Psalm 38:18–23; Exodus 29:31–30:16; Matthew 26:14–30

Psalm 38:18–23: The poet’s David ironically confesses his ‘crime’ as if in a kangaroo court: “For my crime I shall tell,/ I dread my offense.” (19) But even this ‘confession’ has not placated his foes: “And my wanton enemies grow many,/ my unprovoked foes abound.” (20)

He then expresses the frustration that we all feel when we believe we are innocent and even most most benign actions are seen as malevolent: “And those who pay back good with evil/ thwart me for pursuing good.” (21)

Since he is unable to find succor even among his erstwhile friends who have not only abandoned him but are now also undermining him, there is only one place remaining to whom he can turn. We hear the desperation in his voice, “Do not forsake me, Lord. My God, do not stay far from me.” (22) The psalm closes on his final plea: “Hasten to my help,/ O Master of my rescue.” (23) Here the psalm ends abruptly, almost as if the music stops just before the final resolution of a V-I chord. Does God indeed rescue him? Life is like that. We pray, but then just as this psalm concludes, there is only silence.

Exodus 29:31–30:16: Instructions regarding the consecration of Aaron and his sons continues apace with eating the ram flesh and bread. This is holy food and “no one else shall eat of them.” (29:33) The full-bore consecration takes seven days—one day longer than to create the earth, although the number seven is symbolic of completeness. The consecration is an expensive process with one bull sacrificed each morning. Through this process the altar itself becomes holy, and “whatever touches the altar shall become holy.” (37)

Now that the altar is consecrated it is commissioned for daily use: “you shall offer on the altar two lambs a year old regularly each day.” (38) In addition, “one-tenth of a measure of choice flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering” (40) is offered each day. The lamb, the bread and the winde are, of course, the precursor to the Eucharist, except that the Lamb was offered only once at Calvary and therefore is no longer required.

We finally arrive at God’s explanation for all this sacrificing and burning is that it will be “a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the Lord.” (41). God further states that it is also at “the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. I will meet with the Israelites there, and it shall be sanctified by my glory.” (42, 43). And by doing so, “ I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God.” (45, 46)

What’s remarkable to me here is just how local God is. He makes it clear that he is dwelling right there, apparently only in this one place: the Tabernacle. There is no hint here of what later will become the omnipresent Go, simultaneously everywhere. At this point, God seems to be in relationship with only one people, and that is with Israel. Does this mean he’s unavailable to other tribes and nations at this point? Has he not revealed himself to others? Given what the author of Hebrews says about Melchizedek, we observe that the authors of Exodus are ignoring that part of their history.

The priestly authors continue by describing the altar of incense, which at 1 x 1 cubits is quite a bit smaller than the big time sacrificial altar. This, too, is a full-time offering, always burning, “a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations.” (30:8) Catholics (and high church Episcopalians) have preserved the incense offering in  the Mass. There is no question that odor and smoke of incense further heightens the sense that one is in a holy space. And that is certainly the purpose here, as well.

Of course it takes funding to run this Tabernacle operation, and this detail is not forgotten. The entire population of Israel must contribute: “each one who is registered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord.” (30:13).  It is a flat tax and makes no distinction between the rich and poor. All pay exactly the same amount. This certainly suggests that before God we are all equal regardless of our wealth—or lack thereof. This idea was pretty much lost by the time Jesus appeared, and he had to remind people that the widow who gave her two mites was giving more sacrificially than wealthy Pharisees.  And of course today we tend to respect the wealthy givers more than the poor. But in the eyes of God, all are equal.

Matthew 26:14–30: This passage can be no coincidence in terms of its timing by the Moravians. Today is Maundy Thursday and we read of the last Passover meal of Jesus with his disciples. Not unlike Jesus having his disciples borrow the donkey for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, he sends his disciples on ahead to “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” (18) Did Jesus set something up ahead of time? Or did the man agree because he knew Jesus’ reputation. Be that as it may, “the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.” (19)

The dramatic scene of incipient betrayal is disbelief and denial “And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” (22) And of course the disciples are stand-ins for all of us, as we find it so easy to deny Jesus in the public square.

Matthew finally reveals who will betray Jesus, having told us a few verses earlier that Judas has been paid the infamous 30 pieces of silver.  Jesus doesn’t make it easy on him, telling the group, “woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” (24) But in Matthew’s telling it is not Jesus who incriminates him, but Judas, who does that in his own words with the most ironic question in the gospels, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Just as when we betray Jesus in our seemingly innocent denials, but always well aware when we have sinned.

Jesus institutes the words of the Eucharist but with the dire reminder at the end of what is about to come, “I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (29)

Did the disciples get it even now? Or did they think their Rabbi was just being obscure and discursive? We know how the story comes out. But for them, it was just another Passover. Never mind the odd exchange between Judas and Jesus. Which I’m pretty sure is what I would have thought were I there as well.

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