Psalm 61; Numbers 3:1-32; Mark 10:1-12

Psalm 61  This psalm of praise, gratitude and supplication sums up many of the psalms that precede it.  The opening is prayerful worship: “Hear, God, my song,  listen close to my prayer.  From the end of the earth I call You.” (1,2)  As usual, worship involves calling and listening, only in this case, it is the psalmist calling, asking God to listen.

Of course God listens to our petitions and to our worship, but in the act ask of using my voice to ask God, we are like a child asking our parent for something.  Kids don;t just think their requests; they say them: the connection becomes all the tighter.

Too often, I just assume God is listening and start out with my prayer in my head.  Yes, God hears my thoughts, but if I vocalize them, asking God to hear me and to listen, I am reminded that this is a real, living relationship and that God is far more than an interesting philosophical concept.

And in the act of asking, and thanking God–“For You have been a shelter to me,  a tower of strength in the face of the foe.” (3)– we,too rest in the psalmist’s assurance that God has  not only heard, but acted: “For You, God, have heard my vows, You have granted the plea of those who fear Your name.” (5).  And then what else can we do, but with the psalmist do this every day: “So let me hymn Your name forever as I pay my vows day after day.” (8)

Numbers 3:1-32  After describing the organization and duties of the other tribes, Moses turns his attention to Aaron’s tribe, the Levites.

First, there is the all-important naming of names, including “Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD when they brought forward unfit fire before the LORD.”  And then, a strikingly sad note, “and the sons they did not have.” (4).  Nadab’s and Abihu’s disobedience not only killed them, but it cut off their subsequent generations.

In that world, there was no act of manhood more important than to have sons.  And in our own world, even though we may have sons and daughters, it is foolhardy to think our sins affect only ourselves; they have impact not only on those near to us, but on those who come after us.

Once again, the Old Testament reminds us that it got there first and that again and again, the events of Jesus’ life echo what came thousands of years before. “I have taken the Levites from the midst of the Israelites in place of every firstborn womb-breach of the Israelites , that the Levites be Mine.” (12, 13).  And, “For Mine is every firstborn.”  Just as the Levites have substituted for the firstborn of every Israelite, so, too, Jesus, God’s firstborn son has substituted for all of us.

Mark 10:1-12  Jesus’ disquisition on marriage and divorce is one of those “hard passages” that many of us would prefer to skim right over.  Even though the Pharisees already know the answer to their question–or think they do–they ask Jesus, ““Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (2)  Jesus gives them the right answer, but then, as he always does, goes on to add the unexpected: Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.” (5). I’m pretty sure the Pharisees weren’t thinking about their hardness of heart.

Jesus then describes the crucial distinction between God’s perfect creation and the fallen world as it actually is.  God’s plan is clear: “ But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” (6) And this sexual distinction is how a perfect creation would operate going forward.  Husband and wife are joined together permanently.  To separate them lies outside God’s intended order.  To try and recreate that union again on human terms (divorce then remarriage) is to contravene God’s intention and therefore a sin. 

This is where the Roman Catholic church officially stands on marriage, although its rules about annulment have been stretched pretty thin–especially for wealthy and influential people.

But we live in a fallen world.  Jesus knows this because he has acknowledged that for our “hardness of heart” exceptions exist.  So, we have stretched that exception to cover divorce and remarriage.  As for me, I squirm uncomfortably whenever I come to this passage.  I suspect I’m not alone.

But I wonder, if we have taken God’s perfect intention and stretched it to fit our needs and desires, have we then not set a precedent for other stretching exercises such as gay marriage?  Our sinfulness is the exemplar of that slippery slope.

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