Psalm 49:13-20; Leviticus 9:12-10:20; Mark 3:13-19

Psalm 49:13-20   I think it’s impossible to read the latter half of this wisdom psalm during Holy Week without reflecting on the underlying meaning of verse 15: “But God will ransom my life, from the grip of Sheol He will take me.”

Yes, at the top level, the psalmist is speaking of men, who like the Egyptians, believe their wealth will accompany and even protect them after death.  But they are sorely mistaken: “man will not rest in splendor.  He is likened to beasts that are doomed. This way of theirs is their foolishness,” (11,12)  There is no wealth; there is no splendor.  Instead, “Like sheep to Sheol they head— death shepherds them.” (14)  Even Sheol tires of them: “And they wear out their image in Sheol, a habitation for them.” (14b)

But there is one other Sheep, the Lamb of God who headed to Sheol but returned.  It is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that has ransomed us; that has saved all of us from “the grip of Sheol.”  And unlike the deluded wealthy and powerful sheep, who cannot hang onto their worldly wealth and self-image (“Man will not grasp things in splendor. He is likened to beasts that are doomed.” (20)) when death comes, we have been ransomed once and for all.  And we receive a whole new kind of splendor.

 Leviticus 9:12-10:20  After all the various sacrifices and offerings are executed following God’s instructions, Moses and Aaron emerge from the Tabernacle “and they came out and blessed the people, and the glory of  the LORD appeared to all the people.” (9:23).  God’s glory manifested itself dramatically: “And a fire came out from before the LORD and consumed on the altar the burnt offering and the fat, and all the people saw and shouted with joy and fell on their faces.” (9:24)  God’s power can elicit great happiness and joy.

But…God is still God and requires his mandates to be followed precisely.  Two of Aaron’s four sons, Nadab and Abihu, “took each of them his  fire-pan and put fire in it and placed incense upon it and brought forward alien fire before the LORD, which He had not charged them.”  The sons may have thought that these terribly precise instructions were becoming onerous. Perhaps they were taking a shortcut.   But “fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.” (2).

Somewhat unsympathetically, Moses reminds Aaron what the “the LORD spoke, saying, ‘Through those close to Me shall I be hallowed and in all the people’s presence shall I be honored.’” (3) And in what I think is the saddest verse in this book, “And Aaron was silent,”  knowing that Moses was theologically correct, but he is torn in grief at the loss of his sons.  Moreover, Moses would not allow Aaron and his family to show the normal signs of grief, and since they were anointed priests had to remain inside the Tabernacle.  Moses bans consumption of alcohol in the Tabernacle as well.

Why? To set a clear boundary “between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, and to teach the Israelites all the statutes that the LORD spoke to them by the hand of Moses.” (10,11).  That may be so, but it was scant comfort to Eleazar and to Ithamar, Aaron’s remaining sons, who then err by burning, rather than eating, the offense offering in the holy place (18)  Their fear of being struck dead like their brothers seems reasonable to me.  Aaron tells Moses that given the tragic events of the day, none of them could be expected to eat amidst their grief.  And Moses concedes that Aaron is right.  This is one of those places where we see the power of God juxtaposed against human feeling, that brings such poignancy to the story..  Moses may be God’s representative on earth, but Aaron is the representative humanity in all of us.

Not unlike the scene on Golgotha, where Christ is dying and the narrative turns to the women, including jesus’ mother, weeping at the foot of the cross.

Mark 3:13-19  Up to this point, Jesus has numerous adherents who have become camp followers as his healing ministry and popularity have grown. Here, Jesus “called to him those whom he wanted.”  Clearly, he had been observing those among the crowd and saw the essential qualities he required in his followers.  The first quality is response; that “they came to him.” (13).  In an echo of the twelve tribes of Israel, (this is the establishment of the New Covenant, after all) he appoints each man with three distinct aspects of the commission: (1) to be with him; (2) to proclaim the message; (3) the authority to cast out demons.”

The first two make complete sense to our modern brains.  But why the casting out demons bit? I think it was reflective of the times and to make it clear that Jesus was not just a magician with healing powers.  But more importantly, it comes back to that Markan theme: authority.  This is the first instance of Jesus passing along his authority to his followers.  And we, his followers 2000 years later, also have authority.  Perhaps not to cast out demons, but more authority than we (or at least me) tend to think.

The disciples are each named, even Judas.  The naming of names is crucial because that is the essence of our identity.  Not only before other people, but before God.  Names are God-given, albeit through our parents. And another distinctive that sets us apart form the rest of creation.



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