Psalm 65:1–9; Numbers 5; Mark 10:46–52

Psalm 65:1–9: We’ve observed many times that speech and singing are the central element of the Psalms, many of which end with the psalmist singing praises to God. This psalm of praise catches our attention because it asserts, “To You silence is praise, God, in Zion,/ and to You a vow will be paid.” (2). In short, I can praise God without speaking of singing, which is what I feel I am doing here at my keyboard almost every morning. Reading and reflection are themselves praise.

And of course that other terribly significant means of praise: prayer, whether spoken or silent, which lies at the center of today’s reading: “O, Listener to prayer,/ unto [God] all flesh shall come.” (3) We pray for many reasons, but above all it is because God is our Listener. And we don’t come to God just because it feels good, but also because, “My deeds of mischief are too much for me./ Our crimes but You atone.” (4) Atonement for wrongdoing comes exclusively through our confession to God.

The psalmist realizes that in the end, it is God who not only listens but comes to us. And for us Christians, we realize it is Jesus who comes to us: “Happy whom You choose to draw close,/ he will dwell in Your courts.” (5a) And having been drawn close to God through silent or spoken prayer, we see evidence of God’s power and mighty acts around us: “With awesome acts justly You answer us,/ our rescuing God,/ refuge of all the earth’s ends/ and the far flung sea.” (6)

I certainly have felt God’s rescuing power over the past month. Evidence of his power—his awesome acts— dwells not only around me as the psalmist has it here, but within me in the form of God’s magnificent healing power.

God, who is Creator, endlessly continues his creative acts: “Who sets the mountains firm in Hid power/ —He is girded in might—” (7) And not just natural creation, but as our psalmist points out, within the affairs of humankind as well: “Who quiets the roar of the seas,/ the roar of their waves and the tumult of nations.” (8) Our poet tells us that some point every person will come to appreciate God’s majestic power, especially as expressed in nature, especially sunrise and sunset: “And those who dwell at earth’s ends will fear Your signs./ The portals of morning and evening You gladden.” (9)

I for one am glad that I do not have to search for evidence for God. I know he is here and that he is acting.

Numbers 5: Giving nothing to the authors of Leviticus, the authors of Numbers recapitulate and expound on the key elements of the Decalogue. First on their list is that unclean persons—”everyone who is leprous,or has a discharge, and everyone who is unclean through contact with a corpse” (2)—be they male or female is put outside the camp. It may seem cruel on the face of it, but no question that it’s a central element of maintaining community hygiene.

The rule of law is another key to maintaining order within the community—just as it is today. “When a man or a woman wrongs another, breaking faith with the Lord, that person incurs guilt.” (6) Notice that crimes against others also breaks faith with God. In other words our acts here on earth have consequences with our relationship not only with others in the community, but with God himself.

And to restore that bond requires full restitution against the person wronged plus 20%. [One cynically wonders if the extra 20% went to the lawyers…]. And if restitution cannot be made to the person harmed, “the restitution for wrong shall go to the Lord for the priest.” (8) In short, we must always make confession [see the Psalm above] to God and yes, restitution.

By far the majority of content in this chapter regards an unfaithful or adulterous wife. The definition of “unfaithful” includes adultery where “a man has had intercourse with her but it is hidden from her husband, so that she is undetected though she has defiled herself” (13) If her husband becomes jealous—even if the wife is innocent— the husband brings the wife to the priest. There, a bizarre ritual takes place involving disheveling the hair of the woman and forcing her to drink bitter muddy water. If the woman has indeed “defiled herself,” the water will bring a curse cause severe diarrhea, “her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people.” (27) But if she is innocent, “she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.” (28)

For me this primitive rite is cruel and demeaning but no more so than the depressing last verse of this chapter. Even if the husband is in a fit of jealous rage, it is the woman who suffers: “The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.” (31) As far as I am concerned this practice is a sign of a primitive God and a primitive tribe. And I see no way to reconcile it to the words of Jesus, which trumps the law—especially in places like this.

Mark 10:46–52: Unlike the other gospel writers, especially John, Mark is not given to explaining Jesus’ acts as symbols or metaphors or how it connects to OT prophecy as Matthew does. He sticks to the straight reportorial facts. Yet, the deeper meaning of Jesus’ acts lies just a few inches under the story. The healing of blind Bartimaeus is one these.

Jesus and his disciples, accompanied by the usual crowd, are leaving Jericho and encounter “Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.” (46) [I’m struck that Mark names the man about to be healed. We rarely find out the names of the people whose lives have been changed by Jesus’ healing interventions.] Bartimaeus’s other senses, his hearing I presume, alerts him to Jesus’ presence, and he cries out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (48). That title, ‘Son of David,’ is Mark’s way of telling us that Bartimaeus, and others, recognized Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.

Jesus relents and tells those around him, “Call him here.” Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and bounds across the road, heedless of his blindness, and comes right up to Jesus. Whereupon Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” (51) Bartimaeus understandably and logically replies, “My teacher, let me see again.” (51) and Jesus restores his sight, noting that “your faith has made you well.” (52)

Notice that Jesus does not heal uninvited and he asks that we articulate what it is we want. Like Bartimaeus, our faith is expressed in the specifics: Batimaeus wishes to see again—just as we need to see again. In the past several weeks, I have wished to know whether my cancer returned, and my faith has been rewarded.

The lesson for me here is that Jesus really wants to know what we want, which means we need to know what we want. That is why wishy-washy statements of vague spirituality are absurd.  Faith is about specifics. Knowing who we are and what we need is an essential component in a meaningful relationship with Jesus. Until we name it for ourselves, our faith is too abstract. Faith must be grounded in reality.

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