Reading Ramblings – March 21, 2021

Date: Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 21, 2021

Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10: 32-45

Context: God does things not only differently but, within the context of human experience and history, sometimes new. But his newness is never random innovation but a furthering of what has been the plan in place from the beginning. One covenant becomes old and a new covenant arrives, but a new covenant already foreshadowed in the oldest stories of God’s people. The kingdom of God inaugurates a new way of being among its citizens, but that new way of being is actually the way we were created in the first place, and we are not so much adopting new ways of life as being restored to our first ways.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 – Jeremiah is the longest of the prophetic writings with the exception of Isaiah, and we know more about Jeremiah than we do any of the other prophets, with most of that information contained within Jeremiah itself. He was called to the prophetic ministry in roughly 627 BC and continued in that role until perhaps 587 BC, for a career of 40 years or so. We aren’t sure how old he was when he began, but not likely older than 20. He might have ties to David’s priest Abiathar, whom Solomon exiled in favor of Zadok. All of which might mean Jeremiah has links to the former northern kingdom (Abiathar was a descendant of Eli), which might explain his affinity for themes common to other northern prophets such as Hosea. In this reading Jeremiah conveys the promises of God of a new covenant, a new relationship between God and his people. But it seems to indicate the relationship that will exist once Christ has returned and final judgment has taken place, when the faithful of God will continue in eternal, perfect fellowship with him, where He will truly be their God and they will truly be his people. All of them will know God personally and for themselves, and will no longer need to be taught who God is.

Psalm 119:9-16– We read from one of the acrosstic psalms, this sectio headed by the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beth. The theme of this section is harmonious with the rest of the psalm which is an extended meditation on the Word of God. Would we desire to be free from sin (or more so than we are now)? How else than by the study of God’s Word and the applying of it’s precepts can this be accomplished? This is not simply study and academic or theological mastery but an applied use of this knowledge in order to guard our way – our lives. It isn’t – generally speaking – that we don’t know enough of God’s Word. Rather, the bigger problem is our unwillingness to live it out. Therefore the psalmist prays for God to keep him from wandering as we are prone to do (v.10). The psalmist is indeed a student of the Word of God, and describes the many ways he treasures it in vs.12-16. But the key is that all of this study and proclamation are applied in his own life, that I might not sin against you (v.11).

Hebrews 5:1-10 – We could spend time talking about the beautiful theology here that describes Jesus as the greatest last and only perfect high priest, the one who can – like human high priests of old – empathize with us in our sinfulness because He too was tempted. But unlike other priests, the one who himself is not sinful and therefore can atone for us perfectly and fully in his own sacrifice. Great stuff. But let’s be honest, what most people are immediatley captivated by is Melchizedek. So go ahead and read through Genesis 14. We meeet Melchizedek starting in verse 18. We are told first that he is a king, and secondly that he is a priest of God Most High. These roles are not combined when God allows for kings to rule his people later on. But Melchizedek is both. Not only is he both, he is king of Salem, which we would link to Jerusalem, meaning that a full millenium before David conquers Jerusalem and makes it his capital, Jerusalem is already ruled by a devotee of the Most High God. Moreover, this king provides Abram with bread and wine, which our minds link to the Last Supper and the bread and wine of the new covenant in Jesus Christ. That’s all we know about Melchizedek, other than a brief mention in Psalm 110, which in turn is quoted by Paul (most likely) in Hebrews. Rather than try to discern the mystery in this person, I like to focus on this reality – the Bible tells the story of God’s people as ancestors of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. It does not necessarily tell us about all of God’s people, or all the things we might be curious to know about the Holy Spirit’s work. If we despair that God’s people seem to be dwindling, we ought to remember the Holy Spirit is bound to surprise all of us not simply with how He does things but what He’s doing and how far reaching it is!

Mark 10:32-45 – The opening two verses of this reading are considered optional in the lectionary but I think they provide good context for the main reading assignment. For the third and final time in Mark’s gospel, Jesus provides his followers with an glimpse of what lies ahead. I love the way Mark talks about those traveling with Jesus. His disciples are amazed, but the larger group of followers that trail behind are afraid. What is the cause of the disciples amazement? The previous sections of the chapter don’t seem to point clearly to an answer, unless they are contemplating the hundredfold promise of recompense in eternal life. And if this is the case, perhaps we can understand James and John’s request more clearly. They want glory, but they want the highest glory, which in that day was indicated by nearness to the host at a banquet. The closer you sat to the host, the more honored you were.

It’s easy to take offense at their request, to see it as a self-serving move of glory. But perhaps there is another aspect. James and John believe what Jesus says. They believe that Jesus will truly reign. They believe He is the true and eternal king, and their request takes this at face value. We know you will rule forever and we look forward to that reality so firmly that we already know where we want to sit at the celebration banquet table!

Like the other disciples it is easy to be indignant with them. But perhaps their honesty is simply blowing our own cover. Who among us does not expect – or at least hope – to be seated in a place of honor in the kingdom of heaven? Who among us is truly free of even the smallest shred of ego or pride of place? Perhaps it would be better to be more honest about that and hear Jesus’ response to James and John as a response to our own ambitions. Jesus doesn’t get to decide who is most honored in the Kingdom of Heaven after himself. God the Father is handling the seating chart, and therefore we should trust that wherever we end up sitting, it will be glorifying first and foremost to God, and will in no way be able to be construed in any way as a slight or derogatory statement about us.

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