Psalm 50:7-15; Leviticus 11:29-13:8; Mark 4:1-20

Maundy Thursday, the first day of the Triduum–the three days preceding Easter–where we reflect on the process that has led to our salvation under the terms of the New Covenant: Last Supper, the agony of Gethsemane, arrest, religious trial, secular trial, torture and crucifixion, burial.  Sunday is surely coming, but first we, like Jesus, must pass through Thursday, Friday, Saturday.

Psalm 50:7-15  The poet writes in God’s voice.  And as we’ve observed before, it is an audible voice, “Hear, O My people, that I may speak, Israel, that I witness to you. God your God I am.” (7)  It is almost as if God is in the dock, identifies himself (“God your God I am”)  and is now giving testimony, “That I may witness.”

At first reading, the topic about which God speaks is odd to us: basically God is saying, “I’m OK with your sacrifices, but it is an act that you are initiating because you worship me, your God.” God is not forcing you to do this as a form of taxation or demand, “I shall not take from your house a bull, nor goats from your pens.” (9)  After all, He continues, “Mine are all beasts of the forest, the herds on the thousand mountains.”  Not only are the animals God’s to begin with, but he has a relationship with them: “I know every bird of the mountains, creatures of the field are with Me.” (11)

This is one of those wonderful places where we see how much God loves his creation, and is tightly interwoven with creation.  But unlike the pantheists, God is extremely clear on one point: He is separate from his creation.  Something to bear in mind in this age where we keep hearing of “Gaia” and even “Mother Nature” as the deity d’jour.

And to differentiate Himself from the local gods, He makes it extremely clear that God does not require sacrifice as sustenance: “Would I eat the flesh of fat bulls, would I drink the blood of goats?” (13)  God is not petty, demanding sacrifice from his oppressed subjects.  Rather, he is amazingly generous: “And call Me on the day of distress— I will free you and you shall revere me.” (15)

And as we now remember in these coming days, it is God who has made the ultimate sacrifice for us.

Leviticus 11:29-13:8  As the categorization of what is clean and unclean continues, there are some basic hygienic principles around dealing with carcasses and dead bodies established that doubtless allowed the Israelites to survive and prosper in the wilderness and then in Canaan.  These rules doubtless provided nutritional and thereby physical advantage that other tribes in the area did not enjoy.  The young David is a prime example of healthy youth able to defeat apparently insurmountable odds.

The lesson is clear theologically, as well: “For I am the LORD Who has brought you up from the land of Egypt to be for you a God, and you shall be holy, for I  am holy.” (11:45).  As God is set apart form all those small-g gods, so too, Israel is set apart from all the other tribes and nations.  As God of Genesis, divided creation, light from darkness, earth from sea, and so forth, these rules are a reflection of this division: clean from unclean.

Chapter 12, which deals with the impurity associated with childbirth, reflects the limited understanding of physiology in that era.  (Alter notes that the idea of ritual impurity due to menstruation and childbirth was widespread in the ancient world.)  I think it’s important to note that is the perceived uncleanness of the blood itself, not an offense committed by the woman herself, that she is required to sacrifice. Unfortunately, too many men have read this passage to their convenience to view themselves as being more righteous than women for the simple reason they don’t menstruate.

Issues of hygiene and disease occupy chapter 13. Again, more proof that God cares deeply about his people at the most intimate and specific level, and that the health of those whom God loves is of concern to God.  As fact in which I take personal comfort.  (We also see that it is the priest who makes medical observations and decision.  Maybe this passage is the justification many doctors have used to see themselves as god-like!)

Mark 4:1-20  This first parable in Mark’s gospel, the sower whose seed is spread on various surfaces–path, rocky ground, thorns and good soil–sets the stage of every parable to follow.  Even though Jesus advises, “Let anyone with ears listen” (9) Jesus is well aware that most ears will simply not “get it.”  A reality underscored by the requirement for Jesus to explain the parable to his closest followers.

I think Mark is placing this particular parable first in his account because it is a metaphor for the rest of his Gospel story.  The issue is not simply that lots of people will not understand the parables themselves, but that this parable is the “ur-message” describing  Jesus’ ministry and its consequences on earth itself.  As Mark amply demonstrates, there are numerous examples of people not “getting it,” ( There’s the rich young ruler who is subject to “the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things ” (19) ) And there are certainly the enthusiastic followers who fall away, including even his own disciples at the moment of crisis.

Then there is the religious establishment which attempts to come steal all the seeds and kill the sower himself. I think Mark is editorializing here that they are the agents of “Satan [who] immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.”

But above all, there is the good soil.  Mark is telling his readers–and us–that Jesus’ word will be accepted by many and that it will grow and bear fruit.  And so it has borne fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold such that 2000 years later we celebrate along with millions of others the great gift of God’s Word–Jesus Christ–sown among us.


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