Psalm 57:8–12; Leviticus 25:18–55; Mark 8:14–21

Psalm 57:8–12: Today’s reading opens with a phrase that is especially appropriate as I head off to surgery to remove the lesion from my chest and to wait for the biopsy to see if cancer has returned: “My heart is firm, O God,/ my heart is firm.” (8a). There is little need for exegesis here. I feel that it is the God Who is Here that makes my own heart firm as I head off into the dark cave of thoracic surgery.

David’s knowledge, indeed his confidence, that God has given him a firm heart invokes worship: “Let me sing and hymn.” (8b) This is not just an intellectual concept of worship, it is suffused in ecstatic action as he picks up his fabled instrument: “Awake O lyre, awake, O lute and lyre./ I would waken the dawn.” (9) I write these lines this morning at 5:20 a.m. before the sun rises, but I share David’s joy that the sun will rise over God’s good creation and that no matter what comes, God remains firmly in charge of all creation.

David is no longer in the cave hiding form Saul; his ecstatic worship has carried him to where he can play and sing for all: “Let me acclaim You among the peoples, Master./ Let me hymn You among the nations.” (10) Even though David may be in great peril, he sings his powerful and unforgettable song that evokes everything that is good in God’s creation: “For Your kindness is great to the heavens,/ and to the skies Your steadfast truth.” (11)

No matter how dark the cave we may find ourselves in, there is the beautiful open sky of God’s glory just outside: “Loom over the heavens, O God./ Over all the earth Your glory.” (12) And in that reality I find enormous peace.

Leviticus 25:18–55: This long chapter covers the social contracts that allow a civilized society to live together the rule of law “so that you may live on the land securely.” (18)  Of course this is a theocracy, so it is God who is the legislator. The rules begin with stewardship of the land across the seventh year when no crops are to be planted. God promises a rich harvest in the sixth year “so that it will yield a crop for three years.” (22). What is most interesting to me though is that God makes it clear that he is the owner and “the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” (23) this seems a clear message that the earth is not ours to pillage and rape. This is the same as being renters of a house and wrecking it. Our responsibility is to be stewards of the earth, carefully tending the natural resources, which are in fact owned by God the Creator. One wonders what a different world we might be living in had we and our ancestors taken God’s commandment here to heart.

There is a clear distinction between city and country. Real estate rules for city dwellers are clear. There’s a one year warranty, and if that right of redemption is not exercised within that first year, “a house that is in a walled city shall pass in perpetuity to the purchaser, throughout the generations.” (30) and it’s exempted from the great 50-year Jubilee give-back.  However, these rules do not apply to “houses in villages that have no walls around them shall be classed as open country.” (31) which certainly has to do with not throwing productive farmers out on the street.

The family is the core unit of Jewish civilization and “if any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you,  you shall support them.” (35) No government welfare programs here. However, one may not charge interest for this support nor “provide them food at a profit.” (38)

No Israelite may hold another Israelite in slavery even if they are deeply in debt: Rather, “They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers.” (40) Whence the concept of indentured servanthood. Even then, they are bound only until the year of Jubilee at which time, they “shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property.” (41) Only aliens may become slaves. Sadly, these verses doubtless were used to justify slavery of Africans since they were not of the same race—and doubtless helped create much of the ugly racism that persists to this day.

There are also rules for poor Israelites to sell themselves into slavery to prosperous resident aliens. However, they retain the right to redemption, and another Israelite can redeem them and “if they prosper they may redeem themselves.” (49) A complex mathematical formula based on the years served and years to the Jubilee is used to compute the price. As usual, no detail seems to trivial for our authors to have included. This is another one of those places where we realize these rules had nothing to do with a band of Israelites wandering in the Sinai desert but had everything to do with Jews being held in captivity in Babylon and the years afterward. Which is why Moses had nothing to do with the authorship of these books, but those priests in Babylon sure did….

Mark 8:14–21: Following the feeding of the 4000, Jesus and the disciples once again set out in a boat. But “the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.” (14) Jesus rather enigmatically tells them,“Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” (15) They think Jesus is reprimanding them for failing to bring enough bread for the journey.

But Jesus has something altogether different in mind. He is warning them that they have been influenced by the questioning doubts of the Pharisees rather than having paid attention to the two great bread miracles he has just performed. His frustration is evident as he asks, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?” (17) His frustration edges toward anger in the next verse: “Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?” (18) He upbraids them like little children, asking them how many baskets of leftover bread they collected after the feeding of the 5000 and again after the feeding of the 4000. We can see their sheepish faces as they provide Jesus the correct answers.

Jesus realizes that his very own disciples still don’t get what he is about.  They think he’s just another religious teacher whose charisma probably stirred up the crowd to have them produce bread they already had with them. Jesus must be shaking his head when “he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (21)

Of course Mark is speaking to all of us. Like the disciples, we approach Jesus in human terms firmly in our own framework of understanding. That’s the yeast of the Pharisees, the yeast of blinkered religiosity, when Jesus is so far greater than our human concept of what “religion” is about. Jesus transcends “religion.” But like the disciples, we persist in keeping Jesus firmly ensconced in a religious box rather than taking him at his word for the freedom he brings us.


Speak Your Mind