Psalm 69:14–22; Numbers 15:1–31; Mark 14:12–31

Originally published 5/26/2016. Revised and updated 5/26/2018

Psalm 69:14–22: As he is being harassed and taunted on every side, our psalmist turns to God, almost flatteringly, humbly asking God to help it when it’s convenient:
O Lord, come in a favorable hour.
God, as befits Your great kindness,
answer me with Your steadfast rescue. 
(14)

This is a beautiful prayer for any of us who find us bogged down, whether by opponents or even the diseases and weaknesses of our own bodies.

He returns to the metaphor of drowning, this time appealing to God with more desperation:
Save me from the mire, that I not drown.
Let me be saved from my foes and from the watery depths.
Let the waters’ current not sweep me away
and let not the deep swallow me
. (15, 16)

These two metaphors —that we are stuck in the mire and that we not be swept away by the current—describe two awful states. For me, the mire represents being stuck in our own sinfulness, while the current symbolizes succumbing to the temptation to give in and join the culture as it hurtles toward its inevitable doom. Only God can rescue us from both.

Our psalmist now turns fully to God, throwing himself completely on God’s kindness and compassion, but also hoping that God will respond quickly:
Hide not Your face from Your servant,
for I am in straits. Hurry, answer me
. (18)

Yes, like the psalmist, we are completely free to ask God to act in our time not just his. Of course, we have no guarantee that God will do so. In any event, he writes, God is the only possible escape from his enemies:
Come near me, redeem me.
because of my enemies, ransom me
. (19).

God—and for us Christians, Jesus—is our only possible salvation. We cannot find it in other people, in institutions, nor in the culture at large. But the psalmist takes the first step by recognizing exactly who he is—a sinner. We, too, must recognize that God knows who we are and what we have done even better than we:
It is You who know my reproach,
and my shame and disgrace before all my foes
. (20)

It’s crucial that we realize how sin has brought us down and is destroying our life and we cannot find comfort, much less redemption outside of God. Without God’s absolution our state will only grow more desperate to the point of physical breakdown:
Reproach breaks my heart, I grow ill;
I hope for consolation, and there is none,
and for comforters, and do not find them
.”

Numbers 15:1–31: We come to an odd intermezzo in the dramatic action that has resulted in the Israelites being consigned to the desert for the next forty years. It feels almost like a non sequitur—perhaps an insertion by yet another author: a lengthy disquisition on the types of sacrifices they are to offer when they finally arrive in Canaan some forty years hence: “When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you, and you make an offering by fire to the Lord from the herd or from the flock—whether a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering or at your appointed festivals—to make a pleasing odor for the Lord.” (2, 3) In that case, then “whoever presents such an offering to the Lord shall present also a grain offering, one-tenth of an ephah of choice flour, mixed with one-fourth of a hin of oil.” (4)

These commands regarding sacrifices apply to every Israelite: “Every native Israelite shall do these things in this way, in presenting an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the Lord.” (13) But perhaps more interestingly, and what I believe is a clear indication that while God is has a specific covenant Israel, he is also the God of all humankind, “there shall be for both you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord.” (15). As Peter notes many centuries later in his eponymous letter, we Christians are all aliens in the land. To make his stance perfectly clear, God even repeats himself: “You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance.” (16)

The focus then shifts to the rules regarding unintentional sin and again, once the proper sacrifices are made, “All the congregation of the Israelites shall be forgiven, as well as the aliens residing among them, because the whole people was involved in the error.” (26)

Humility is always required—both before God and among each other: “But whoever acts high-handedly, whether a native or an alien, affronts theLord, and shall be cut off from among the people.” (30).

The tragedy of course is that once Israel occupies Canaan, it is the aliens among them that corrupt Israel rather than God’s chosen people causing the non-Israelites to come and worship Israel’s God.

Mark 14:12–31: With his usual and remarkable skill, Mark packs grand theology and drama into this terse verses. A disciple asks where they’re going for Passover and Jesus replies, Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’” (13, 14). So, how did Jesus know all this? Is it prescience, or had he somehow made prior arrangements? The business with the jar-carrying man certainly suggests something supernatural is going on since in that culture women did the water-carrying, so the sight of a man would be unusual indeed.

Seated at dinner and while everyone was still eating, Jesus drops the bomb: “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” (18), which basically ruins the rest of the meal as the disciples “began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” (19). So why choose this time to announce it? Because it is “one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.” (20) And here Mark, unlike the other gospel writers, does not tell us what happened next or if Judas even leaves. Jesus simply remarks cryptically, “woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” (21) As far as Mark is concerned, we’ll never know: was Judas in the room to hear that pronouncement of not? Mark’s spotlight remains only on Jesus and what he says.

Nevertheless, I’m going to assume that Judas left before Jesus said that because the next thing he does is institute the Eucharist. Mark hints at the sacrifice to come when Jesus says, “This is my blood of the  covenant, which is poured out for many.” (24) As indeed his death on the cross is a sacrifice for all of us down through history. He reinforces the connection between the Eucharist and his death and resurrection with the words, “I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (25). Of course there’s no way the disciples would have understood the enormous implications of this statement. Only those of us living post-Resurrection can make the connection. And now every Sunday we drink that new wine. But the question always remains: are we working in the Kingdom with Jesus?

I always thought that Jesus told only Peter that the disciple would deny his Lord, but Mark makes it clear that Jesus was being inclusive: “And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters.” (27) Which is of course exactly what happened. Peter, being Peter, fervently denies this possibility, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” (29). Jesus tells Peter about the cock crowing, but Peter persists,“Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (31a) And again, Mark is inclusive, noting that “All of them said the same.” (31b)

Of course “all of them” includes us. The nobility of my intentions notwithstanding, I deny Jesus again and again. We all do. Mark will never let us forget that.

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