Meditation on Matthew 28:16

Kevin J Youngblood
 

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. Matthew 28:16

Eleven is an odd number in more ways than one. By this point in Matthew’s gospel, we have become so accustomed to the number twelve that it is truly jarring to be confronted with the number eleven (10:1-2, 5; 11:1; 14:20; 19:28; 20:17; 26:14, 20, 47, 53). Something isn’t right. Someone is missing. There are supposed to be twelve, but there are only eleven.

I was really impacted this morning by this unassuming verse and its mere mention of “the eleven.” The number hit my ear like the shrill screech on a violin when the bow goes astray interrupting what was otherwise a mesmerizing concerto. For all of Judas’ faults and for his inexcusable betrayal of the Lord, I cannot help but miss him when I read this verse.


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The Pleasure of Prayer

Kevin J Youngblood
 

I read something this morning that really stimulated my thinking about prayer. Sir Roger Scruton’s excellent book “Beauty: A Very Short Introduction” notes a distinction in the philosophy of aesthetics between various kinds of pleasure. He labels these “pleasure from,” “pleasure that,” and “pleasure in.” “Pleasure from” he defines as the pleasing sensation one derives from an interaction with someone, or from the consumption of something. He uses the example of snorting cocaine. One’s pleasure of cocaine is pleasure from the high that the drug induces and not pleasure in the cocaine itself. Similarly, “pleasure that” is the sense of accomplishment one derives from the completion of a duty, especially, though not necessarily, an unpleasant duty. For example, I am paying my tax bill today, and while I do not enjoy paying taxes per se, I do derive a pleasing kind of relief from paying it and being out from under this obligation to my government. “Pleasure in,” however, is quite distinct from the previous two in that its focus is purely the beauty and enjoyment of the person or object itself, for his/her/its own sake, apart from any benefit or utility the person or object may have.


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Meditation on Psalm 66

Kevin J Youngblood
 

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,

the Lord would not have listened.

19 But truly God has listened;

he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

20 Blessed be God,

because he has not rejected my prayer

or removed his steadfast love from me!

Psalm 66:18-20 alerts us to a serious impediment to our prayers – cherishing iniquity in our hearts. When we hold on to secret sins, allowing them to compete with God for our affections, we drive a wedge between ourselves and God that makes prayer difficult. This verse reminds me of an old debate I remembered hearing growing up in church. It centered on the question of whether God hears a sinner’s prayers. Some insisted that he does not, others argued just as forcefully that he does. Various biblical texts were marshalled in defense of each position.

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Meditation on Exodus 3 and 1 Corinthians 13

Kevin J. Youngblood
 
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The call of Moses recorded in Exodus 3 revolves around two questions Moses asks. The first is the question he asks of YHWH: Who are you? The second question he also asks of YHWH, but it is less of a genuine question, like the first, than it is a polite refusal of YHWH’s invitation that he be God’s agent of Israel’s deliverance.

On another level, however, the two questions confront the reader with a profound reality. Who is God and who am I. These two questions are inextricably intertwined just as much for us as they were for Moses. We cannot really know who we are until we know who God is. At the center of the human quest for identity is a vicious circle: knowing ourselves is impossible without knowing God, and knowing God seems inevitably to require us to know ourselves. Calvin captured this circularity perfectly in the opening line of Book One of his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

The First Book treats of the knowledge of God the Creator. But as it is in the creation of man that the divine perfections are best displayed, so man also is made the subject of discourse. Thus the whole book divides itself into two principal heads—the former relating to the knowledge of God, and the latter to the knowledge of man.

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Meditation on Mark 5

Kevin J. Youngblood

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

The story of Jesus’ raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead is remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which is the interruption of this urgent, extremely time-sensitive request for healing to deal with a much older woman’s long-term (and therefore far less urgent) condition. It is in fact during this interruption that Jairus’ servants inform him that Jesus is too late. His daughter is already dead and there is no point in troubling the master further.

Something, I had never noticed before, however, is the significance of Jesus’ calling the woman with the issue of blood “daughter.” First of all, it is exceedingly rare for Jesus to refer to women by the designation “daughter.” The only other occasion when Jesus does this is when he addresses the “Daughters of Jerusalem” on his way to Golgotha in Luke 23:28. Mark 5:34 (and its parallels in Matthew and Luke), therefore, is the only occasion when Jesus thus addresses an individual. What struck me this evening as I read this story again is how Jesus’ identification with this woman as daughter parallels Jairus’ request for Jesus to come and heal his daughter.


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Psalm 90

Meditations on the Psalms by Kevin Youngblood
 

Teach us how to apportion our days that we might gain a wise heart. Psalm 90:12

Psalm 90 is a sobering reflection on the brevity of human life from the perspective of divine eternity. With the reality of death firmly fixed before the psalmist, he proceeds to marvel at the speed with which the days evaporate. Nothing quite focuses our attention on the present, on our priorities, as does the contemplation of our deaths, especially the fact that we are not guaranteed another day on this earth. There is simply no time to waste on sin and self from this perspective. Perhaps this is why the Rule of St. Benedict advises us “To desire eternal life with all of the passion of the spirit. To keep death daily before one’s eyes.”

This I think captures well what the psalmist is saying: “Teach us to keep death daily before our eyes.” When I practice this discipline of contemplating my death, of imagining that today is the last day of my life, I am immediately ashamed at how much time I have wasted on foolish, shallow pleasures, on sin and selfishness. I would get stuck in this downward spiral of shame were it not for the assurance of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Lamentations 3:23 comes into razor sharp focus – YHWH’s compassionate acts are renewed every morning. In the light of Psalm 90 and in the light of the discipline of “keeping death daily before my eyes” I come to see that time itself is a grace of God. The fact that God has given me one more day to make things right, to live with the correct priorities, to give sin no place, and to waste no time on selfishness and shallow pleasures is itself evidence that he graciously woke me up this morning to further his work in my mind and heart and to extend his healing love in and through me for the betterment of the world.


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