Psalm 57:1-6; Leviticus 24:10-25:17; Mark 8:1-13

Originally published 5/3/2014. Revised and updated 5/2/2018

Psalm 57:1-7  David is still on the run from Saul.  He seeks shelter in the cave, which is a metaphor for the shelter that God grants him:
Grant me grace, God, grant me grace
for in You I have taken shelter. (2)

But more than shelter, David calls out to God for rescue, and because of his intimate trust, knows that God will come to him:
I call out to God the Most High,
to the god who requites me.
He will send from the heavens and rescue me. (3, 4a)

Not just rescue, but David will receive something even greater: God will send his steadfast kindness.” (4b)  When we are in trouble we need to remember as David did that God is more than a rescuer, he is steadfastly kind and loving.  This is tremendous contrast to those who seek to destroy him:
I lie down among lions
that pant for human beings.
Their fangs are spear and arrows,
their tongue a sharpened sword. (5)

Notice how David’s enemies are not just pursuing him with “spear and arrows,” but with an even deadlier weapon: their words.  Which is pretty much how people pursue their enemies these days, be it via print, TV, or social media.  Words are truly the deadly weapons of our culture.

David remains assured that his enemies will get their just punishment in the end:
A net they set for my steps,
 they pushed down my neck,
they dug before me a pit—
they themselves fell into it.  (7)  This is a brilliant evocation of how so many people fall into their own verbal traps.  There are plenty of cases in point, be it politicians’ emails presidential tweets.

Leviticus 24:10-25:17  Our names are crucial to establish our identity within the community.  In a rare turnabout, where the women are usually anonymous, the editors of Leviticus name the mother of the son “who vilified the Name of God” (24:11)  She is “Shelomith, daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan.”  So great was the offense of the son in vilifying God’s name that he would not be identified but was simply taken outside the camp and stoned to death.

But no name is greater than the name of God and “One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer” (24:16) Alien residents—I presume this includes even those who may not necessarily believe in God— are not exempt from this rule: “Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death.” (24:16b)  I suppose that the issue is not that God’s name is mentioned aloud, but that to use the common phrase, God’s name is “taken in vain.”

Would that society paid more attention to this rule, and we could possibly be spared the ubiquitous “OMG” acronym. Also, I suppose this is why even to this day, Jews write “G-d” rather than “God.”  And for those of us who spell out God’s name, a good reminder that naming God–and the attitude in which we name God– is serious business indeed.

Chapter 25 lays out God’s rules for the fifty-year jubilee.  And another one of those rules we pass right over today, the command, “and call a release in the land to all its inhabitants.”  In short, what we might call “God’s bankruptcy law.”

God also defines fair real estate sales here, “The larger the number of years, the more you shall pay for its purchase and the smaller the number of years the less you shall pay for its purchase, since he is selling you the number of yields.” (25:16)  Which is completely logical and fair in an agrarian society.  (Although given that these laws were theoretically promulgated while Israel was wandering around in the wilderness, all this attention to property seems something of a non sequitur and reminds us again that Leviticus was doubtless written many years after the wilderness journey.

Mark 8:1-13  Having previously fed the 5000, Jesus now feeds the 4000 in much the same way.  And once again, and recalling that in the incident in the storm on Galilee, the disciples did not understand what Jesus was doing, they apparently have not yet picked up on this miraculous feeding of the multitude business.  Once again they ask, How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” (8:4).  And once again, Jesus performs the miracle.  And once again, the disciples climb into the boat with Jesus (10).  Did they get it this second time? Probably not.

It’s easy to be hard on the disciples because we know the whole story. But the disciple’s question at both feedings is exactly our question, and a sure sign that we don’t “get it” either.  We claim to have great faith, but when push comes to shove, we’re just as clueless as the disciples as to Jesus’ true intentions and his true abilities.

Which is why I think Mark juxtaposes the Pharisee’s request for “a sign” immediately following this story.  “Show us a sign,” we cry along with the Pharisees. We keep asking for signs, but even if lightning were to zap from heaven and build a mansion in front of our eyes, we’d still find reason to doubt.  And anyone who claims to “know” is a fool (e.g., Harold Camping predicting the 2nd coming in 2011).  Which is why the endless quest for “proof” of God’s existence is such a fool’s errand. Only faith works.

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