Psalm 55:16-19; Leviticus 21:13-22:16; Mark 7:1-8

Psalm 55:16-19   Among the greatest agonies of life is betrayal by a friend. whom you trusted.  David makes it clear that he can bear the assaults of an enemy, “But you—a man to my measure, my companion and my familiar, with whom together we shared sweet counsel, in the house of our God in elation we walked.” (15)

This betrayal has led first to anger: “May death come upon them. May they go down to Sheol alive.” (16).  But as a man of intense faith, David catches himself and realizes without saying it that vengeance is indeed the Lord’s.  Rather than wreaking vengeance, he calls out to God, “But I call to God, and the LORD rescues me.” (17)  In this instance, “God rescues me” means God rescues David from himself.

David then does a bit of self-analysis: “Evening and morning and noon I complain and I moan,” but “the Lord rescues me.” (18) If God can rescue David from the physical assaults of his enemies, he will indeed save David from taking revenge on those (here: “Ishmael and Jalam and the dweller in the east”) who have betrayed him.  Is my faith sufficient that I could do the same were I to be betrayed by a friend?

Leviticus 21:13-22:16   After laying out the rules for the people, Moses, speaking for God, turns his attention to the required qualities of priests in the line of Aaron (“…man of your seed to their generations”).  The physical requirements for priesthood are stiff indeed.  Basically, male perfection is required, “For no man in whom there is a defect shall come forward,” (21:18), followed by a long list of what’s not acceptable, including cataracts, scabs, or a crushed testicle.

Why this perfection?  God apparently required the most perfect possible exemplars of his human creation to approach him.  This may sound strange, even hostile on the part of God, to our cultural ears so well tuned to non-discrimination.  But God is reminding us that just as the animals sacrificed must be unblemished, so too the priests making the offering.  Too bad the priests of Jesus time focused on this outward perfection (“whited sepulchers”) at the cost of inward hypocrisy and evil.

It’s worth noting, however, that even though a man of the seed of Aaron could not approach the altar to offer a sacrifice, they were not deprived of eating the food, “the sacred levy.”  As to who could and could not eat is described in detail in the verses that follow.  What’s clear is that there was a strict separation between the priesthood and the lay population, as for example, the daughter of a priest who marries a layperson could no longer eat with her priestly family. Reading these chapters is an excellent reminder of what “holy”–set apart– is all about.

Mark 7:1-8  At first glance, Mark’s account of the disciples eating with “defiled hands” seems to read directly from Leviticus and its numerous rules.  But then Mark adds an ellipsis, noting “the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders.” (7:3)  The key word here is, “tradition.”  It’s quite logical to think that in light of the numerous Levitical rules that the “tradition” of hand washing would have accreted to other practices specifically required by God.  Certainly there was nothing wrong with washing one’s hands, so why the fuss?

As Jesus makes abundantly clear by quoting Isaiah 29:13, this is strictly a human tradition that in point of fact detracts from the worship of God because in the eyes of the Pharisees, the tradition has become a requirement.  So the obvious question: what is Jesus saying to those of us who prefer traditions such as “traditional” worship, none of which has been specifically ordained of God?  I think if we were to prefer that over the essentials, proclamation of the Word and sacrament, demanding that “true worship” could occur only with sung liturgy and organ-accompanied hymnody, then we would indeed have become Pharisees.

Speak Your Mind