Texts for the Day
- Semi-continuous: Exodus 17:1-7 and Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
- Thematic: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 and Psalm 25:1-9
- Philippians 2:1-13
- Matthew 21:23-32
Commentary and Reflection
Psalm 78 – Take a look at Psalm 78 this week. This is a so-called “historical litany” psalm that tells an extended story about the history of Israel. This Psalm tells the story of the Exodus. A portion of it is the psalm this week because it contains the story of the water from the rock, the reading from Exodus in the semi-continuous series.
The attribution, “A maskil of Asaph,” at the beginning of the psalm gives some additional information. Asaph was a singer in the courts of King David and Solomon who is mentioned several other places in the Old Testament. Read 1 Chronicles 16:1-36 for a depiction of Asaph singing for David.
This week, read the psalm in its entirety, not just the short selection for Sunday. If convenient, read it aloud, to partially recapture its original identity as a song. Questions for reflection:
- How is it different to hear this story in poetry form, rather than the more familiar narrative of Exodus 17? What do you notice? What themes or details do you miss?
- What does the psalmist think is the meaning of the story? Do you agree with this interpretation? How does the literary setting of Asaph singing in David’s court inform your answer to these questions?
Retributive Justice – “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin.”
The last few weeks have brought us numerous natural disasters in several parts of the world. In light of texts like the one we see this week from Ezekiel, in such times there are always public voices proclaiming that the victims of these disasters must have done something wrong that displeased God. This assumption is known as retributive justice, the idea that God rewards the good and punishes sinners in this life.
While reward and punishment are key themes of both Old and New Testaments, the Bible does not speak with a unified voice about whether God’s justice works this way. Here are a few texts that challenge, qualify, or contradict the idea of retributive justice and can be useful at times like these.
What do you think? Does God reward the good and punish the evil? Can natural disasters be supernatural or are they always just that, natural?