Psalm 45:10–18; Leviticus 2,3; Mark 1:9–20

Originally published 4/7/2016 with portions published 4/7/2014. Revised and updated 4/7/2018:

Psalm 45:10–18: Well, well, well. This turns out to be a psalm celebrating a royal wedding as our poet turns and addresses the princess, whom we assume is the bride of the king celebrated in the first half of the psalm. The poet offers harsh, yet doubtless correct, advice:
Listen, princess, and look, incline your ear,
and forget your people, and your father’s house.
 (11)

As has been the case down through the years, this marriage was doubtless arranged as the physical expression of an alliance between two kingdoms. Even though the marriage is arranged, the poet suggests that she be as alluring as possible to her bridegroom:
And let the king yearn for your beauty,
for he is your master,/ and bow down to him.
 (12)

She may be a princess, but in this patriarchal society he is still her ruler, which is how a patriarchal society has operated down to the present day, especially in the Middle east.

Neverthless, she brings some advantages with her besides her beauty: a dowry:
Daughter of Tyre, with tribute
the people’s wealthy will court your favor.
 (13)

So, beauty and wealth will certainly help ingratiate her with her new family and courtiers. The poet then turns his attention to her wedding attire and her attendants, evoking the beauty and laughter of the bridesmaids as well:
All the princess’s treasure is pearls, filigree of gold her raiment
In embroidered stuff she is led to the king,
maidens in train, her companions.
They are led in rejoicing and gladness,
they enter the palace,
brought to you, king.
” (15, 16)

But our poet understands the princess’s sadness at being taken away from her family—and especially her father whom she loved dearly. Our poet attempts to assuage this sadness by reminding here she will be a mother:
In your father’s stead your sons will be.
You will set them as princes in all the land.
” (17)

The psalm concludes with a little personal PR as the poet reminds us that it is he who has sung this sweet and loving song of a bridegroom and bride:
Let me make your name heard in all generations.
Therefore do peoples acclaim you forevermore. (18)

So, is there theology here? I suppose some might endeavor to position this poem as an allegory for Christ as king and the church as his bride, But I think that’s stretching it too far—and certainly nothing the poet ever envisioned. For me, this psalm is a respite from the despair of the preceding psals and the editors who arranged the order of the psalms were wise in offering this poetic celebration immediately following the anguish of Psalm 44.

Leviticus 2,3: We begin our trek through the Levitical catalog of the vast panoply of various offerings and sacrifices. [And I’m grateful to the Moravians for flying through the book at a fairly high altitude.]

Not every offering is a slaughtered and incinerated animal. The grain offering which is made of “choice flour” may be brought as grain, as a loaf of bread: “When you present a grain offering baked in the oven, it shall be of choice flour: unleavened cakes mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers spread with oil.” (2:4) or even a pancake: “If your offering is grain prepared on a griddle, it shall be of choice flour mixed with oil, unleavened.” (2:5). Who knew these foods were so ancient!

There are two important aspects of a grain offering. First, is like the bread eaten at the Passover festival, it is unleavened: “No grain offering that you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven, for you must not turn any leaven or honey into smoke as an offering by fire to the Lord.” (2:11) And second, “You shall not omit from your grain offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” (13).

So when Jesus talks about being the “salt of the earth” in the Sermon on the Mount, there is not only a sense of seasoning, but among his audience that is well aware of the sacrificial requirements of the Temple, a requirement of sacrifice as well. I’m sure that everyone who heard him thought of this passage that describes how a grain offering requires salt. It is the salt that makes the bread edible, and that is our role in the world as Christians: to bring the flavor of sweet bread to others.

Leviticus 3 describes an offering of “well-being.” I assume that this is an offering given in gratitude for the blessings God has bestowed on the person making the offering. This sacrifice requires slaughtering the unblemished animal “at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” At which point, “Aaron’s sons the priests shall dash the blood against all sides of the altar.” (3:2) Sheep—male or female—and goats are the animals used in this sacrifice, as detailed instructions are given for what body parts are burned on the altar, which appears to be the fat. As the authors note, “All fat is the Lord’s.” (3:16).  Moreover, the Israelites are enjoined to remember this rule: “It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood.” (3:17) Sacrificial blood belongs to God as well, which is why Jesus’ blood was shed on our behalf: it was God’s most direct and sacrificial act.

Also, it’s pretty good health advice not to eat fat or blood. Clearly, rib-eye steaks were not on the menu here.

Mark 1:9–20: Where the other Gospel writes give long descriptions of the events that precede Jesus’ ministry, Mark is the paragon of scriptural terseness. In a mere eleven verses Mark describes Jesus baptism, including the descent of the Holy Spirit and God’s vocal approval; the wilderness temptation, the beginning of the ministry in Galilee, and the calling of four disciples (Simon, Andrew, James, John).  But amid all this economy of language, Mark takes the time to repeat what I think is a crucial theme of his Gospel: “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (18) and again, “Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.” (20). There is no hesitation, no wasted time in reflection and meditation.

Two words: “immediately” and “followed.” We don’t get the backstory, but Mark emphasizes that we follow, we don’t go “side-by-side;” we don’t “accompany” Jesus; we don’t “join his team.” We do one thing only: we follow.  There is true hierarchy here: Jesus is the leader; we are the followers. Our society obsessed with egalitarianism and equality and equity is uncomfortable with the idea of real leadership, which is what Jesus is all about.

Same goes for the temptation in the desert: just the barest facts and the sense of everything happening with great urgency. “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” (12, 13) Mark never tells us; he only implies that Jesus avoided succumbing to Satan’s temptations.

Mark creates a very clear delineation between the end of John’s ministry—he’s arrested— and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. As far as Mark is concerned there is no overlap. John was only the opening act. He’s using this first chapter to establish Jesus’ bona fides and wants to get on with the main program.

So, too, disciples are collected equally quickly: “he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen.” (16) And just a bit farther up the road, “he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.” (19)  Mark tells us nothing at this point about the disciple’s personalities. There is only one thing that matters: it is what the four—Simon, Andrew, James, and John— do immediately and without hesitation—and what we are all to do: follow Jesus without hesitation.

 

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