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Midrash



I just took a look at a website about contemporary midrash, and realized with a little thrill of delight that what I am doing by recording my lectio divina reflections is essentially midrash. There was a story on that website that spoke to me. It was about a workshop with adults and children in which the participants were invited to imagine that they were a person or thing from the Torah. One said the Menorah in the Temple, one a panther in the desert, and one little girl said that she was the rainbow after the flood. A few minutes later the rainbow put up her hand and said that she had changed her mind. The leader asked her what she was now and she said, “I’m still a rainbow, but I’m the Red Sea Rainbow.” The leader said, “We’ve never heard of that before,” and asked the little girl to tell more. The little girl jumped up and said, “I’m the rainbow that pushed the waters apart,” and did a backbend to demonstrate. The leader said that there was a sharp intake of breath in the group at this, and it was clear to everyone that they had witnessed the “creation of a memorable midrash.”

I’m deep into the study of the psalms as poetry, along with taking a class on the Zen Koan, as well as taking a plunge into homiletics with a preaching assignment at my church. I’m not sure exactly how to fit this smorgasbord into my regular blog posts, but I’m going to do my best. The Zen Koans are a bit abstruse, so I’ll let them lurk in the background for now.

Provisionally, my plan is to take the psalm listed for the Daily Office and use it to try and create a midrash with a poetic turn. I may also throw some Zen into it and let it rattle around. I’m hoping some rainbows make an appearance.



Today’s Psalm is number 78.

It opens with a great request, “Stretch out those ears of yours.”

A paraphrase might be like this:

“Listen up, stretch out your ears to hear what I say. I’m opening my mouth and proverbs will come out. I will give a voice to ancient enigmas that we’ve all heard and know. Our ancestors told them to us. No secrets will be kept from their children; to the next generation the heralds of God will cry praise of him: telling the strength of him and the wonderful deeds that he did.” That’s the opening.

Then the psalm goes on to give an abridged history of the tribes of Israel, in which the main theme is that God gave Jacob a demonstration, and important instructions to Jacob’s tribe, and told them to pass them on to their children, so that they would know to trust God. People are also supposed to remind their kids of the stupidity and carelessness of their ancestors, who were flaky and unreliable, and not brave enough to put up with a little hardship.

The psalm continues with a list of examples of the cowardice and incredible dimwittedness of the ancient Israelites who apparently couldn’t see what was as plain as the noses on their faces. They were like professional doubters when it came to God. How embarrassing!

The psalm then gives a whole list of the fantastic things that God did, and finishes the list with the admission that even when those ancestors were forced to realize that God was all they had, they still tried to butter him up with flattery while they kept right on doubting.

Their hearts just weren’t right with God.

Then comes the story of how God kept cutting them slack, because they were just wind. (Literally! I wonder if there’s a pun in ancient Hebrew about vain talk being like wind. Might as well be, and it sure works in English.)

Anyway, the psalm goes on to point out that these flaky ancestors just ignored the whole story of all the horrible things that happened to the Egyptians before they finally let the Hebrews go. The psalm lists all those things— from bloody rivers; to several kinds of nasty bugs; to hail and frost; and so-on and so-on. Egypt was toast!

Then the psalm lists all the ways that God helped the refugees, still making the point that those old idiot ancestors went and overlooked all of it, and kept baiting God and making demands like spoiled children.

This is a cautionary tale, about what happens when people are ignorant, self-indulgent, stubborn, cantankerous, whiny, and greedy. The psalm literally says that God woke up like a man who’d been asleep, like a big strong guy who is now yelling because he’s drunk, and hauls off and boots his enemy in the ass.

God throws up his hands in disgust and won’t have anything more to do with the Israelites. It’s a bit like the modern practice of tough love, isn’t it? God won’t go on helping them just so they can go on being idiots. No, God’s going to say, “You made your bed, now lie in it.” God’s acting pretty much like the wife of an alcoholic who decides not to clean her husband up and put him to bed anymore, because he’s proved he’s going to keep right on going out, getting drunk, and coming home to pass out on the floor.

God decides to stop being co-dependent— How ‘bout that?

The psalm winds up by saying that in spite of all that, God didn’t ask for a divorce; instead

“God builds his high sanctuary, like the earth he founded to last for eons, chooses David to be his servant and takes him out of the sheepfold, leaving behind the unweaned lambs, and gives him to the tribe of Jacob to be the Shepherd of Israel.

So, David shepherds them with integrity, and guides them with an understanding hand.”

The End.

So the whole point of Psalm 78 is this:

Don’t be idiots like your ancestors were.

Pay attention to your hearts.

Take care to do good things.

Be kind to people.

Be generous, not greedy; forthright, not a flatterer; honest, not cunning.

Be fair and reliable.

Be sensible, not naïve.

Behave as if you know that God will never ditch you.

Last, but not least, always act as if you trust God, even when you’re scared.



Midrash on Psalm 78



Winds pass by.



They come from somewhere, they go somewhere.

Who knows where?



Some winds always blow somewhere, maybe just not here.

Some people, you can smell the wind in their clothes.



Some winds just won’t go blow somewhere else.

Some people are just windy.



What goes around, comes around— like the wind.



Some people follow the wind.

Some people think the wind follows them.



Which would you rather be?

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