Psalm 65:1-8; Numbers 6; Mark 11:1-11

Psalm 65:1-8  As the superscription notes, a song.  And a welcome respite from the sturm und drang of the several preceding psalms.  The opening verse is a touchstone for those of us who are happiest in the rare moments of silence during worship: “To You silence is praise, God, in Zion, and to You a vow will be paid.” (1) In our silence we are paying a vow to God by coming to him in silence, confident in the knowledge that God is listening to our prayer: “O, Listener to prayer, unto You all flesh shall come.” (2)

David knows he is a sinner, but he also knows he is forgiven: “My deeds of mischief are too much for me. Our crimes but You atone.”  (3) He, unlike so many of us, knows that he lacks the strength to carry “my deeds of mischief” by himself, but gives them over to God.  Would that my relationship with God were so strong that I would keep nothing form him, knowing that in my silence He hears everything.

Everything about these first verses moves from sound and fury to silence because that is what God does.  Both aurally and in our hearts: “Who quiets the roar of the seas, the roar of their waves and the tumult of nations.” (7)  Certainly a promise to recall each time we turn on the news.

Numbers 6  Both men and women could become nazirites, which I take as a religious practice somewhat parallel to monks and nuns in the Catholic church.  Unlike those religious who take a lifelong vow, however, someone was a nazirite for a certain period of their life–a few years perhaps–with the purpose of “keep[ing] himself apart for the L ORD,” (3) in a life of contemplation.

Their specific duties are not enumerated beyond keeping a three-fold vow:  (1) abstaining from wine and liquor; (2) never cutting their hair; and (3) avoiding contact with a corpse.

The most famous biblical nazirites were Samson and John the Baptist–and maybe Samuel.

But even more than laying out the rules for nazirites, Numbers 6 is most famous for its blessing, which we hear to day most often as a benediction:

May the LORD bless you and guard you.
May the LORD light up His face to you and grant grace to you;
May the LORD lift up His face to you and give you peace.’

Which means that what we hear every week is the most ancient roots of all.  It’s awesomely sobering to reflect on the fact that those words have been uttered in every language for thousands of years across hundreds of generations–and are perhaps the most tangible link we have with those “clouds of witnesses” that have preceded us.

Mark 11:1-11  Jesus arrives outside the walls of Jerusalem.  MArk doesn’t record any further conversations between Jesus and the disciples prior to arriving in Jerusalem, but as Mark has made clear, the disciples still don’t “get it.”  So, perhaps in their excitement, the disciples thought, “At last! He’s going to claim his rightful place as the Messiah that will rescue Israel from the Romans by riding into the city triumphantly astride a horse, just like the average Roman leader.”

But then Jesus does two things that surely should have raised some doubts about that theory.  First, he instructs his disciples to go borrow am unridden colt. (I don’t know enough about horses to know why this should be the traditional donkey.  Sounds like a young horse to me…)  But the animal Jesus asks for is certainly not a mature stallion so much more appropriate for the grand entrance of a conquering king.

And then perhaps even more distressingly, Jesus makes it clear that he wants only to borrow the animal for just a little while and then it will be returned to its owner.  Would a conquering king do that?  Or is Jesus making some kind of other statement here?  Has anyone figured this out yet?

Finally, I’ve always followed the popular image of a substantial portion of the population of Jerusalem rushing out to greet their conquering hero, paving the street with palm fronds and their coats, and shouting hosannas at him. But I think these people were actually the crowd that along with the disciples, had accumulated as the group accompanying Jesus on his journey over the past days and weeks.  Mark gives us a clue when he says, “Then those who went ahead and those who followed,” (9) which certainly suggests to me that some in Jesus’ crowd took the initiative and ran on ahead to the gate to lay their cloaks and branches in the road, and then stand alongside as Jesus rode into town.  

My own suspicion is that this triumphal entrance consisted mainly of Jesus’ own followers plus a few residents who may have joined when they heard the commotion. But I’m guessing that few Jerusalemites looked up from their Sunday papers, and that this “triumphal entrance” escaped the notice of the Roman guard altogether.  Which was fine with Jesus.

This is not to minimize the importance of this event.  It was the perfect entrance for the Suffering Servant.

Comments

  1. John Helgeson says:

    Craig,
    Interesting comment on the Palm Sunday crowd. I don’t remember hearing that interpretation before in Palm Sunday sermons, but it makes sense.
    If there were two crowds, the first one consisted of those who had known and heard Jesus; while the other one was not so much ‘fickle’ as one brainwashed by their religious or political authorities. Meanwhile the first crowd had fled or were under cover by Thursday and Friday.

    About the horse, both Matthew and John call it a donkey, as does Zechariah.
    But , perhaps one of the Moravian Readings rules is that you just deal with text in front of you?
    John H.

  2. Craig Pynn says:

    John,
    Thanks for the comment. As far as I know the Moravians do not have any particular “rules,” other than reading the assigned Scriptures. However, as you correctly surmise, I have assigned myself the “rule” of reading and commenting only on the Scripture in front of me without recourse to parallel verses or to commentaries. I do refer from time to time to footnotes by Robert Alter, whose translations I am using for both the Psalms and the Pentateuch. Otherwise it’s all NRSV all the time.
    –Craig

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