Psalm 65:9-13; Numbers 7:1-35; Mark 11:12-26

Psalm 65:9-13  The final verses of this psalm are perhaps the most beautiful description of God’s creation to be found in the Psalms.  God is the ultimate steward of the bounty of the earth: “You pay mind to the earth and soak it. You greatly enrich it. God’s stream is filled with water.” (9)  As here in California and certainly in the Middle East, water plays a central role.  And with water, it is God who creates growth: “You ready their grain, for so You ready it.”

Water is nature’s essence: “Quench the thirst of its furrows, smooth out its hillocks, melt it with showers, its growth You will bless.” (10)  Water, and the fruit that arises from it, comprise the apotheosis of a bountiful harvest: “You crown Your bountiful year, and Your pathways drip ripeness. The wilderness meadows do drip,”  One can hear the drops of water of the just-concluded rain falling from the leaves of green plants.

And finally, the image of beautiful clothing covering the earth–all created by the water and God’s bounty:  “with joy the hills are girded. The pastures are clothed with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain.”  No wonder “They [all of creation, I think] shout for joy, they even sing.”  As do we when we survey the green hills following a gentle rain.  An image to hold in my head through this drought-stricken, fire-plagued California landscape.

Numbers 7:  Although the Moravians split this chapter in two, I’ll deal with it as a whole.  It much more catalog than a narrative chapter.  The Tabernacle has been set up and the chiefs of the tribes bring the offering of each tribe: “the heads of their  fathers’ houses, they are the chieftains of the tribes , they are the ones who stand over the reckoning.” (2)

The 12 chieftains bring their offering in 6 wagons (one wagon for two tribes), each pulled by 2 oxen.  The wagons and oxen are an immensely useful offering themselves, and “two wagons and the four oxen he gave to the Gershonites, and “four wagons and the eight oxen he gave to the Merarites according to their work.”  But “to the Kohathites he did not give, for the work of the sanctuary was upon them, on the shoulder did they carry.”  (8-10) So the Tabernacle was carried form place to place by wagon and oxen, although the Kohathites didn’t require wagons since the sanctuary furnishings they carried were relatively light.  A reminder that in church building campaigns, pledges built to pay for the invisible items such as the structure and foundation are just as important as the visible furnishings and decoration.

This is also one of those passages where you realize that actual history is described.  A fairy tale would not deal with such mundane but necessary issues as cartage of the Tabernacle.

Then comes what Alter calls an “epic inventory,” a listing of the items that each tribe brought as an offering.  But each offering, described in loving detail, is exactly the same–denoting the equality of each tribe.  And the identical inventory is repeated for each tribe, resulting in twelve verbatim lists occupying this chapter.  But that’s not redundancy by any means: years later, when each tribe looked back  at its history, they could see in writing what their forebears had done.

And we engage in the same practice today, most popularly in lists of donors printed in the appendices of every non-profit’s annual report.  Naming names in writing reminds us that we were there–and that we made a difference.

Mark 11:12-26  I wonder if there’s a PhD thesis or two out there regarding Mark’s juxtapositions?  In today’s reading, Jesus curses the fig tree, then cleanses the Temple, then talks to his disciples about the significance of that same withered fig tree.

Mark’s logic chain really quite simple: Fruitless fig trees are useless and need to be removed from the garden.  (Although Mark tells us figs were not in season, but that apparently didn’t matter to Jesus; he was hungry.)

For Jesus, the commerce at the Temple was just as pointless as the fruitless fig tree–a perversion, if you will, of its original function.  The Temple has but one purpose: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” (17)  But instead it has become a “den of robbers.” 

Then, leaving the city, they pass by the now obviously dead fig tree.  And Jesus grasps the teachable moment: “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (24).  At first glance, this seems something of a non-sequitir, having little to do with a dead fig tree, until we recall what Jesus said about the Temple being a house of prayer.  

So, we too, absent prayer in our lives, or more specifically, faith that our prayers will be answered, are not much different than a dead fig tree or a moneychanger in the Temple courtyard: pretty useless.  But if we have faith in praying then we, too, will bear great fruit. Especially when we pray to forgive others.


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