Psalm 45:1-9; Leviticus 2,3; Mark 1:9-20

Psalm 45:1-9  Alter notes that the designation for this psalm, “a song of love,” occurs only here.  It is also the only psalm where the author steps to center stage in the first verse, “My heart is astir with a goodly word. I speak what I’ve made to the king. My tongue is the pen of a rapid scribe.” (1)  The author tells us, he will be reciting this song to the king, who is the subject of the poem.  (He also notes his other scribal skills in passing.)

What follows is praise, almost bordering on the obsequious IMO, for the king’s handsomeness (“You are loveliest of the sons of man,”), his elegant and kind speech, (“grace flows from your lips”) as well as his prowess as a warrior, (“Gird your sword on your thigh, O warrior,  your glory and your grandeur.”) (3).  The king is the ideal mix of “truth, humility and justice” but equally capable of battle, “let your right hand shoot forth terrors, your sharpened arrows— peoples fall beneath you.” (4)  At this point we need to remember this is a song, not a theological treatise…

But above all, the is rightly aligned to God, “You loved justice and hated evil.  Therefore did God your God anoint you with oil of joy over your fellows.” (7)  And here is the lesson for us:  We may not sit on a throne holding a scepter of power in our right hands, but the real question is, do we love justice and hate evil, just as God does?  Like the shepherd of Psalm 23, that is how “God [will] anoint you with oil of joy over your fellows.” (9)

Leviticus 2,3  We tend to forget that amidst all the blood of the sacrificial system, there was a grain offering as well–and it is with this that the “sacrificial instruction manual” begins.  I have to assume that grain offerings were acceptable to God because some people were poor and could not afford the greater expense of an animal sacrifice.  And grain offerings could create a “a fragrant odor to the LORD” (2:3) as well as an animal one.  God accommodates all his children!

Here, too, is where we see that God does not demand everything be sacrificed to him (as I presume other pagan sacrificial systems demanded), but only a “token portion,” the remainder, “what is left of the grain offering is for Aaron and for his sons.”  The offering is unleavened bread, reminding all of the Passover bread.  Why no yeast or honey?  It’s hard to say.  God has his reasons; not all of then will be revealed to us.

Interesting that “every offering of your grain you shall season with salt. You shall not leave out the salt of the covenant of your God from your grain offering.” (2:3).  So when Jesus talks about being the “salt of the earth,” 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.

If God is specific about the nature of the grain offering, he gets even more precise in chapter 3, specifying exactly how the animal is to be disemboweled and what is to be done with each organ. And “all the fat to the LORD.” (3:16)  God knew that too much fat is bad for people camping and hiking in the wilderness…  Just asHe knows what’s right for us.

Mark 1:9-20  In a mere eleven verses Mark describes Jesus baptism, including the decent 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 this 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).

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.

The all-important adverb, “immediately” is in the same sentence as “follow.”  There is urgency in the work of the Kingdom.  No careful weighing of options and “I’ll get back to you on that.” As we will see throughout this Gospel, it’s all urgent, right here, right now stuff.  I wonder how many people to whom Jesus said “Follow me. Now or never” that chose the “never” option.  For Mark, it’s all about action, not thoughtful contemplation. Is it for us?  Or do I reflect too much–not because reflection is wrong–but as an excuse for not acting?

 

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