Psalm 46; Leviticus 4; Mark 1:21–34

Psalm 46: This celebratory psalm gives God the credit for victory and protection of Israel, recognizing that “God is a shelter and a strength for us,/ a help in straits readily found.” (1) In a verse that everyone of us can hold onto when times are chaotic, our poet proclaims that because of God’s sheltering protection, “Therefore we fear not when the earth breaks apart,/ when mountains collapse in the heart of the seas.” (2)

It’s easy now—just as it was probably easy then—to believe that everything in the world around us is flying apart. That metaphorically, if not literally, “waters roar and roil,/ mountains heave in its surge.” (4) Be it natural disaster such as the earthquake and floods implied here; or be it war, revolution, or terrorism, “God is in its midst, it will not collapse./ God helps it as morning breaks.” (6)  All around us, “Nations roar and kingdoms collapse,” (7) but God still reigns as “he sends forth His voice and earth melts.” (7)

Although the psalm employs military imagery, celebrating how “The Lord of armies is with us,/ a fortress for us.” (8) God remains in charge of the affairs of humankind and of all creation, ultimately bringing cessation of hostilities everywhere: “Go, behold the acts of the Lord,/ Who made desolations on earth,/ caused wars to cease to the end of the earth.” (9, 10a). Finally, he brings an end of all war, “The bow He has broken and splintered the spear,/ and chariots burned in fire.” (10b)

God speaks what we must remember when times seem darkest we need do only one thing: ‘Let go, and know that I am God.” (11) The eternal question for each person and each nation is, can we ever relinquish our need to control events? It is this lust for control that creates conflict and war. Earthquakes and floods may be natural occurrences, but it is because humankind has forgotten God that we find ourselves in desperate straits as a world, a nation, a culture and as individuals. We have forgotten that  “The Lord of armies is with us,/ a fortress for is.” (12) believing instead we are the little-g gods and do not require assistance. But it only requires scanning the headlines to realize how false and misguided our quest for control really is.

Leviticus 4: It’s one thing to bring good will offerings such as grain as described in the previous chapters,, but there is also the deeper question of what to do when we have sinned, even if unintentionally. And the specific instructions are here for when “the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people” (3) as well as when the people as a group sin: “the whole congregation of Israel errs unintentionally” (13).

This chapter describes the actions required for individual sins as well: “When a ruler sins, doing unintentionally any one of all the things that by commandments of the Lord his God ought not to be done and incurs guilt” (22) as well as “anyone of the ordinary people among you sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done and incurs guilt.”  (27)

But I think what’s most remarkable here is that these sacrificial acts of justification were required even when the sin was unintentional, i.e., not the result of an evil thought or deed. It seems almost quaint in today’s “anything goes” culture is that the sin occurs and “the matter escapes the notice of the assembly.” (13) Today, the entire idea of sin—whether intentional or unintentional— is fading from the scene, even from churches, and is being replaced by requiring “tolerance” of any sinful act as well as the new morality of “I can do anything I wish as long as I don’t hurt other people.”

We can view the priest and ruler as a leader and when the leader sins, there are consequences for the “whole congregation,” i.e., society at large. We need only look at how entire nations are suffering today because of corrupt or incompetent leadership in order to see how what’s being described here in Leviticus is still totally relevant today.

Likewise, there are societal sins such as our collective rejection of sexual mores, which are having profound—and mostly negative—consequences, particularly on the most vulnerable among us such as the ongoing collapse of family structure among the poor. Yes, these sins may be unintentional but the entire point here is that they nevertheless have negative consequences. An aspect we too often fail to appreciate today.

Mark 1:21–34: Mark’s stylistic terseness creates a sense of action—much like quick cuts in a movie heighten the sense of energy and tension. And Mark’s Jesus is extremely action-oriented. Having just caused four disciples to follow him, he enters “the synagogue and taught.” (21) And the results are amazing to the locals at Capernaum: “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (22) But Jesus’ teaching is just the introduction to more astounding events: “a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (23, 24).  Jesus’ very first miracle act in Mark is exorcizing the demon rather than physical healing. With this priority, I think Mark is telling us that Jesus is just as concerned with our mental well-being as our physical—something we fail at today in a health care system focused on physical healing but which too often abandons the mentally ill to their fate.

What’s also remarkable to our 21st century eyes here is Mark’s rather matter-of-fact recounting the words of a demon-possessed man. In that day, demon possession was the explanation for what today we explain as mental illness. However, even though demon possession may have been an everyday occurence in Jesus’ day, it’s clear that curing mentally ill people was not: “They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (27, 28)

Following this event, Mark then describes more “conventional” miracles: healing the physically ill.  Jesus’ first physical healing in Mark is healing Simon’s mother-in-law. And soon, “at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” (32-34)

In just a few verses Mark has given us a sense of the momentous impact that Jesus has brought to the sleepy fishing village of Capernaum. And it’s all about healing—spiritual, emotional, physical. To be sure, Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue was “astounding,” but it’s the healing on which Mark is training his intense narrative spotlight. We are only in the first chapter and Mark has us already out of breath. Which when I think about it, is exactly what the impact of Jesus should be having on our own lives.



Speak Your Mind