Today: Psalms 17:1-12; Matthew 20:1-19; Job 11, 12, 13, & 14

Psalms 17

Sorry if you’re tired of me gushing about David’s love songs, but I can’t help myself. I am just so delighted by the marvelous imagery in his lyrics. I wanted to look more deeply into two of the images in today’s Psalm. (WARNING! I got a little obsessed with these images this morning so prepare for a brief geek out session if you choose to read this one… )

David asks God to “keep me as the apple of your eye.” This expression, “apple of your eye,” is somewhat dated now. It means to cherish something above all else. But originally it simply meant the pupil of the eye, the opening where light enters the eyes so that we can see. We are the apple of God’s eye, the ones he cherishes above all else. In return, he is our light. When he is the apple of our eye, when we cherish him and seek relationship with him, he gives us the holy light of eternal vision. I love the mutual exchange of love and light and vision. Our relationship with God is reciprocal.

David also asks God to “hide me in the shadow of your wings.” This image is used many times in the Bible to describe God’s care for us. Jesus even says to Jerusalem, “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” (Luke 13:34) So I thought I should dig a little further with this one. (thank you internet)

Many types of birds do protect their young by covering them with their wings. Adult bird feathers have barbed hooks that lock their feathers together like a zipper and essentially create a warm water-resistant coat. But most fledgling birds don’t yet have these developed feathers. Their little naked bodies are very vulnerable to the weather. The mother bird spreads her wings over her babies in the nest to protect them from the wind and rain.

A Sungrebe

Interesting trivia! The male Sungrebe, a Central/South American waterbird, has pockets under his wings where he tucks his baby chicks to protect them. He can even fly with his hatchlings safely enfolded within these pouches. Sungrebes are the only existing bird known to have such pockets. Both the female and male sungrebes care for their young, but only the male sungrebe sports these nifty pockets. Baby sungrebes hatch after an extremely short incubation period of 10-11 days and so they are not yet fully formed. They are safely stored in daddy’s pouches until they grow some feathers and become old enough to swim. Isn’t that just the neatest?!

I’m sure David had no knowledge of these fascinating birds as he plucked on his harp the day he wrote this song. But what a lovely image depicting God’s care and protection.

Painting by Jeri Desrochers

Matthew 20 – The Laborers in the Field

Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a man who hires laborers to work in his field for an entire day. At lunchtime he hires some more and then hires even more in the late afternoon. At end of day he pays all the workers the same amount regardless of how long they’ve worked. Understandably, those who worked in the hot sun all day were pretty peeved about this situation. It’s not fair that those bums who only worked an hour should get paid the same wages! The employer responds that he paid them the agreed upon price. What is it to you how much I pay the others? “Is your eye envious,” he asks them, “because I am generous?”

This story reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. There are those who aren’t overjoyed when one who has lived a rough life, like me, comes to faith later and then receives great blessings from God. Christians who have always lived good lives are sometimes jealous… the prodigal’s older brother.

I get it. It’s not fair! Those Matthew 20 laborers who sweated in the field all dang day made not a penny more than those who labored a mere hour. But this is a tale of God’s great mercy. Truth be told, not a one of us can earn God’s forgiveness, much less his blessings. The “fair” wages of sin are death. But instead, God’s forgiveness is poured out upon us from the rich depths of his enduring love not from any merit on our part. God’s grace is offered freely to us all.

But do not envy the prodigals. Those who labored the longest, spent more hours that day knowing a paycheck was imminent. They didn’t have to stress about dinner that evening. Their wages were assured. Their bellies would be filled.

Not so for us prodigals. Broken lives provide no peace. How deeply thankful are we prodigals for the undeserved gifts and forgiveness God rains down upon us. Our gratefulness is immeasurable, it salts every moment of our lives. This is the kingdom of heaven. Thank you Lord!

"Job" painting by Christopher Marion Thomas

Job 11-14

“Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” Job 13:15

The conversation continues…

Zophar: Job, you talk too much! If only God would shut your blabbering mouth then you would see we are right. It’s plain as day. God is punishing you because you blew it somehow. Just come clean and God will bless you again. 

Job: Obviously, Zoph, you are the smartest guy in the room <sarcasm>. But I’m pretty smart myself. It’s easy for you to sit on your high horse and say these things from your life of ease. Your empty words are useless. Just shut up already! God is in charge of everything. He gives and he takes away. I will hope in him even if it kills me! But I promise you that I am an innocent man. I will make my case to God. Maybe some day he will deliver me or else I’ll die waiting for his mercy.

Job’s attitude reminds me of another worship song we used to sing back in the 90s:

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out, I’ll
Turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord

When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s all as it should be
Blessed be Your name

On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

I often felt like a hypocrite when we sang this song. I wondered how many of us really believed the sentiments in this song. How easy it is to belt out these words from our positions of wealth and ease. But how about when life gets really tough? Do we still turn back to praise?

In this world there will be suffering and there will be happiness. Sometimes the good will suffer and the bad will prosper. Sometimes the workers don’t get paid fair wages. This is the state of this cursed world we live in. That’s a promise.

Does the clay say to its potter, “What are you making?” Nope! God made us and he gets to dole out the wages as he chooses. Troubles are certain, and I would rather walk through them with my father’s wings of protection covering me. So though there’s pain in the offering, still I will say, “Blessed be his holy name!”