- Deuteronomy 34: 1-12, 15-18
Moses climbs another mountain, Mt. Nebo, from which he sees the land promised by God to Abraham and re-affirmed to Isaac and the Jacob/Israel. And so the Torah concludes with the death and burial of Moses, the only person who was “embraced” by God face to face and survived. His successor, Joshua, is named. So the unparalleled story of the Lord’s “mighty deeds” and all the terrifying display of power, done through Moses ends with the declaration that another like him had ever been seen since.
- Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17
The only psalm attributed to Moses dramatically contrasts our awareness of time– like grass we sprout and grow in the morning and wither and die at night– with God’s time– “forever and forever, You are God.” This is the God from whom we ask “sweetness/graciousness.”
- Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18
The writer of this excerpt from Leviticus incorporates into a summary of the Law given by God to Moses two crucial additions: “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
- Psalm 1
This wisdom psalm, placed at the very beginning of the Psalter, introduces a thread that runs throughout the collection: the wise person “murmurs” God’s teachings day and night and will prosper, flourish and bear fruit; the “scoffer” will wither and fade to nothing.
- I Thessalonians 2: 1-8
Paul acknowledges the skepticism of his hearers in Thessaloniki because of other would-be leaders who have disillusioned them. But he reminds them that he did not use their well-known tactics– flattery, angling for money and telling them what they wanted to hear. “But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply did we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”
- Matthew 22: 34-46
As others had done before him, Jesus links love of God and neighbor as the essence of the Law, (Deuteronomy 6:5). But then he poses a question to the Pharisees. If the Messiah is to come from the lineage of David, then why does David (in Psalm 110) address the Messiah as “my Lord?” They have no answer. Jesus leaves the clear impression that he has direct knowledge of the significance of this question which they had not thought of, and the answer.
Frequently in biblical texts, past, present and future are conflated into a “moment” that surpasses words and results in an insight that transcends time, as we know it, and therefore transforms a day or a second into something of seminal significance. Powerful memories from the past when God rescued the chosen from slavery in Egypt and all that transpired in the wilderness over the last forty years come back just at the end of the life of Moses as he looks over into the promised land, promised so long ago, and now on the cusp of arrival. Past, present and future fused into a “moment,” a moment out of time yet that transforms that moment into an event. The psalmist (90) meditates on the staggering reality that we are keenly aware of the passing of time while God is “forever and ever.” Leviticus and Psalm 19 present godly wisdom as a sublime ideal which the “wise” pursue but the “foolish” scoff at and wither and die. In an intriguing brain-twister, Jesus asks how could David, who lived centuries earlier, address the Messiah as “my Lord,” when the Messiah was to come out of David’s lineage? Matthew’s Jesus intimates he knows the answer to that question because he has direct knowledge and they do not.
In Being and Time, (p 370ff), Martin Heidegger ponders the various awarenesses of time we experience. He describes how each person has an awareness of her or his own history which is embedded in memory. He also describes the way we confront the present, which is always a choice between getting by with conventional or “average” choices and digging deeper into ourselves, owning who wee are “authentically,” and making the choice that is the most “caring” for ourselves and those who will be affected by our choice. He defines the future as a mixture of who we have been in the past and the person we might become with “resoluteness,” recognizing our “potentiality for being.” Then Heidegger arrives at one of his most crucial descriptions. Memory, present and future are conflated in a “moment” that can be determined by the calendar or clock (because we are finite beings that is prescriptive way we know time), but it is also a “moment” outside of time which transforms our finite time. He writes: “We therefore call the phenomenon of the future, the character of having been [i.e. the past] and the Present, the ecstasies of temporality.” (p. 377) In a footnote, the translators, Macquairre and Robinson, highlight the root of the Greek word “ecstasy” and its closeness to another English word, “existence.”) In such ecstatic “moments,” (who knows how much time they actually take in minutes by a clock), the past and open-ended future come into and transform the present. Our lives are defined by such “moments.”
The Torah ends on such a “moment.” God’s past deeds over centuries are recalled on the same occasion when the future is as broad as the sky over the promised land; that occasion is the imminent death of a man, Moses. Jesus poses a question with no simple answer: why would David, who lived in the past, address his own descendant as “my Lord?” Because it is Jesus who asks this question in today’s gospel, the point becomes: he was a descendant of a mortal, David, yet he is also One who stands outside human history; “the Lord,” who makes the future possible.
Frequently biblical texts initiate this dynamic between past and potential future that shapes the present. They do it through stories, which, if read with any seriousness, pose a future for ourselves different than we imagined before we read or heard them. Walter Benjamin drew a distinction between “information [that] does not survive the moment in which it was new” and “storytelling” that “preserves and concentrates its strength and is capable of releasing it even after a long time.” (Illuminations p. 90) The scriptures, we can add to Benjamin’s general observation, tell stories of God’s past displays of “power” and the women and men who participated and gave testimony to them in their time. But the scriptures are not “information.” They are something far more profound and enduring. They are stories of God’s past “power” that enable us to imagine a different future than we would have created by ourselves. They raise the potential to transform the present. Such “moments,” such “ecstasies,” might last seconds, by human measurement of time, but they change our lives.