Psalm 51:7-12; Leviticus 14:19-57; Mark 5:1-20

Easter Monday.  One of the things I hadn’t noticed in the Matthew account of the Resurrection is that Jesus told everybody to meet him in Galilee.  Monday must have been a travel day for everyone as they hiked north…  Except for maybe Jesus, who now had extra-human powers to appear and disappear at will.

Psalm 51:7-12  David certainly knew his Leviticus: “Purify me with a hyssop, that I be clean. Wash me, that I be whiter than snow.”  (7) His sin had rendered him unclean before God and the entire community.  He longs to “hear gladness and joy,” and that his physical well being has been deeply affected by his sin as well, “let the bones that You crushed exult” once again.  David knows that God can forgive him, but he must ask for it.  Forgiveness just not just happen, “Avert Your face from my offenses, and all my misdeeds wipe away.” (9)  Just as we can confess before Jesus Christ (I John 1:8-9)

The next verses are familiar to Lutherans raised on the red and green hymnals, but coming at them in the context of the verses that come before makes their desperation and poignancy all the more intense. “A pure heart create for me, God, and a firm spirit renew within me.”  (10)  David is asking to be completely emptied (an example of OT kenosis) and essentially rebuilt, reconstructed, renewed.  Both his heart and his soul.  This seems more than simple confession; rather it is asking God for a complete reordering of his body, his mind, his heart and his soul.

In desperation he pleads, “Do not fling me from Your presence, and Your holy spirit take not from me.” (11).  I’ve not contemplated what before what real emptiness would be manifest should the Holy Spirit be taken form us.  And here is David begging that not happen.  I have the feeling he knows the depths of despair that would ensue.  In his current joyless state, he is asking God to return that happiness of spirit he has known so long: “Give me back the gladness of Your rescue and with a noble spirit sustain me.” (12)  David knows that the source of his joy, indeed his very life force is God alone.  The threat of its removal, because of his great sin, causes him to utter perhaps the greatest confessional verses ever written.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of this confession, though, is the verse we didn’t sing in the liturgy: “Let me teach transgressors Your ways, and offenders will come back to You.”  David pleads for forgiveness, not just to restore internal order and communion with God, but that he will use this searing experience to teach others.  Forgiveness by God is not just an interior event; it leads to actions that will help others avoid the pit into which he fell.  How many people have I helped because of God has forgiven me?

 Leviticus 14:19-57  Our modern cultural sensibilities create amusement and complete puzzlement at the elaborate purification ceremony that seems almost as if it is outlining dance steps:

“…and the priest shall take from the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the right earlobe of the one who is cleansing himself and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. And from the oil the priest shall pour into the left palm of the priest. And the priest shall sprinkle with his right finger from the oil that is in his left  palm seven times before the LORD.” (25-28)

Why would God require this elaborate ritual? Perhaps it is simply to make t clear that obedience to God requires paying attention to the details.  For me, anyway, the detail reminds me that God is concerned not only with every aspect of creation, but with every aspect and detail of my life.  This is good, because it makes God so much less abstract.  God is indeed in the the cracks and the minutiae and that reaffirms his love for me as who I am: my personality, strengths, weaknesses.  But it also reminds me that it is impossible to hide myself or my actions from God.  I am not an abstraction to God, so it would be good if I treated God less as an abstraction to me.

 Mark 5:1-20  Much has been spoken and written about this odd but indelibly memorable scene of Jesus casting out demons–“Legion”–, having the demons enter the pigs, which then promptly hurl themselves off the cliff.  Regardless of its theological implications, for me it is a proof text of the authenticity of Jesus’ ministry and of Mark’s gospel account.  Even the most talented novelist would be unlikely to make up this story from whole cloth, and even if he made it up, he’d be unlikely to stick it here in the middle of the story, interrupting the action.

While the story centers around the healing and the consequences of that healing, for me, the big lesson of this incident is the action of the healed demoniac. The healed man instantly wants to join Jesus’ party (or maybe he just wanted to get out of town now that the townspeople had seen the economic devastation visited on the swine herders).  But Jesus says no and commissions the man instead, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” (19).  And that’s exactly what he does.  Sure, we’d like to spend more time hanging out with Jesus, but the real work is out there in the Kingdom.   This healed man is a great example of the “right here, right now” mindset, because he does exactly what Jesus asks him to–and with great effect: “he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.”

SIDE NOTE:  There are some very interesting parallels here between this healed demoniac and Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in John. Both are unclean, both see who Jesus really is, and both obey his command to go back to their neighbors and proclaim the the Good News.  Quite a contrast with the religious leaders Jesus keeps encountering, who’d rather argue theology.

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