Psalm 47; Leviticus 5:1–6:13; Mark 1:35–45

Psalm 47: Alter informs us that this psalm forms a central part of the liturgy for the Jewish New Year. Its first half is worship which celebrates God’s kingship: “All peoples, clap hands, shout out to God with a sound of glad song.” (2) There is neither reticence nor reverent quiet here as the congregation joyfully acknowledges, “For the Lord is most high and fearsome,/ a great king over all the earth.”  (3) God is not restricted to being king of over Israel, but in one of the many reminders on the Psalms of God’s universality, he is king “over all the earth.”

This is no effeminate God, but one who conquers militarily: “He crushes people beneath us/ and nations beneath our feet.” (4) Moreover, God “chooses us for his estate,” (5a) and loves Israel above all all other nations: “...pride of Jacob whom He loves.” (5b)

But this psalm is also about us, for we know that through Jesus Christ God has chosen us and our response can only be glad worship:  “Hymn to God, hymn,/ hymn to our king, O hymn./For king of all earth is God,/ hymn joyous song.” (7,8) This song emphasizes again that while God particularly loves the people of Israel, he is the God of every human on the earth: “God reigns over the nations,/ and sits on His holy throne.” (9)

Notice that worship is not about us nor does it exist to make us feel better. Which means in the end it’s not about worship forms such as “traditional” or “contemporary.” It is focused solely in one direction and one direction only: Our response is to God simply because of the reality of God’s kingship over every being on earth.

Leviticus 5:1–6:13: If we read Leviticus carefully we begin to see that it weaves sin and penance into a tightly woven structure. Here we encounter a fairly comprehensive inventory of sins:
• Failure to testify when one has seen a sin by another. (5:1)
• Touching unclean things such as carcasses. (2)
• Touching human uncleanness (and we can certainly imagine what that is…) (3)
• “Utter aloud a rash oath for a bad or a good purpose,” (4) which pretty much takes swearing off the table.

The first step in restoring one to a state of righteousness is, “You shall confess the sin that you have committed.” (5) As Christians, confession remains our first requirement when we realize we have sinned.

Our authors then go on to describe the precise sacrificial procedures: “as your penalty for the sin that you have committed, a female from the flock, a sheep or a goat, as a sin offering.” (6). Notice that unlike sacrifices for good will, the sacrifices of atonement involve a female sheep or goat.

One of the really great things in that our authors have recognized economic reality and make provision for it. Not everyone will have the means to sacrifice a relatively expensive sheep or goat, so “if you cannot afford a sheep, you shall bring to the Lord, as your penalty for the sin that you have committed, two turtledoves or two pigeons.” (7)  And then, “if you cannot afford two turtledoves or two pigeons, you shall bring as your offering for the sin that you have committed one-tenth of an ephah of choice flour for a sin offering.” (11) In other words, the act of sacrifice was proportionate to one’s wealth. It is details like these that demonstrate that God meets us where we are regardless of our economic circumstances. Too bad that reality was corrupted by the time of the Pharisees—and today a —by the assumption that wealth correlated to righteousness.

Some sins involve taking property and restitution is required. These include “deceiving a neighbor in a matter of a deposit or a pledge, or by robbery, or if you have defrauded a neighbor, or have found something lost and lied about it.” (6: 2,3) And in those cases, “when you realize your guilt” then one is required to “restore what you took by robbery or by fraud or the deposit that was committed to you, or the lost thing that you found.”  (6:4) But restitution comes with a 20% tax—a brilliant disincentive to steal in the first place: “you shall repay the principal amount and shall add one-fifth to it.” (6:5) In addition, the expense of the required sin sacrifice is also required.

One of the things we need to realize about this lengthy compendium of sin and sacrifice is that it jumps around on various topics and often backs up to retrace rules already elaborated upon. Here, we shift suddenly to “the ritual of the burnt offering. The burnt offering itself shall remain on the hearth upon the altar all night until the morning, while the fire on the altar shall be kept burning.” (6:10). Although this seems like a total non sequitur, it helps us realize that where we would probably assign a separate chapter to each topic, our authors are pushing multiple issues forward at the same  time: sin, sacrifice, guilt, restitution, and priestly practice.

Mark 1:35–45: Even though we’re still in Mark’s first chapter, no one is sitting still—least of all, Jesus—as Mark continues to show us various aspects of his character. Teaching and healing at Capernaum, is immediately followed by describing Jesus;’ practice of finding a deserted place in order to pray. And he didn’t bother to tell anyone. We can sense Simon’s annoyance when, after hunting and finally finding Jesus, he grumps,“Everyone is searching for you.” (37). And of course there’s the double meaning of “Everyone is searching for you.” Which we who are reading or hearing this Gospel are doing: we are searching for the real Jesus. Mark is also subtly telling us not only is Jesus his own man who relies more on his father than other people, but that he is unpredictable and will keep doing the unexpected. Our efforts to put Jesus in a box will always prove futile.

Jesus—master of surprise—unexpectedly announces that instead of returning to Capernaum, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (38) In this simple declaration, Mark gives us Jesus’ mission statement: to proclaim the good news wherever he can.

The leper follows Jesus and realizes an important truth that is probably not yet obvious to Jesus four disciples, telling Jesus: “If you choose, you can make me clean.”  (40) This tells me that when healing occurs it is not we who have chosen, but Jesus. And not everyone who wishes so will be healed. In the leper’s case, “moved with pity,  Jesus  stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” (41)Mark is telling us that we cannot control Jesus; he makes his own decisions. Yet many of our so-called Christian behaviors such as praying to find a parking place are exactly that: our efforts to control Jesus and make him our personal errand boy. Jesus cannot be corralled to our own ends.

The leper famously disobeys Jesus’ order not to tell anyone about being healed but, “went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word.” (45) We often wonder why Jesus would say this, but I think Mark gives us a very simple explanation that it was simply logistics since “Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.” (45)  I even think there’s a bit of reverse psychology operating here: Jesus is perfectly happy to have word spread. After all, he just said that “I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.

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