Psalm 63; Numbers 4:15-49; Mark 10:32-45

Psalm 63   The superscription of this psalm, “A David psalm, when he was in the wilderness of Judea” is certainly echoed by the first verse.  Our own throats go dry when we read “God, my God, for You I search. /My throat thirsts for You, /my flesh yearns for You/ in a land waste and parched, with no water.”

In that Mediterranean  climate , water is life and I have to think that when John’s followers were baptized in the desert with water, it had a much more dramatic impact than when we baptize in beautifully crafted baptismal fonts inside the church.

But, as David makes clear, the desert is also where we encounter God: “So, in the sanctum I beheld You, seeing Your strength and Your glory.” (2)  Moses is certainly the exemplar of meeting God in the wilderness.  Our own daily lives tend to be so cluttered with events and schedules that we miss seeing God.  Perhaps we need more desert experience to be able o say with David, “My being clings to You, for Your right hand has sustained me.” (8)

Because in stark contrast to the opening verse, God not only quenches David’s thirst, but his every need as well: “As with ripest repast my being is sated, 6 and with lips of glad song my mouth declares praise.” (5).  This is what God does: not only is our thirst quenched, but we receive more that we can even imagine–to the point of satiety.  But can I say with David that my very being clings to God?

Numbers 4:15-49  This entire chapter deals with the logistic issue peculiar to the Tabernacle.  Unlike temples and other holy places of other cultures of the time, the Tabernacle is portable and must be moved from place to place.  That’s a real problem when only the Levitical priests can touch or even look at the sacred objects, since it’s impractical to have the people responsible for packing and moving the Tabernacle and its furnishings struck dead by merely looking at or touching a sacred object.  So, special provisions are established to solve this problem.

Thus, the Kohathites are designated for covering and packing the sacred objects; the Gershonites and are responsible for picking up and moving the furnishings and the Merarites are responsible for disassembling and reassembling the Tabernacle structure itself.  All of them are exempted from dying when the touch and move these objects.  [Irreverent side note: this chapter reminds me of the logistics involved in setting up and then disassembling a booth at a trade show.]

It’s interesting that the age designated–30 to 50 years old–is when a man is in his prime of life.  Not to mention that this stuff was big and heavy and required great strength.  As well, it suggests that the men involved had not only physical maturity but spiritual maturity as well.

The last verse of the chapter, “By the LORD’s word did he reckon them through the hand of Moses, every man according to his work and according to his carriage,” (49) reads directly to the idea–which we don’t hear very much about these days–of the vocation of work.  That the laypeople who perform work both in and out of the church are as equally called by God as the priesthood of ordained pastors.  (Or as my late friend, Steve Gregoriev, used to put it, “paid holy persons…”)

Mark 10:32-45  This is the third time in Mark that Jesus prophesies his death and resurrection–and in more detail than previously: “the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”  And as we know, everything happened exactly as Jesus predicted.  

And still, the disciples did not get it.  Jesus’ rather clear statement notwithstanding, James and John apparently still envision a political victory, and they are maneuvering for a leadership role.

Of course, Mark and we his readers know what happens in Jerusalem, so Jesus’ statement, “You do not know what you are asking” is freighted with heavy irony.  Jesus’ next statement, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;” (39) is a prophecy not just for James and John, but for all of us, as indeed we drink from Jesus’ cup and are baptized along with Jesus in the two Lutheran sacraments.

Jesus describes the essence of true leadership: that a leader is above all a servant to the led.  A principle that holds true through history when we examine great leaders.  And in the case of Jesus, perhaps his clearest statement on why he was coming to Jerusalem to die: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (45)

Did the disciples get it then?  Mark doesn’t tell us, but probably not.  Nor, do I think, would we if were in that space and time.  Clearly stated prophecies notwithstanding, some things can be understood only in the past tense.

Speak Your Mind