Psalm 58; Leviticus 26:36-27:15; Mark 9:1-10

Psalm 58  Alter warns us “that the Hebrew text of this psalm, from this verse to the end, with the sole exception of verses 7 and 11, is badly mangled.”  So, we should probably not read deep theology into this rather ferocious psalm about the “wicked [who] backslide from the very womb, the lie-mongers go astray from birth.” (3) and then asks God to “smash their teeth in their mouth. The jaws of the lions shatter, O LORD.” (6)

The psalmist’s anger at wickedness is so great that after the smashing, the wicked should “melt away, like water run off.” (7) and then as triple punishment, “Let Him pull back His arrows so they be cut down.” (7)  But that’s still not enough, in the striking simile the wicked are “Like a snail that moves in its slime.” (8)

And he will enjoy the downfall of the wicked, “The just man rejoices when vengeance he sees, his feet he will bathe in the wicked one’s blood.” (10) Notice, however, that the psalmist is observing God’s vengeance on the wicked; he is not taking vengeance himself because he knows that “man will say, “Yes, there is fruit for the just.” (11).

This psalm makes it abundantly clear that righteous anger is no sin.  We can certainly be angry at the wicked, and angry at God. But in the end there is the bedrock assurance that the wicked will fail and then fall.  Because God is “judging the earth.” (11)

Leviticus 26:36-27:15  Although it’s in the penultimate chapter, God seems to wrap up the seemingly endless list of laws and rules by reiterating his covenant with Israel by naming the “founding fathers” with whom God sealed the covenant originally: “And I will remember My covenant with Jacob and also My covenant with Isaac and also My covenant with Abraham I will  remember,” (26:42)  The naming of names makes it clear that in God’s eyes, this covenant is no abstraction; it is based on his promises made to real people in real space in real time.

Then, after naming the patriarchs, God adds a surprising (to me, anyway) fourth aspect of the covenant: “and the land I will remember.”  The land itself is part of the Covenant. The land is God’s creation, and this part of creation he has granted to Israel–as long as they keep their side of the deal.

Notice also, how God frames the Covenant: each aspect is prefaced by the phrase, “I will remember.”  God never forgets.  And it is this phrase that convinces me that a fundamental aspect of humans being created imago deo is that God has given us the gift of memory.  And that is why it is so tragic when people suffering from diseases like Alzheimers are robbed of memory.  For to lose memory is to break a relationship.  And nowhere can a relationship be broken more severely than for Israel to forget God.  Or for us to forget God.  Both as individuals and collectively as a culture rushing as fast as it can away from God. Yet, God always remembers us.

Mark 9:1-10 I have always assumed that Jesus prophecy, “I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power” (1) referred to a future event, such as Pentecost or Paul’s glimpse of heaven.  But here in Mark it is the introductory verse to the Transfiguration, so the prophecy is fulfilled immediately–at least for Peter, James and John.  For what else can the Transfiguration be but a glimpse of the Kingdom and its power?

Peter seems to be one of those people who is uncomfortable with awed silence (or in this case a terrifying event) and deal with their terror by filling the air with speech. So Peter states the obvious, “it is good for us to be here,” (5) and talks about building “dwellings” or “booths.”  Mark’s laconic editorial remark following Peter’s statement, “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified” makes it clear that Peter spoke just to help ameliorate his fear.  

This is one of those places where the Gospels reveal their authenticity: a fictional document would never succeed in making the disciples so real and so human.  And so like us.

Once again, Jesus orders the disciples who have had this glimpse into the Kingdom not to talk about it, presumably including the other disciples.  The conversation during the hike down the mountain includes Jesus talking about rising from the dead. At this point the disciples’ heads must have been ready to explode.  By juxtaposing the terrifying yet awe-striking event atop the mountain followed immediately Jesus’ puzzling comments about resurrection Mark again underscores the disciples’ humanity.  “They kept the matter to themselves,” including not bugging Jesus with any more silly questions right at the moment.  Pretty sure that at this point I would have kept my mouth shut, too.

 

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