Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 22

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‘Resh.’

If there is one thing God has communicated to us humans, it is that we matter. The most relevant piece of information we will ever be able to grasp is that you and I are immeasurably loved and valued by Him.

“(Our) shared core hunger,” writes Tony Schwartz in an article for the New York Times, “is for value…We each want desperately to matter, to feel a sense of worthiness.” It’s what he calls ‘The enduring hunt for personal value’. James Gilligan, who authored “Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic” after studying human violence for over 40 years, began to observe “the frequency with which I received the same answer when I asked prisoners…why they assaulted…someone. Time after time they would reply, ‘Because he disrespected me’.”

As the psalmist moves into the third-to-last stanza of the interminable one hundred and nineteenth psalm, his singular petition is that God—who has embedded an element of His own worth into each person—will express the ultimate act of valuing human life: to preserve it indefinitely.

“…Preserve my life according to your promise,” the psalmist appeals. “…Preserve my life according to your laws,” he adds, and “…Preserve my life, O LORD, according to your love.” What does he mean by promise, laws, and love as the mechanisms of preserving life—the psalmist’s life, or yours and mine for that matter?

Firstly, the promise the psalmist references goes back ages to the time of Abraham. Abraham was God’s handpicked individual to begin a nation and race of people to whom and through whom God would speak. At God’s chosen time some 1500 years later, when strange prophecies like a virgin birth came together with others in fulfillment, Jesus was born from that race. The promise made to Abraham was, in short, “You will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The promise of blessing was fulfilled not at Jesus’ birth, but at His death and resurrection, because with that moral ransom paid, Jesus made the eternal preservation of human life available to every person on this planet. That was the promise. That is what is available to each of us who have accepted Jesus as our ‘ransom-payer’; we will find eternal life with Jesus on the other side of this life. That is how the promise preserves lives.

Secondly, the laws the psalmist references go back fewer ages to the time of Moses. Moses was God’s handpicked individual to lead the nation that Abraham had fathered into the Promised Land. On that journey, Moses was also given the daunting task of teaching the nation that God is a God of integrity, and that He can only be in relationship with people who respect God’s authority to require that integrity to be developed in them. The laws were commands God clarified through Moses, commands like: “I am the LORD your God; you shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not covet.” Those two commands alone were enough to make it pretty clear that every human on planet earth was incapable of obeying God completely. That was fine because it turns out that “through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20). Consciousness of sin leads us to do one of two things: rebel further against God and make a grab for complete freedom from God’s presence, or submit to God in humble repentance, accepting God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus, and access to His presence for eternity. That is how the laws both condemn and preserve lives.

And finally, the psalmist references the LORD’s love which covers both the span of eternity and of creation, of which this planet is a mere blip in time. God, who is three persons in one—Father, Spirit, and Son—exists in a unity described by perfect love. He is completely fulfilled in the expressions of love that bind the Trinity unsparingly, perfectly, and completely together. Yet somehow—in the greatest mystery of the ages—as God created the universe, He made humankind the pinnacle of His loving creative expression. To be in loving relationship with Him was the purpose God embedded into every man, woman and child. We are created in such a way that our greatest joy and fulfillment comes only through loving Him in return.

The psalmist was right. The promise, the laws, and God’s love, are the essential components of God’s great gift to us: the preservation of our lives for eternity. He values us immeasurably. He wants us to be in continuing existence with Him—in future bodies created to last forever—long after these present shadows of bodies have ceased to be preserved. So dig out a Bible. Begin again to pour through its pages and find out how God valuing our person is tied to His intention to preserve us for eternity. Come to this sanctuary of preservation.

 

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 9

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Mercy.

Jesus is the man with authority to speak a command and it happens. Unnumbered galaxies are flung into space, untold intricacies are embedded into genetic matter, and unseen power exorcises leprous sores and evil demons from hapless victims—at a word from Jesus.

We saw examples of this authority described in Matthew chapter eight—our Day 8 of ‘Twenty-eight Days With Jesus’. There is a sense of awe when thinking about the power and authority Jesus commands that inspires our respect. This is the fear of God we rightly have thinking about the ‘transcendence’ of His being—His existence transcends or goes beyond anything and everything we can imagine. He is completely other than us.

Day 9, by contrast, focuses on an attribute that complements Christ’s transcendence beautifully. We call it ‘immanence’. It means closeness, nearness, and accessibility. Reading Matthew chapter nine gives us a sense that Jesus really loves being with people, getting to the heart of their needs, and giving them more than they ever imagined was available. He is accessible to all.

For instance, right at the beginning of the chapter we see a group of men bringing with them a friend of theirs who is paralyzed and lying helplessly on a mat. I imagine the fellow has been jostled and jiggled relentlessly as his well-meaning friends have toted him across town in search of Jesus. The man is paralyzed, so he probably can’t keep his body balanced while his friends, grasping the corners of his mat, fail to notice him sliding one way or another in their quest to find the Healer.

It’s the town of Capernaum—a small seaside town—and when the men find Jesus they are relieved to catch His attention. I’m sure Jesus looks into each of their faces. He sees their hands supporting the mat on which their friend lies. He reads the hope in their eyes and looks even deeper, seeing the faith in their hearts that brings them to Him. Then he focuses on the invalid in the stretcher.

“Take heart, son,” Jesus tells the paralytic, “your sins are forgiven.”

Imagine the silence that follows. Stories of prophets healing people are recorded in the ancient Scriptures and news has spread that Jesus is a modern-day prophet who has been healing every sort of illness. But did He just say, “your sins are forgiven”? Forgiving sins is different. That’s God’s territory.

The Jewish elders recognize this religious faux pas immediately and begin to murmur, “blasphemy!” pegging Jesus an infidel and religious upstart. They don’t care at all about the paralyzed man, forgiven of sins or not, healed or not. They simply want to protect the status quo of their religion.

Jesus responds by saying two things to the uncaring spiritual gatekeepers. Firstly, He says, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home” (Matt.9:4-6). The man is healed and the elders are left speechless.

But Jesus is not finished with the religious naysayers yet. He goes on to direct them “…go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’.” There is a world of meaning in what Jesus reveals to these teachers who had become heartless in dealing with everyday people. God had intended their role to be leaders of people toward Himself but they had wrapped themselves up in the world of ceremonial acts: sacrifices and rituals emptied of relational significance. Jesus is quoting the prophet Hosea who saw the same error in the Jewish priests eight hundred years earlier.

What God had clarified back then was that He doesn’t want ritual sacrifice for the sake of ritual. He wants people who love Him for who He is, and He wants people to love others precisely because they are made in God’s image. Jesus reminds the teachers of the law of these verses. He brings these ancient words to their attention because these ‘law-keepers’ had forgotten about the law of love and they had no idea about mercy.

Mercy means recognizing every person’s inherent value and not holding social position or personal situation to account. It means empathizing with people—especially the needy—and showing compassion even when it appears like people don’t deserve it. It means looking reality in the face and doing everything possible to bring healing into others’ lives.

Mercy epitomizes Jesus. Nothing is hidden from Him—not sins needing forgiveness, not heart-wounds needing healing, not superficiality needing to be replaced with authenticity. And mercy, explains Jesus, needs to epitomize each of us. Period. No excuses. No rituals will replace it. Just go, learn it, and do it.

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

(Photo Credit: 100203-N-6214F-049 CAP HAITIEN, Haiti (Feb. 3, 2010) A Hatian boy takes his first steps on his crutches with the support of a nurse after having a leg amputated at the Milot Hospital. Several U.S. and international military and non-governmental agencies are conducting humanitarian and disaster relief operations as part of Operation Unified Response after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake caused severe damage in and around Port-au-Prince, Haiti Jan. 12. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Robert J. Fluegel/Released))

 

NEW WAY OF SEEING

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With a sinking feeling I eased the car into the left turn lane and slowed down to a stop, waiting for the advanced left turn light to go green. I saw the man pacing on the cement meridian dividing the lane from oncoming traffic, and grimaced – it was a panhandler. It’s not uncommon to see the homeless in the big city, but in our rural town it used to be a rarity. Yet, as our town has grown, so have the number of homeless.

I wince internally when I have to wait in a left turn lane while a panhandler paces by my window. It brings up so many questions. Do I make eye contact or not? Do I nod my head or shake it? Do I dig into my purse or keep a tight grip on the steering wheel praying for the light to turn green?

“What,” I wonder “is the right thing to do?”

Ever felt that way?

Jesus has a similar encounter (Luke 18:35-43). He is traveling south from Galilee on foot. He has been on the road for several days, and has attracted a crowd, as usual. He is heading for Jerusalem to keep a very important appointment. The Passover is imminent and He knows it will be His last; He knows His time has come to do for the world what He has ultimately come to do. He is a man on a mission, focused and single-minded in getting to Jerusalem to accomplish His task.

But just outside of Jerusalem, on the outskirts of the sleepy little town of Jericho, He has to pull into a left-turn lane of sorts. And there sitting by the roadside is a blind man begging. Neither Jesus nor the blind man can see each other because crowds of people are flanking Jesus as He walks along. But the blind man senses the commotion. He hears the crowd jostling by him and he asks the crowd what is happening.

“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” someone answers.

It is one of those moments in life when everything slows down as the mind races through every option and comes up with one imperative: Act now or forever regret the lost opportunity.

“Jesus, Son of David,” the blind man suddenly calls from the roadside. “Have mercy on me!” Will Jesus hear him or will his voice be drowned in the sea of travellers who surround Him? Will Jesus turn to him or move away avoiding eye contact with the beggar on the fringes?

“Jesus, Son of David,” he repeats, shouting desperately now.

Jesus stops. He scans the roadside looking for that one voice. He sets aside His Jerusalem-bound agenda, for a social nobody, and in that moment communicates something very important for every follower of His: nobody is a nobody; everyone has intrinsic value – everyone is worth stopping for and inquiring into. Every life is precious.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus kindly asks the man who is brought to Him. This question reveals Jesus’ deep respect for the blind man’s humanity. He wants to know what this man values. He invites the man to verbalize what is it that he believes Jesus alone can do for him.

“I want to see,” he replies. It’s plain. It’s simple. It’s everything to the blind man.

“Receive your sight,” Jesus responds, and in a flash the man sees.

Looking deep into the man’s now-seeing eyes, Jesus commends him, “Your faith has healed you.” You and I did this together, Jesus is saying. I have the power and you have the faith. Faith pleases God immensely, and you have displayed this beautifully. It’s scandalous, but it’s true.

I’m not sure I know the solution to the panhandler on the meridian in my town. But now I know what Jesus thinks of him; He loves him, values him immensely, and wants to express that through me. That’s the framework for my new way of seeing the man on the fringes of my town. I have my list of things to do, all very important. But nothing is more important in Jesus’ eyes than pleasing the Father – and acts of faith do that. Instead of seeing an obstacle, I think I see an opportunity.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Alex Proimos)