One of the favorite “double quotes,” somebody in the Bible quoting from elsewhere in the Scriptures, comes up this weekend embedded in the Gospel:
His disciples recalled the words of scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Is that all there is? Not really. Check the context of where it comes from to get the full picture.
Consider a well-known example, when Jesus quoted the 22nd Psalm on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Psalm 22.2a) Was Jesus giving voice to despair? Was this his human nature coming out? Psalm 22 is a complex poem of lament and final triumph. The Church uses it as a Sunday Psalm during the Easter season, so the quote from the cross does not give the whole story.
Likewise, the context of this one half-verse is very interesting. Psalm 69 leads off with a call for help:
Save me, God, for the waters have reached my neck.
The call has morphed into a personal justification before God in verses 8 through 15:
For your sake I bear insult, shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my kin, a stranger to my mother’s children.
Because zeal for your house consumes me, I am scorned by those who scorn you.
I have wept and fasted, but this led only to scorn.
I clothed myself in sackcloth; I became a byword for them.
They who sit at the gate gossip about me; drunkards make me the butt of their songs.
But I pray to you, LORD, for the time of your favor. God, in your great kindness answer me with your constant help.
Rescue me from the mire; do not let me sink. Rescue me from my enemies and from the watery depths.
It looks different in context, doesn’t it? Were the disciples latching on to that half-verse as a standout? Or did they and the evangelist have a wider view? Psalm 69 sure looks like a suffering servant piece. It is of a kin to Psalm 22 in its final act of praise (verses 30-37) for a God who listens and respond with justice:
But I am afflicted and in pain; let your saving help protect me, God,
That I may praise God’s name in song and glorify it with thanksgiving.
My song will please the LORD more than oxen, more than bullocks with horns and hooves:
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, take heart!
For the LORD hears the poor, does not spurn those in bondage.
Let the heavens and the earth sing praise, the seas and whatever moves in them!”
God will rescue Zion, rebuild the cities of Judah. God’s servants shall dwell in the land and possess it;
it shall be the heritage of their descendants; those who love God’s name shall dwell there.
One small comment from the disciples, two psalms, and a whole tradition of why the just suffer and the wicked flourish. Pretty rich for just a small portion of the Word on a feast honoring the dedication of a church long ago and far away. It shows us the depth of Scripture, but also the complexities of the Lectionary offers us at times. I leave it to your reflection how the same feast can conjure images of fruitful bounty in an arid Middle East as well as the sacrifice of Christ on the cross: and what meaning that might have in the life of today’s believer. And which of these ways, or perhaps another, will your preacher choose to take this weekend?