Psalm 69:22-29; Numbers 16:28-17:13; Mark 14:43-52

Difficult to believe we’re forty days out form Easter already.  The Moravians do a fine job of managing the liturgical calendar and today is Ascension Day, or as our Catholic friends have it, The Feast of the Ascension.

Psalm 69:22-29  David’s words–basically seeking God’s curse upon his enemies–go beyond mere imprecation and even malediction; they are fundamentally an anti-benediction that descends from the relationships going bad “may their table become a trap and their allies a snare” (23) to being the deserving recipients of God’s anger: “Pour out upon them Your wrath, and Your blazing fury overtake them.” (24).

But even God’s wrath is apparently insufficient. David asks that their encampment and the ground they inhabit “be laid waste” and then, “Add guilt upon guilt.” (28) But then David asks God to grant the greatest punishment of all: eternal separation from God:

“…let them have no part in Your bounty.  Let them be wiped out from the book of life, and among the righteous let them not be written.” (29)

No matter what earthly tragedy we could wish God to visit upon our enemies there is none greater than eternal separation and isolation from God.  Paul mentions the Book of Life in Philippians, but mostly we encounter it again and again in Revelation.  Where David’s request is fully carried out: “everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.” (Rev 13:8)

For David, to be his enemy was to be the enemy of God. For us, to be excluded from the book of life would be a dreadful end indeed.

Numbers 16:28-17:13  At God’s direction, the 250 rebels have been swallowed by the earth, but interestingly, their fire pans remain.  Not only do they remain, but “they have become holy—the fire-pans of these offenders at the cost of their lives.” (17:3)  Not just holy, but God commands that they have a new function as well: “And they shall make of them hammered sheets as plating for the altar, for they brought them forward before the LORD and they have become holy.” (4)  [Aside: so I guess if were were looking for a biblical justification for recycling, it would be right here…]

God, never wasteful, also uses the re-plated altar as a teaching moment.  It is to be a “remembrance for the Israelites, so that no stranger, who was not of the seed of Aaron, should come forward to burn incense before the LORD, and none should be like Korah and his community.” (5)

Teaching moment or not, the rest of the Israelites are upset to say the least, angrily accusing Moses and Aaron, “You, you have put to death the LORD’s people.” (6). Which assuredly does not please God, who tells Moses and Aaron to get out of the way, and “I will put an end to them in an instant.” (9).  Moses and Aaron once again plead before and angry God and manage to placate Him so that God brings only a “scourge.” Moses and Aaron quickly intercede to keep the scourge “held back” but not fast enough, and “those who died by the scourge came to fourteen thousand and seven hundred, besides those who died  because of Korah.” (14).

What are we to make of this hot-tempered God, who seems to have all the patience of an adolescent?  Well, we certainly know by now that God is capable of striking sinners dead, which of course is what David asks for in the psalm.  As Bruce McLaren notes, the OT gradually reveals God’s various qualities, including His unbounded love.  But here in the wilderness, it still seems that Moses and Aaron are the ones of greater mercy as this book continues to record the words and actions of this very angry, impatient God of Israel.  But perhaps the greater the anger, the greater the mercy.

Mark 14:43-52  One of the pleasures, well, not exactly a pleasure, rather a sobering but profound experience, is to read all four gospel accounts of the Passion in a single year (which makes for a relatively drama-free second year of NT reading in the epistles).

As always, Mark’s account of the betrayal and arrest of Jesus is stark and for me, cinematic.  Jesus has barely recovered from the agony of Gethsemane when Mark tells us that Judas interrupts him “while he was still speaking.” (43).  Judas arrives with a “crowd with swords and clubs from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders.”  (43b).  Mark identifies exactly who was behind the arrest; there is no mystery here about who is behind the conspiracy.

I have never before reflected on the fact that the betrayal is a kiss–that most intimate of greetings between friends in the Middle East–amplifying the magnitude of the betrayal. Judas could have just pointed at Jesus and say, “There he is?” But he kisses him. What were Judas’ thoughts as he performed that act?  How often have I betrayed Jesus while simultaneously profession great affection for him?

Jesus’ last statement must have struck to the heart of all present, making them realize the extreme cowardice of this act: “Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.”  Hypocrisy, betrayal, cowardice: A combination all too easy to fall prey to ourselves.

And then those sad, sad words: “All of them deserted him and fled.”  Which I’m quite sure I would have done as well.

This section ends with the two of the most intriguing autobiographical verses in all the gospels. Mark must have been there the entire time in Gethsemane.  But why only the loincloth?  Had he planned to go to the gym?  This is again one of the places where we know that no writer of fiction could have possibly inserted such a detail since it does nothing to advance the story.

Rather, I think it is there because it is Mark’s own confession: “he ran off naked.”  I can only imagine the shame and regret the author felt as he wrote those words.

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