Exodus 40:16-21, 34-38
Psalm 84:3, 4, 5-6a and 8a, 11
Today’s scriptures remind us of the importance of obedience, a topic that sometimes makes us feel uncomfortable, yet is ultimately a source of great and lasting comfort. The Exodus passage shows Moses doing “exactly as the Lord commands him.” He followed God’s instructions to the letter in assembling the “Dwelling of the meeting”, which would hold the Ark of the Covenant and reflect the very presence of God. The people of Israel undoubtedly drew great comfort from the signs of cloud and fire as visible evidence of the presence of God in their midst. These signs were no doubt carefully chosen to reflect protection, warmth, and light that would be available for them in their desert pilgrimage. Yet they were also probably a little unnerving, as these signs were not natural, normal occurrences. The supernatural can be discomforting, and yet we must take this world as we find it, and not as we would make it to be.
The Psalmist likewise finds comfort from obedience and fidelity. In the full biblical passage, Psalm 84 is described as the “prayer of a pilgrim to Jerusalem.” The pilgrim’s soul yearns for God, enduring the hardships of a journey in order to be near to God. The writer reminds us that only one day in the courts of God, even sleeping at the threshold, was to be preferred over the comforts of the tents of the wicked.
I note that the liturgy chosen from this Psalm omits a short passage, which I found quite meaningful. Verses 6b and 7 describe a journey made on “pilgrim roads”, where the pilgrims find “spring water” to drink. In Nebraska, where this month is hot and dry, it is easy to envision the satisfaction and relief that spring water would bring. Verse 7 also contains a comforting message that “from pools the Lord provides water for those who lose their way.”
The Gospel shows Jesus continues his teaching on the kingdom of heaven, which brings us to consider the sobering thought of the final judgment. In comparing the kingdom of heaven to a net catching good and bad fish, this probably resonated quite clearly to the people of that time, who would be familiar with fishing practices. This parable is also similar to the parable of the weeds among the wheat, which provides a similar warning about judgment.
The parable about wheat surely resonates more clearly with me, as I am not much of a fisherman. However, I have grown wheat, and my wheat has included some weed patches. From what I have observed, weeds often arise where the stand was weak, as where we drove our grain drill a little too wide, leaving some open space. Sometimes, you just have to drive around those weed patches rather than running them through the combine, thus foregoing any harvest on that patch. Later on, you must disk or shred the weeds, so that they do not reproduce for next year. We should hope, therefore, that the wheat stands strong and close together.
It is a hard thing to consider judgment. Yet Jesus’ teaching seems quite clear. Once again, we must take the world as we find it, not as we might wish to make it to be. It underscores the need for us to pay attention. We surely do not wish to be a “bad fish” or a “weed.” Yet, we should also hear the words of the Psalmist, who mentions the water the Lord provided to those who “lose their way.” As one who has lost his way from time to time, I am greatly comforted by these words.
By Edward Morse