Psalm 65:10–14; Numbers 6; Mark 11:1–11

Originally published 5/15/2016. Revised and updated 5/15/2018

Psalm 65:10–14: The concluding verses of this psalm are a paean to how God brings forth bounty in the land, beginning with rain and water—the source of all life:
You pay mind to the earth and soak it.
You greatly enrich it.
God’s stream is filled with water.
” (10)

We can hear the water as is cascades down the hill and irrigates the farmer’s fields:
Quench the thirst of its furrows, smooth out its hillocks,
melt it with showers, its growth You will bless
. (11)

And we can almost taste God’s fruitful blessings:
You crown Your bountiful year,
and Your pathways drip ripeness.
 (12)

This beautiful language becomes even more gorgeous aspect as our poet celebrates God’s bounty with a metaphor of attire which clothes the fields:
The wilderness meadows do drip,
and with joy the hills are girded
. (13)

In a beautiful conclusion, the poet’s camera pulls back slowly to reveal a landscape that actually resembles some I’ve seen here in the Midwest in spring. And in one of the most affecting closing lines in the Psalms, God’s good creation worships its creator:
The pastures are clothed with flocks
and the valleys mantled with grain
.
They shout for joy, they even sing. (14b)

If the fields and flocks can sing at the glory of God’s creation, so must we. Even when we seem overwhelmed by worries and care—and especially the goings-on of the political world that seem more insanely fraught every day, we need only look to the verdant hills and valleys to understand how truly richly we have been blessed.

Numbers 6: We meet the Nazirites, who are men and women choosing to”separate themselves to the Lord.” (2) We can see the roots of religious life as these people—who are definitely not priests—choose to lead an ascetic life, foregoing any product, including wine, that comes from grapes. But their most distinctive aspect is their “vow [that] no razor shall come upon the head; until the time is completed for which they separate themselves to the Lord, they shall be holy; they shall let the locks of the head grow long.” (5) Of course we meet the most famous Nazirite of all, Samson, in a few hundred years down the road of Israel’s history.

Nazirites are required to separate themselves from their family and “they shall not go near a corpse. Even if their father or mother, brother or sister, should die, they may not defile themselves.” (6, 7) I don’t think it’s unreasonable to speculate that the various sects of Jesus’ time, e.g., the Essenes, based their practices on those of the nazirites. The nazirite sect also looks to be the predecessor of some of the more ascetic religious brotherhoods of non-ordained men and women down through history who have purposely separated themselves from the world in order to be closer to God. And like the religious orders of today, it appears that one can cease being a Nazirite when one so chooses: as they “separate themselves to the Lord for their days as nazirites,” (12) suggesting those “days” can come to an end.

Our text does not describe what the nazirites actually do on a day-to-day basis, although the authors do into great detail about the service of nazirite consecration before the entrance to the tabernacle (and we presume at the entrance of the temple after it was built). But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that a Nazirite spent his or her time almost solely in contemplation and prayer, probably out in the wilderness. In other words, a nazarite was about being before God rather than doing before God.

What is the lesson here for us? That some (not I) are called to separate themselves from the world and to concentrate solely on reflection, prayer, and service to God. Unfortunately, the Protestant church seems to have lost (or never had) communities that set themselves apart as our Catholic brothers and sisters have. Perhaps it’s because we are far more concerned with doing —accomplishing clear goals—rather than simply being. This doing is certainly reflected in the exclusively  Protestant term, “full time Christian work.”

As we wander through the metaphorical desert of some of the more obscure aspects of Numbers, we suddenly come upon the Priestly benediction, which is spoken to this day in churches around the world:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Amen.

Mark 11:1–11: Mark’s telling of Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem is as terse as usual. The gospel writer doesn’t record any further conversations between Jesus and the disciples prior to arriving in Jerusalem, but as Mark has made clear, the disciples still don’t “get it.”  So, perhaps in their excitement, the disciples thought, “At last! He’s going to claim his rightful place as the Messiah that will rescue Israel from the Romans by riding into the city triumphantly astride a horse, just like the average Roman leader.”

But then Jesus does two things that surely should have raised some doubts about that theory.  First, he instructs his disciples to go borrow am unridden colt.

That said, however, Mark’s description of the business of Jesus sending two disciples to take the colt is much clearer than in the other gospels. Here, he makes it abundantly clear that the colt was being borrowed, not taken since Jesus told them, “to say ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” (3) Since by the time Jesus arrived at the gates of Jerusalem he was a celebrity surrounded by large crowds, the colt’s owner understood that the colt was going to be part of the celebration and he may even have felt honored to lend it. The question for me is, would I have been as generous as the colt’s owner?

In the words that the crowd chants, Mark leaves little doubt that by the time Jesus has arrived at Jerusalem the surrounding mob truly believes that he is indeed the long-awaited davidic Messiah:
   “Hosanna!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
    Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (9, 10)

But then the second thing Jesus does is to not do anything at all. Unlike every politician in recorded history he does not take advantage of the crowd’s fervor. I’m sure that everyone—especially his disciples— expected a rousing speech once Jesus arrived at the temple to claim his messiahship. In one of the great anti-climaxes in the Bible, Jesus simply goes to the temple and “and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” (11)

The real question here is, what does the cryptic phrase, “he had looked around at everything” really mean? Did Jesus suddenly realize that the shouts of Hosanna still ringing in his ears would be transformed into shouts of execration in a mere five days? Did he realize just how entrenched the religious authorities were and that his message would be drowned out and he would be crucified? What was Jesus thinking? What did Mark know about Jesus’ thoughts that he isn’t telling us? Or is Mark as disappointed and puzzled as the rest of us when Jesus simply decamps back to Bethany without uttering a word?

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