Psalm 47; Leviticus 5:1–6:13; Mark 1:35–45

Originally published 4/9/2016 with portions published 4/9/2014. Revised and updated 4/10/2018:

Psalm 47: Alter informs us that this psalm forms a central part of the liturgy for the Jewish New Year. Its first half is worship which celebrates God’s kingship. There is neither reticence nor reverent quiet here as the congregation joyfully acclaims:
All peoples, clap hands,
shout out to God with a sound of glad song.
For the Lord is most high and fearsome,
a great king over all the earth.
”  (2, 3)

God is not restricted to being king of over Israel, but in one of the many reminders on the Psalms of God’s universality, he is king “over all the earth.”

This is no effeminate God, but one who is mighty, strong, and conquers militarily and loves Israel above all all other nations:

He crushes people beneath us
and nations beneath our feet.
He chooses us for his estate,
pride of Jacob whom He loves. (4, 5)

But this psalm is also about the rest of us, for we know that through Jesus Christ God has chosen us as well. And like Israel in this psalm, our response can only be glad worship of the God who reigns over all the earth:
Hymn to God, hymn,
hymn to our king, O hymn.
For king of all earth is God,
hymn joyous song.
God reigns over the nations,
and sits on His holy throne.”(7-9)

Notice that worship focuses solely on God. It is not about us nor does it exist to make us feel better. Which means in the end it’s not about worship forms such as “traditional” or “contemporary” or what kind of music or preaching we prefer. Our psalmist does not critique the worship experience as we are wont to do. Rather, it is focused solely in one direction and one direction only: Our response is worship simply because of the reality of God’s kingship over every being on earth.

Leviticus 5:1–6:13: If we read Leviticus carefully we begin to see that it weaves sin and penance into a tightly woven structure. This chapter lays out different types of offenses and the requisite sacrifice of atonement. Here we encounter a fairly comprehensive inventory of sins:
• Failure to testify when one has seen a sin by another. (5:1)
• Touching unclean things such as carcasses. (5:2)
• Touching human uncleanness (and we can certainly imagine what that is…) (5:3)
• “Utter aloud a rash oath for a bad or a good purpose,” (5:44) which pretty much takes swearing off the table.

Even unwitting sins require sacrifice: “if a person offends and does any one of all the commands of the LORD that should not be done and does not know and is guilty, he shall bear his punishment.”  (5:18) We talk about our culture as being “post-Christian.”  Perhaps we should also call it “post-sin.”  “Sin” seems so antiquated in our therapeutic age where victimhood seems to have largely replaced guilt, never mind atonement for guilt.

The first step in restoring one to a state of righteousness is confession—exactly what it is for us as well: “You shall confess the sin that you have committed.” (5:5) As Christians, confession remains our first requirement when we realize we have sinned. But in his epistle, John adds the comforting words, “[God] who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (i John 1:9)

But Leviticus requires much more thaOur Levitical authors then go on to describe the precise sacrificial procedures: “n mere confession. It requires sacrifice: As your penalty for the sin that you have committed, a female from the flock, a sheep or a goat, as a sin offering.” (5: 6). Notice, by the way, that unlike sacrifices for good will, the sacrifices of atonement involve a female sheep or goat.

One of the really great things in that our authors have recognized economic reality and make provision for it. Not everyone will have the means to sacrifice a relatively expensive sheep or goat, so “if you cannot afford a sheep, you shall bring to the Lord, as your penalty for the sin that you have committed, two turtledoves or two pigeons.” (5:7)  And then, “if you cannot afford two turtledoves or two pigeons, you shall bring as your offering for the sin that you have committed one-tenth of an ephah of choice flour for a sin offering.” (5: 11) In other words, the act of sacrifice was proportionate to one’s wealth. It is details like these that demonstrate that God meets us where we are regardless of our economic circumstances. Too bad that reality was corrupted by the time of the Pharisees—and today a —by the assumption that wealth correlated to righteousness.

Some sins involve taking property and restitution is required. These include “deceiving a neighbor in a matter of a deposit or a pledge, or by robbery, or if you have defrauded a neighbor, or have found something lost and lied about it.” (6: 2,3) And in those cases, “when you realize your guilt” then one is required to “restore what you took by robbery or by fraud or the deposit that was committed to you, or the lost thing that you found.”  (6:4) But restitution comes with a 20% tax—a brilliant disincentive to steal in the first place: “you shall repay the principal amount and shall add one-fifth to it.” (6:5) In addition, the expense of the required sin sacrifice is also required.

We think of these detailed Levitical rules as being almost absurdly constraining.  Yet it’s clear that those same rules, which form the basis of our own laws, are exactly how order was maintained among that “stiff-necked” people wandering in the wilderness.  Without them, chaos would have ensued.  Does a decreasing awareness of sin and its consequences lead to a breakdown of order in our own society?

Mark 1:35–45: Even though we’re still in Mark’s first chapter, no one is sitting still—least of all, Jesus—as Mark continues to show us various aspects of his character. Teaching and healing at Capernaum, is immediately followed by describing Jesus;’ practice of finding a deserted place in order to pray. And he didn’t bother to tell anyone. We can sense Simon’s annoyance when, after hunting and finally finding Jesus, he grumps,“Everyone is searching for you.” (37).

There’s a layered meaning of the disciples’ exclamation, “Everyone is searching for you.”  Yes, the disciples were looking for him in the dark (another double meaning!)  But we are all searching for Jesus (in the dark).  Which we who are reading or hearing this Gospel are doing: we are searching for the real Jesus. Even those who deny they are searching are still searching for the meaning and purpose that only Jesus can bring.

Ever the master of surprise Jesus unexpectedly announces that instead of returning to Capernaum, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (38)  Mark is also subtly telling us not only is Jesus his own man who relies more on his father than other people, but that he is unpredictable and will keep doing the unexpected. More importantly, in this simple declaration Mark gives us Jesus’ mission statement: to proclaim the good news wherever he can.

The leper follows Jesus and realizes an important truth that is probably not yet obvious to Jesus four disciples, telling Jesus: “If you choose, you can make me clean.”  (40) This tells me that when healing occurs it is not we who have chosen, but Jesus. And not everyone who wishes so will be healed. In the leper’s case, “moved with pity,  Jesus  stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” (41) Mark is telling us that we cannot control Jesus; he makes his own decisions. Yet many of our so-called Christian behaviors such as praying to find a parking place are exactly that: our efforts to control Jesus and make him our personal errand boy. Jesus cannot be corralled to our own ends.

The leper famously disobeys Jesus’ order not to tell anyone about being healed but, “went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word.” (45) We often wonder why Jesus would say this, but I think Mark gives us a very simple explanation that it was simply logistics since “Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.” (45)  I even think there’s a bit of reverse psychology operating here: Jesus is perfectly happy to have word spread. After all, he just said that “I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do. (38)

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