Psalm 50:1-6; Leviticus 11:1-28; Mark 3:20-35

Psalm 50:1-6  Wow.  Here we are, one third of the way through the Psalms already (although the lengthy sojourn at 119 still looms ahead).  This psalm opens reminding us of God the Creator: “He spoke and called to the earth from the sun’s rising-place to its setting.” The Mormons who named that area of Utah “Zion,” must have sure had this second verse in mind:  “From Zion, the zenith of beauty God shone forth.” (2)  But God is not all sweetness and light, “Before Him fire consumes, and round about Him—great storming.” (3)  (Yesterday’s passage in Leviticus certainly reminds us about God as “fire [who] consumes…)

The  thread through these verses is that God speaks.  “He spoke and called to the earth” and the psalmists asks, “Let our God come and not be silent” (3a).  And then, “Let Him call to the heavens above and to the earth to judge his people.”  God never acts in conspiratorial silence.  His acts always involve his voice.  Which is why we feel such pathos in those psalms of supplication that beg for a too-silent God to speak.

And here, God speaks to Israel,”‘Gather to Me My faithful, who with sacrifice seal My pact.’ And let the heavens tell His justice, for God, He is judge.” (5,6)  God is reminding Israel of the terms of His covenant.  And later this week, we will remember the time when God was deathly silent.  So silent that His son cries out in the agony of sheer abandonment.  Such was the commencement of the New Covenant.

And had God spoken, perhaps he would have said something like this: Gather to Me My faithful, for whom I have sacrificed everything, even my own Son, to seal My pact.”

 Leviticus 11:1-28  Now that the Tabernacle is established and the ordinances involving sacrifice have been established, God now speaks to both Moses and Aaron, laying out very specific definitions of what is clean and what is unclean in the animal kingdom.  I’m struck by two aspects of this highly detailed passage.

First, is the sheer variety of animal life–in the air, on the ground, in the sea–that constitutes God’s creation.  OF course, in our modern era we know many more phyla and species than are listed here, but the completeness of this list that tells how many species were know at the time is striking.  It also tells us that the land was fecund and not just the middle eastern desert of our imaginations.  Which was one of the things that stuck me when I visited Israel: a far richer, more productive place that I had thought.

Second, I’m astounded by the careful division of everything into the two categories: clean and unclean.  The writers here seem almost obsessed with the issue of purity.  And I’m aware of the explanations that clean animals were healthier for human consumption. But at its base, the issue is more theological than nutritional.  The classification is completely binary: clean or unclean.  No middle ground; no fine gradations; no gray.  Which is exactly our relationship with God.  We are not “sort of redeemed.”  God’s act through Jesus Christ changes our lives from lost to found, from darkness to light.  It is we ourselves who bring ambiguity to God’s binary act of grace.

Mark 3:20-35  Jesus’s activities–especially his predilection to cast out demons– and his growing popularity have panicked his family.  Their good name is being besmirched by his acts and they, with no little help from the religious leaders who would be happy to be rid of him,  have convinced themselves that Jesus himself is demon-possessed.   Jesus uses both a logical argument and a theological argument to make the point that the claims of demon possession are impossible.  Logically, how can a demon-possessed man expunge demons?  But theologically, to claim Jesus has “an unclean spirit” (30) is to accuse Jesus of the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

What I had never noticed before about this somewhat puzzling claim of the “unforgivable sin” is that Jesus is speaking of himself.  To accuse him, who is fully possessed of the Holy Spirit that is the driving force of his powers,  of “an unclean spirit” is to accuse the Holy Spirit herself of being unclean, which is truly blasphemous.  The Holy Spirit is sufficiently well-known and understood in the Hebrew Scripture that the religious people who made the accusation know exactly what Jesus is saying.  He has turned the tables and is accusing his accusers of blasphemy.

We tend to read Jesus’ break with his family as a sad event, but let’s remember what they were saying about him.  Mark speaks of “his mother and brothers.”   Notice, too, how Jesus divides the world into “outside” (where his mother and brothers were standing) and “in here.”  Even for Jesus’ own family there is no middle ground, no gray.  But did Jesus truly reject his mother and his brothers at this point, and break off all contact? I don’t think so.

I think Mark is telling us that this is Jesus’ own invitation to his mother and brothers to come join him “inside here.”  He does not explicitly reject them or cut them off.  Jesus is a man of invitation–“follow me”–never of rejection.  All we need do to be a relative of Jesus is to follow God’s will.  I’d like to think that his brothers and especially his mother did in fact join him.


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