Psalm 51:13-19; Leviticus 15:1-24; Mark 5:21-43

Psalm 51:13-19    This section deals with David’s response to “God’s rescue.”  And once again, the response is spoken and sung aloud: “Let my tongue sing out Your bounty. O Master, open my lips,  that my mouth may tell Your praise.” (14,15)  One has the impression that in a sate of remorse and not yet forgiven, that it is silence that is the greatest burden: God’s silence to be sure, but ours, as well. Everything up to this point is an interior process: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; take not your holy spirit from me.”  All these things happen in utter despairing silence.  But once forgiven, there is only one possible thing we can do: open our mouths and shout and sing for joy!

This psalm opens up our view of God’s forgiving action in the OT.  In the midst of Leviticus, we tend to feel that the only way to seek rescue and forgiveness is via a physical sacrifice at the altar.  But here David asserts, “For You desire not that I should give sacrifice, burnt-offering You greet not with pleasure.” (16) Rather, the sacrifice is within ourselves: “God’s sacrifices—a broken spirit. A broken, crushed heart God spurns not.” (17).  A Jew could make all the physical sacrifices at the Temple he wanted or could afford.  But absent a contrite and broken heart, they are worthless. Only after seeking forgiveness in our hearts, shall God “desire just sacrifices, 21 burnt-offering and whole offering.” (19)

The necessity of a broken spirit and a contrite heart is a point Jesus made to the Pharisees and religious officials over and over, most memorably when he calls them whited sepulchures.”  Like so many today, they chose rather selectively from the Scriptures, choosing those which supported their opinions or philosophies; conveniently ignoring the rest–as they surely ignored this psalm.  Were we to be more like David and focus on our interior state before God first, rather than moving directly to “external religious action,” there would be far fewer justified accusations of hypocrisy against the church–and those of us who inhabit them.

Leviticus 15:1-24  I believe this is one of those places where the prurient assert this is God’s command against masturbation since “‘Should any man have a flux from his member, he is unclean.” (3)  I take a more benign view that this refers to nocturnal emission as well as to other genitourinary conditions. (And as a person with a genitourinary disease, I am well aware of the huge number of things that can go wrong down there.)  This passage, as well as the section about mensturation, has much more to do with differentiating between what is pure and impure in order to participate in religious rites than it has to do with the condition itself.

Alter is helpful here, telling us in a footnote that “the overriding preoccupation of the Priestly writers is to protect the ritual purity of their special domain, the sanctuary, by instituting this system of sequestering and ablution in order to prevent the spread of the contamination…sin— and even certain normal physiological processes were thought to be intrinsic sources of impurity.” (Footnote 4 to Leviticus 15)

Mark 5:21-43 It is Mark’s editorial brilliance that in weaving these two miracles of Jairus’ daughter with the woman touching his garment that he enhances the power of Jesus even further than if he had written both stories in sequential order.  We know that time is of the essence, “My little daughter is at the point of death.” (23)  But Jesus’ growing popularity is such that he can barely move amidst the crowd.  The woman knows that it will be impossible to get a separate audience with Jesus, so the rather brilliantly thinks, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”  (28)  Jesus asks who did that and the woman “in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.”  Jesus, remarking on her faith, tells her to go in peace.

[I have to wonder if the Moravians are just being sly or this is just an odd coincidence, but the story of the woman “who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years” coming on the same day as we read about menstruation as a ritual impurity is an entertaining coincidence…]

In this account of the desperate woman, I think that Mark is telling us that we can approach Jesus in virtually anyway we can imagine. His power is there; the essential thing is that we have faith.  We certainly see that reality expressed in the enormous variety of worship forms in the church: from high liturgy with incense to “holy roller” ecstasy.  The point is, Jesus loves us as we are as long as we come on the one common ground: faith in who he is and what he has done for us.  There is no one “right” approach.  Jesus responds to who we are and where we are across every culture.

Mark’s other lesson is in his description of the crowd surrounding Jairus’ daughter. They had given up and had moved directly to mourning mode.  It was too late.  When Jesus suggests it’s not too late, they laugh at him.  But the daughter is raised up.  With Jesus, it’s never too late.  Even on our deathbeds.

Of course this incident of the little girl being raised up is a precursor of Jesus’ own death and resurrection.  The crowd here is the same as the crowd around the cross: laughing and mocking the would-be king of the Jews.  Never believing that the impossible could happen.  Which is certainly still the case today, where Jesus has been deemed weak and irrelevant.  I think God has a surprise in store.

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