February 28, 2016 A+D
St. Luke 11:14-28 (Psalm 123)
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.
We hear almost all of Psalm 123 today right before the Gospel. The last verse was dropped. I don’t know why. Here is how the whole thing goes:
1 To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
2 Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he has mercy upon us.
3 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
4 Our soul has had more than enough
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud.
The gist of the Psalm is that we will look to God and His mercy because we have had enough of the scorn and contempt of the devil. But the first line drives it all. We lift up our eyes to the One enthroned in the heavens, that is, to the One who has suffered death for us and overcome Hell for us by His resurrection, the One who has ascended in His Body, as Man, for us, into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. We lift our eyes to Jesus and dare to gaze into the face of God like St. Stephen because Jesus has opened heaven for us.
The Psalm compares us to servants looking eagerly to their masters. “Servant” is the literal translation here so I suppose I shouldn’t complain, especially since it is parallel to the word maiden, but I am going to complain anyway. The poetic and theological idea would be better conveyed in modern English by a dog looking to his owner and a baby to her mother. We don’t really get the whole servant thing. I am not sure we’re actually psychologically capable of it. It is like chopsticks instead of a fork or the Romans lying down to eat instead of sitting: it is never going to make any sense to modern Americans.
We do get, however, what the Canaanite woman was saying when she compared herself to a dog waiting for crumbs from her master’s table. We know how dogs look to their owners for affection and food, how they trust in them. Babies are much the same but even more demanding. It almost seems as though the mother is the slave and the baby is the master. The baby expects to be fed, to be sheltered, and to be loved. The baby is not the master. The baby is vulnerable, weak, and has no say over what it eats or where it sleeps. She simply receives what she is given.
That is what faith is. Faith expects good from God. It looks to Him for mercy in the deepest sense of the term.
We long for mercy. We live in an ugly world with selfish people, full of violence and injustice. If the presidential race doesn’t depress you, you are not paying attention. We long for beauty and forgiveness, for a place of justice and belonging. So our eyes look to the Lord our God till He has mercy upon us.
That doesn’t mean that we are going to stop looking to God once His mercy is complete. There will come a time, the sooner the better, when we will be fully relieved of the sorrows of this life and the scorn of the proud. When demons will not mock us and the Law will not accuse us and we will not betray or hurt ourselves and those we love anymore. We already enjoy a foretaste of His mercy. We have the peace that passes all understanding. We have the forgiveness of sins in the Body and Blood of Jesus. We have His Name upon us. Yet it is not yet complete and we are eager for the time when it will be, when the foretaste gives way to the Feast, till then we look to the Lord for mercy.
Even then, even when every promise is full, when all tears are removed, when we know as we are known and worship the Lamb who was slain but who lives with all the saints, even then we will look to Him for mercy, for sustenance, and for joy.
Then we will do it perfectly, now we do it imperfectly. Then we will do it without doubt or fear, but now our sins are still with us. And they weary us. In the Psalms the enemies are the demons. They sometimes have human agents, but ultimately and always we are engaged is a spiritual struggle. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
And we have had enough. We are weary of the devil’s lies and the sadness of death. We are weary of trying to get ahead, of trying to make ends meet, and of being judged for everything we’ve done or not done. We are weary of the world’s standards and the contempt of those at ease. We have had enough of that, enough of contempt and realism and practicality. We have had enough of comparisons and measurements and efficiency.
So we look to the One at the right hand of the Father for the mercy that endureth forever. And by “looking” we really mean “listening.” Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. The Word of God reveals the Finger of God that was nailed to a cross to drive off demons and open our mouths sing God’s praise. The Word of God takes away the armor in which the devil trusted and hands us over as the prize to the Son, a bride to the Bridegroom, a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl great price for which the Son of God would give everything He had, even His very life. The Word of God declares us clean, righteous, and holy for Jesus’ sake.
The word “keep” here can be misheard. It doesn’t mean obey or even follow. It means to guard, to hold, to treasure. Blessed are those who look to Jesus by hearing His Word and who love it, who hold it, who keep it. They are like dogs and babies eager for what God gives. In the end, they are never disappointed.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.