Psalm 68:28-35; Numbers 14; Mark 14:1-11

Psalm 68:28-35  [This is one of those occasions in the Psalms where I prefer the NRSV to Alter’s translation–perhaps because of its familiarity.]

The psalmist, acting as herald, cries out to God: “Summon your might, O God;/ show your strength, O God, as you have done for us before.” (28)  God, who resides at the Temple in Jerusalem, is king over all the earth.  God demands that troublemakers such as Egypt (“Rebuke the wild animals that live among the reeds,”–“reeds” being a reference to Egypt) must cease its military activities, “Trample under foot those who lust after tribute;/ scatter the peoples who delight in war,” (30b) and come to Jerusalem.

With battles at an end, and all the parties gathered in Jerusalem there is worship rather than war: “Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; /sing praises to the Lord,” (32) And as we look heavenward, we see and hear the “rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens;/ listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.” (33) The God of Israel, “whose power is in the skies,” is ascendant over all the weaker powers of the earth.

This is one of those psalms where it becomes clear that God is not just the local god of Israel, but the Creator and has power over all the earth.  This reality is crucial if we are to understand that God indeed loves every person regardless of tribe–and later, that Jesus’ salvific power is extended to earth’s every inhabitant.

Numbers 14  This is the famous chapter where things go (literally) south for the Israelites.  It is not just a few complainers, it is “all the community [that] lifted their voice and put it forth, and the people wept on that night. And all the Israelites complained against Moses and against Aaron.” demanding to return to Egypt, even playing the “women and our little ones will become booty” (3) in appealing to Moses’ and Aaron’s emotions, trying to get them to see the irrefutable logic of their demands.

I have the feeling that when Moses and Aaron “fell on their faces before all the assembly of the community” and, along with Joshua and Caleb, tore their clothes, it was the expression of the fiercest possible frustration.  Moses tries to persuade the complainers that to do so would be to shame God before the Egyptians–and that God is not about to do that.  He then prays the prayer he prayed on Sinai, recognizing that God is angry, but also has limits, and nevertheless asks for God forgive these people.

Although He forgives, God’s patience is exhausted, noting that these people have “have tried Me ten times over and have not heeded My voice,” and therefore,  “they shall never see the land that I swore to their fathers, and all who despise Me shall not see it.” (23, 24)  A 40-year sentence –one year for each day of the abortive spy mission. The spies themselves die of a scourge; only Caleb and Joshua are exempted.

So the question becomes, how does my own recalcitrance, complaining, and failure to act when God speaks to me try His patience?  I know as a child of the New Covenant that He’s not going to mete the quid pro quo punishment to me that He metes out to Israel. But that does not excuse my behavior. Nor does it avoid the consequences.

When the people realize what God has declared, they suddenly change their minds, pretending that what they said earlier they really didn’t mean, saying, “Here we are, and we shall go up to the place [Canaan] that the L ORD said, for we have offended.” (41).  But it’s too late. Judgement has been rendered. These folks take on the Amalketites and Canaanites unprotected by God.  And they suffer the consequences.  How very much like us.

We say, “Oh, gee, God.  I really didn’t mean to say that or do that.  Let’s just pretend it didn’t happen and get on with life.”  But if there was ever a Bible story that communicates that regardless of being forgiven, our actions still have consequences, this is the one.

Mark 14:1-11  A well known cinematic technique to build tension and a sense we are hurtling toward the main conflict of the movie is to cut rapidly between scenes as the plot develops on several fronts.  Mark understood this long before Hollywood. as we see the priests move from anger to active plotting, realizing pragmatically they can’t kill Jesus “during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.” (9).

Mark’s camera shifts suddenly to Bethany and in contrast to the anger and plotting, we see the woman anointing Jesus’ head with expensive perfume.  Some disciples, who clearly don’t yet get what is about to happen, would rather have spent the money “on the poor.” (Why do we doubt their sincerity?)  What we tend not to notice in this story is that Jesus once again clearly states what’s going to happen to him: “she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial,” (8).  And in one of his sweetest prophecies, Jesus notes, “wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” (9).  And thus it has ever been.  

As usual, Mark doesn’t record the reaction of the disciples, but I’m pretty sure they are frustrated at Jesus who keeps doing and saying things that do not accord with their notion of The Plan they have in mind.  How often do we come before Jesus with our clear idea of what he should do for us?  “Please, Jesus, answer my prayer, but  I would really prefer you answer it in the manner I already have in mind.”  Like the disciples we are unprepared for someone to interrupt, break the alabaster jar and do something that is so impractical, so expensive, so against what we have in mind?

Our gospel writer then shifts to Judas and in the sparest possible language (just 47 words) outlines Judas’ intentions, the reactions of the priest and sets the plot of betrayal in motion.  Mark is not about to waste words on the character behind most heinous deed in history.


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