The Book of the Psalms are a collection of poems and songs, the ancient prayer book of the Hebrews, used undoubtedly by Jesus in his own life. Many scholars believe the title “Song of Ascents”, indicates that these psalms were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals [Deuteronomy 16:16]. Psalm 131 invites us to humility and perspective. The poet warns about giving oneself over to heroic exploits or achievements in the objective of rivaling the power of God. It’s not a Marxist retarding of human achievement or prohibition of seeking understanding, but rather a faith-full admonition to recognize who is God, and who is not divinely sovereign.
The gospel of Luke is written with a Gentile or Greek-speaking cultured people in mind. The Greek language is more complex, and Hebraic notions, Jewish practices are explained (whereas in Matthew they are not). Luke’s gospel also has the most fleshed out version of the birth story of Jesus. Both of the gospels place the birth of Jesus during the reign of Herod the Great, the Roman client king of Judea (37-4 bce), but Luke takes pains to place this event in the wider perspective of the world context. Luke contrasts the reign of Jesus with that of the Emperor Augustus, between military power and God’s power. Curiously only Luke contains the story we read today, whereas Matthew tells instead of the visit of the Magi [Matthew 2:1-12] and the family’s escape of King Herod as refugees in Egypt [Matthew 2:13-18]. The story calls to mind other stories such as the prayer of Hannah upon the giving of a child to her in her impotency, the prophecies of Isaiah about the Servant of Lord (in particular Isaiah chapter 11) and the mystery of how Jesus would be a stumbling block for many (1 Corinthians 1).
Jesus comes to John the Baptizer to be Baptist. He had a vibrant ministry of teaching, admonition to repentance and public theology, what we picture when we imagine a revivalist. Jesus comes to him, the one who is telling other to wait for the One to come, and is baptized. In that seminal moment the voice of God speaks from the heavens, affirming the belovedness of Jesus not for what he does, but for who he is. Theologically we believe that this belovedness extends to us, as we are adopted as children of God through the faith of Christ. This promises surpasses notions of unavoidable original sin or inherent human goodness, to affirm us: you.
Questions for the Practice of Examen & Contemplation
- These scriptures reflect upon the majestic sovereignty of God, beyond our imagination, expectation and projection. The psalmist poet points to humility as the key to knowing God and being known by God, like a child feeding at the breast of its loving mother. The gospel selection insists upon faithfulness: in particular to the way in which God is faithful to the divine promise and project first spoken to Abraham in Genesis 12.
- How do you experience God in your life? Like a breastfeeding child abandoned to nourishing connection, the promise that you are beloved of God? Or like an adolescent, unsure of how to affirm, or earn, your own identity while being grounded, nourished and connected to God? Or are you a mixture of both developmental states? How do you need to grow, become strong and be filled with wisdom as you seek to know and be known by God? and walk with the Lord in all of your life?