Psalm 55:20-23; Leviticus 22:17-23:22; Mark 7:9-23

Psalm 55:20-23   To be betrayed from within one’s own camp is greater than being defeated by the enemy on the battlefield.  David reflects on how the betrayer “reached out his hand against his allies, profaned his own pact.” (20).  And as is almost always the case, David and his party had been taken in by words that hid true intentions of the betrayer’s heart: “His mouth was smoother than butter— and battle in his heart. His words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.” (21)

Surely Jesus remembered these lines as he was led away by the soldiers.  Although, unlike David, he knew what was coming because he knew the betrayer’s heart.

But he would also know the lines that follow: “Cast your lot on the LORD and He will support you.” (22)  In the end, only God is truly trustworthy; only God will support us in our hour of need, whether or not we have been betrayed.  And as is David’s wont, he knows that retribution is God’s alone: “And You, O God, bring them down to the pit of destruction.”  God will “never let the righteous stumble.” (23) Nor will his enemies triumph in the end; “Men of bloodshed and deceit Will not finish half their days.” (24).  Even in the face of betrayal, David commits to do but one thing: “But I shall trust in you.”  As did Jesus.  As should we.

We will not get through life without being betrayed one way or the other by butter-smooth words that are “softer than oil.”  Our trust can be in only one place: in God.

 Leviticus 22:17-23:22  Only a perfect freewill or communion offering is acceptable to God: “it shall be unblemished to be acceptable, no defect shall there be in it.” (22:21)  This is not an arbitrary rule.  God, being perfect, cannot accept imperfection.  Humankind is blemished, imperfect.  Which is why the perfect sacrifice was the necessary means to approach God.

In this context we begin to understand why the incarnation and the sacrifice of Jesus, the unblemished lamb of God, was so necessary.  We imperfect humans could not approach God, and in the long run, as the author of Hebrews informs us, the sacrificial system itself was untenable.  Only Jesus Christ, of the priesthood of Melchizedek was suitable to approach God directly.

Chapter 23 deals with matters of the calendar and sets out the rules for the “the seventh day, an absolute sabbath, a sacred convocation. No task shall you do. It is a sabbath for the LORD in all your dwelling places.” (23:3).  Which of course led to the Pharisaical view that even healing was work and therefore forbidden on the sabbath.

But this chapter is not just about rules; it is about bringing a portion of the harvest as an offering to God.  God is a God of boundaries, not restriction. He lays out rules, but we should remember that the offering comes from the bounty God has provided.  Just as our own bounty has been provided by God.  Something we all know, but at least for me, something on which I rarely reflect.

Mark 7:9-23  Jesus continues his disquisition on tradition, using a brilliant piece of logic, informing the Pharisees that they are “thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on.” (13) Just to make sure they get his point, Jesus adds, “And you do many things like this.”  Tradition cannot trump the word of God.

Obviously, this discourse between Jesus and the Pharisees is not happening in private and Jesus makes this a teachable moment for the crowd: “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” (15) What goes in is not evil, but what comes out is.  (Mark adds an interesting parenthetical note here, observing,”Thus he declared all foods clean,” which may have addressed a simmering controversy in his own community to which he was writing.)

Building on David’s words in the psalm about “buttery and oily words” that deceive, Jesus makes it perfectly plain–no parable, no hyperbole here– that “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (21), which evils he then helpfully lists.  We are not defiled by externals, but by internals. Such is the nature of fallen humankind. 

What Jesus did not say, but surely meant, is that we cannot blame others for evil we ourselves have committed. Yet that is exactly our tendency as individuals and as society: we’d rather play the victim than admit our own wrongdoings.  Say what you will about the Pharisees, at least they were concerned with matters of sin–an idea that seems to be disappearing not only in our culture, but in many of our churches as well.


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