Psalm 52; Leviticus 15:25-16:25; Mark 6:1-6

Psalm 52   Doeg the Edomite was the guy who saw David fleeing and taking sanctuary with the priest Achimelech in Nob.  Saul then massacres all the priests of Nob (1 Samuel 21-22)

The psalm opens with sarcasm (you really can find every literary form in the Psalms, can’t you?): “Why boast of evil, O hero?” And once again, speech is at the center of evil: “Disasters your tongue devises, like a well-honed razor, doing deceit.” (3)  What a great line!  First the sarcastic “hero” and then a sharp (in every sense of the word) simile of a razor-edged tongue.

Our psalmist continues in this theme of the ability of words to tear down and destroy: “You love evil better than good, a lie more than speaking justice. You love all destructive words, the tongue of deceit.” (4,5)

But our psalmist believes firmly in God’s ultimate justice, and all this duplicity will meet a deserved end in a metaphor chockablock with active verbs of annihilation: “God surely will smash you forever,  sweep you up and tear you from the tent, root you out from the land of the living.”  Smash. Sweep. Tear. Root. And at the end of this sweet justice lies only derision for the offender: “And the righteous shall see and be awed and laugh over him.”

Like Leviticus, this is a black and white Psalm: Evil and lying deceit on one side; God’s kindness and righteousness on the other, as the psalm ends in a simile of growth and fruitfulness for those who trust God: “But I am like a verdant olive tree in the house of our God.” (9)  Quite a contrast to the smashing, sweeping, tearing and uprooting.

Leviticus 15:25-16:25  After reminding Moses of the fate of Aaron’s two sons who approached God in the wrong manner and paid with their lives, our priestly writers lay out the detailed instructions for approaching the Holy of Holies (Alter: “sacred zone”) on the one day of the year that can happen: the Day of Atonement for Israel’s accumulated sins.  Bathing is a central part of that process.  Whence the image of baptism to wash away our sins.

If we’ve ever wondered where “scapegoat” comes from, this is the place.  Two goats are brought forward, and  lots are drawn.  One goat “for Azael” (about whose identity there is much debate, but it’s apparently some kind of low-end desert spirit) “shall be set live before the LORD to atone upon it, to send it off to Azazel in the wilderness.” (16:10)  The other goat “for the Lord” is sacrificed as an offense offering.  When the sacrifices (bull, one goat) of the atonement before God are complete, the goat “for Azael” is brought forward.  Aaron lays both hands on its head, and shall “confess over it all the transgressions of the Israelites and all their sins, according to all their offenses” (16:21) before it is sent off into the wilderness.

In a passage remarkably similar to Isaiah, “And the goat shall bear upon it all their [Israel’s] transgressions to a remote region , and he shall send off the goat to the wilderness.” (16:22) Israel’s sins are carried away on the goat’s head.  A clear foreshadowing of our own sins being carried away on the head of a crucified Jesus.

Mark 6:1-6  Jesus preaches at Nazareth and while everyone is astounded at his wisdom and insight, they cannot believe the carpenter’s son would be capable of this, and “they took offense at him.” (3) So what is it that prophets cannot preach effectively in their own hometown?  Or that one’s brothers and sisters think he’s out of his mind?  It’s really very simple, I think.  When we know someone over a period of years, we form a pretty fixed sense of who that person is, what they will say and how they behave.  When someone radically transformed, as was Jesus, contradicts our preconceived notion our minds cannot handle the dissonance.  And in our psychological stubbornness it’s far easier to reject the changed person than it is to reflect on what has happened and think about changing our own minds.  Because in our own minds, we know that we are “right.” This is why “perception is everything” is such a truism for marketers.

Jesus is “amazed” at their unbelief. (6). Nothing has changed in 2000 years.  Look at how hard some people work (Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens among others) to disprove Jesus’ message and even call it evil.  Skepticism is one thing (thank you, Thomas), but active denial is quite another.

Mark names Jesus’ brothers (but not his sisters) who  obviously were not his disciples while he lives.  But we hear again about James, Jesus’ bother in Acts, who was surely transformed by the fact of the Resurrection.

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