Numbers 27-29, Psalm 49, Luke 7
Forgiving others is a key for our own soul care
Numbers 27 – 29
Moses was a mixed bag. If the Bible is correct, he was involved in a lot of killing. We can find things to abhor and things to admire in him. In some ways, he is like each of us. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian novelist, historian and tireless critic of Soviet totalitarianism, wrote in his famed novel The Gulag Archipelago, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line between separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all hearts.”
Solzhenitsyn’s writings helped to raise global awareness of the gulag and the Soviet Union’s barbaric forced labor camp system. The Gulag Archipelago, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Two Hundred Years Together paint gripping pictures of what occurs in a soulless society. I believe that his assessment is right. The line between good and evil runs straight through the center of each of us.
Moses was at his best when he listened carefully to the Lord. There are times when he reportedly did this, but heard a voice commanding him to punish and kill. This was the voice of his Super-Ego and not the still, quiet voice of God. Discernment is crucial. We must test what we believe is the voice of God against Scripture and take it to prayer.
In chapter 27, the daughters of Zelophehad boldly come forward after their father has been killed for having joined forces with Korah, Dathan and Abiram, who along with 250 leaders of Israel confronted and rebuffed Moses. (Numbers 16) The ground opened up and swallowed the chief plotters and their families. The 250 leaders were consumed by fire, and a plague took the lives of 14,700 others. Now Zelophehad’s daughters requested their father’s inheritance, so that they would not be left destitute.
Moses consulted God. He then pronounced that, “If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers.” (Numbers 27:8) This was a revolutionary social change.
Prior to the 6th – 8th century B.C., women in ancient Israel, like women under English Common Law, could not engage in buying and selling movable goods or real estate. The Book of Proverbs 31:10-31, composed in the 8th century B.C., describes the ideal Israelite woman who engages in commerce, agriculture, manufacturing and trading real estate. Most women, however, were confined to the home and subject to men’s rule.
Women could not find employment outside the home, but managed cottage industries, which produced wine, olive oil, clothing and movable goods. The goal in antiquity was to strike a balance between two principles: concern for the daughter’s safety in her husband’s house through her dowry or mohar and gifts, while at the same time assuring that daughters could not inherit from their father’s house and possessions. To learn more, read Inheritance by Daughters in Israel and the Ancient Near East: A Social, Legal and Ideological Revolution by Zafira Ben-Barak. The key today is to realize that Moses consulted God, and God opened the door to greater equality for women. Full equality remains a work in progress.
The Lord then informed Moses again that because he had “rebelled against [God’s] word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled with [God],” Moses, like Aaron, would die before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. (Numbers 27:12-14) Moses then did what any good leader will do. He put in place a succession plan. In our church, we are careful to select excellent leaders and promote great succession planning so that our ministries move from strength to strength.
So Moses summoned God to appoint someone to lead the Israelites so that they “may be not like sheep without a shepherd.” Yahweh selected Joshua, “a man in whom is the spirit,” to succeed Moses. God commanded Moses to “lay your hand upon him” and bestow his blessing publically upon Joshua so that others might see the passing of authority from one leader to the next. To this day, the Church continues to bestow power on our leaders through the laying on of holy hands and invoking God’s Spirit.
The psalmist reminds us that only a fool would trust in his wealth. Death will make us equal. Those who have trusted in their wealth rather than upon God will find a rude awakening as death approaches. “Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it.” (Ps. 49:7) We read,
Do not be afraid when some become rich,
when the wealth of their houses increases.
For when they die they will carry nothing away;
their wealth will not go down after them. (Ps. 49:16-17)
Death will make all of us generous, as everything that we have shall be taken from us. If we are wise, we shall spend our life passing along everything possible and enjoying the gift of investing our treasure. We may think of it as wise investing of God’s treasure, rather than giving away our money. We are mere redistributors of the gifts that God has showered upon us. Joy comes from wise redistribution.
Throughout Luke’s Gospel Jesus is constantly portrayed as the Great Physician. Indeed, Luke, himself, is the patron saint of doctors. In chapter seven, he captures Jesus healing the highly valued slave of a Gentile centurion, who reported to him. Centurions were not ordinary soldiers. They were the equivalent of a sergeant-major. They were the backbone of the Roman army. Likewise, Jesus healed the only son of a widow, bringing him back to life and conquering the barrier of death.
In the centurion’s case, we see a man who had earned enormous respect from the Jewish community. This was rare. The Romans were an occupying force. They were oppressors, who used force brutally at times. The fact that this centurion “valued highly” a slave was rare. Slaves were chattel. If a slave’s health declined, he or she was discarded. Here, however, is a man who related to all, regardless of race, religion or social status. Once in a while we encounter someone like this, who treats everyone equally, giving no special deference to the rich and social elites and addressing persons holding more menial jobs with great deference and respect. They are a gift to behold.
The centurion’s humble and reverent demeanor was not lost upon Jesus. To this day, priests and lay persons often recite the centurion’s words before receiving the Eucharist, saying quietly to themselves, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter my house, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” All of us need healing and salvation. The word “healing” in Hebrew and Greek means not only physical healing but also being salvation. Is there one of us who is not in need of this gift?
When John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to inquire of Jesus whether or not he is “the one who is to come” or the Messiah, “Jesus had just cured many people of diseases, plagues and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind.” (Luke 7:21) Jesus tells John’s embassy, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7:22-23)
If you recall in Luke 4:16-19, Jesus entered the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth and unrolled the scroll from the Book of Isaiah and read,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:16-19)
Jesus had fulfilled this messianic mission statement found in Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6. The words of the prophet were being fulfilled. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at it.
Jesus then spoke of the importance of forgiveness. Withholding forgiveness is like letting plaque build up in the arteries of your soul. If enough lack of forgiveness occurs, our soul withers, and we become soulless. We have all been around people like this, who are difficult. They love themselves so little that they cannot love others. Jesus said, “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (Luke 7:47) The Pharisee in whose house Jesus was dining, must have cringed upon hearing these words.
Jesus said, “But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)
Where in your life do you need a good succession plan so that the people around you will not be like sheep without a shepherd? To what group, organization or person do you give where you receive the greatest joy? Why? When you approach God for help, you do ask with great reverence and humility? Whom do you value so highly that you ask Jesus to heal and bless him or her? Who do you find hardest to forgive? What holds you back from forgiving? What do you gain by withholding your forgiveness and letting toxicity build up within you?
Holy God, we come before you humbly and reverently seeking your blessing and healing touch for those whom we highly value and long to see made whole, healthy and holy. Let your grace pour out upon them and us, in whom the line of good and evil runs straight through our human heart so that we might be more graceful, loving, faithful and forgiving with each passing day. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.
© The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie
Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Fort Washington, Pennsylvania