Psalm 56:1-8; Leviticus 23:23-24:9; Mark 7:24-37

Psalm 56:1-8  The introductory paragraph indicates this is a David psalm when the Philistines seized him at Gath, so he writes, we presume, as a prisoner.  He is hemmed in and assailed form all sides: “My attackers trample me all day long, for many assail me, O High One.” (2).  He knows, as should we, there is only one direction to turn, which Alter renders with clever symmetry: “When I fear, I trust in You,  in God, Whose word I praise, in God I trust, I shall not fear.”  Fear leads to trust leads to praise leads to trust, which banishes fear.

What strikes me here is the close relationship of trust and praise of God’s word.  Even in the most dire circumstance, worship is possible because we are grounded in trusting God.  And couched in this trust we rest in assurance that no one can harm us: “What can flesh do to me?” (4).  David then catalogs their attempts to bring him low and even take his life from him: “All day long they put pain in my words, against me all their plots for evil.  They scheme, they lie low, they keep at my heels as they hope for my life.” (5,6).

David is not content to merely accept his enemies’ depredations and he asks God for relief: “For their mischief free me from them. In wrath bring down peoples, O God.”  We can pray for release from our present circumstances, but always knowing that by trusting God we are freed from fear-perhaps the greatest enemy of all.

These verses bring to mind the old Fanny Crosby hymn, which we never sing any more, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.”  Assurance in the God’s steadfastness rings out from this first verses of this psalm.

 Leviticus 23:23-24:9  When we think about the covenant between God and Israel, we (at least I) do not tend to think of celebrations and commemorations.  yet, here God sets out at least three distinct periods of setting aside daily work and commemorating special events, chief among them, the Day of Atonement.  These are not casual holidays taken on a whim, but are commands from God, to be observed as “an everlasting statute for your generations.” (23:41)–as much a part of the law as the Decalogue.

This is why one of the great gifts of the Lutheran church to me personally is the liturgical calendar.  An ongoing reminder of Jesus’ transforming work, as we commemorate what he has done for us from birth to death to Resurrection to Ascension to Pentecost.  It’s clear from these passages in Leviticus that God means for us to turn from our daily tasks, stop and remember–and reflect.  Maybe we don’t dwell in huts for seven days (23:43) or offer food at an altar, but the subtext here is that pausing and reflecting on what God–and for us, Jesus–has done is a key element in our relationship with Him.

Unfortunately, I live a life where reflection and contemplation is too rare.  I am too eager to move on to the next task at hand.  Busyness is a too effective way to avoid reflecting on who we are and the nature of our relationship with God.

Mark 7:24-37  As I remarked when we read this story in Matthew, that with the exception of the woman at the well in John, Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman is perhaps my favorite of all the people he meets and talks with.  Operating at several levels, it is perhaps Jesus’ clearest statement that he came not just for Jews, but for the entire world.  More than that, though, I think it tells us that when we have faith in who he is and what he can do, we can approach Jesus with boldness.

The woman had a real world need: a demon-possessed daughter that she believed  Jesus could heal.  She had a solid faith that Jesus would do for her what she had heard he had done for many others.  And she is smart: she understands Jesus’ metaphor of the children and dogs, (and unlike so many of us who only come up with the perfect reply after the moment passes), she pushes back with a reply, which Jesus makes clear is what has led to her daughter’s healing, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” (30)  It was this woman’s boldness and courage that Jesus respected.  But it is boldness and courage in the context of her deep faith that Jesus meets her need.

This is the same boldness with which David prays in so many psalms.  But it is never confrontational boldness; it is always grounded in deep respect and deep faith that Jesus will actually do what we’re asking him to do. We do not approach our Lord in weakness, but in faith in who he is–and who we are: deeply loved.


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