God as the true king of Israel. It’s good to remember that Israel was a tiny nation in the ancient world, without the powerful allies and weapons of mass destruction she has today. The psalm would sound blasphemous and dangerously arrogant on the lips of modern Israelis. In fact the boasting about bringing nations under their feet was no more realistic than the warlike pride of my own nation which was forever losing battles but forever celebrating the one or two it won. But the true focus of the psalm is God, for whom the psalm provides words to be used in a joyful procession to the Temple in Jerusalem. The psalm insists that its accompanying music is for God, who alone is the true king of his people and whose power and justice are recognised by the “shields” (the rulers) of the world’s nations. We might say that the people who used this psalm had only a dim vision of what Jesus called the “kingdom of God” (a kingship without racial or national interest), but they did glimpse it, as they were lifted above mere nationalism by the music of praise.
The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.48Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.’49At once he came up to Jesus and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him.50Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you are here to do.’ Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.51Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear.52Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.53Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?54But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?’55At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.56But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.’ Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
The narrative skills of the Gospel authors are particularly evident in their depictions of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. Matthew uses some of Mark’s story as a basis but there are touches which are all his own: Jesus’ calm words to Judas, “Friend, do what you have to do”; his majestic rebuke to the follower who used a sword; his serence confidence in the “twelve legions of angels”; and the clear note that ALL the disciples deserted him in his time of need. Are these additions and changes of emphasis due to better information or better imagination of this scene? We cannot know, but can only be grateful, not only to the Gospel authors but to the nameless generations of believers who lived without written gospels yet preserved the memory of Jesus by word of mouth, in stories told and re-told.
We have become so dependent on books and digital records. I have sometimes asked church groups to imagine themselves on some distant planet, without access to any source of information, asked by friendly aliens to tell them about Jesus. In such groups, older people, educated in Sunday School and Bible Class, were conspicuously more able to respond than younger ones. I’ve tried to convince believers that the ability to tell their own story of Jesus is not only of benefit to enquirers but a great enrichment of their own faith. As we are tested by betrayal, for example, the memory of Jesus’ dignity may furnish us with calm and courage.