Leviticus 1–3, Psalm 31, Mark 4
Today we begin a book that may strike readers as both strange and barbaric. Written late in the Old Testament period by a priestly caste, Leviticus contains the rules and regulations for temple worship. The first section focuses on procedures for animal and grain sacrifice. In today’s section, three of these five temple offerings are described— burnt (or whole) offering, cereal offering, and peace offering. The minutiae of butchering and burning animals is likely irrelevant to our contemporary needs. What is relevant to us is that our sacrifices to God must come from our first fruits and reflect the true sacrificial giving of our time, talent, and treasure.
Psalm 31 is generally labeled as a lament, but it sounds more like a desperate cry for help. It is very personal in nature, with the psalmist begging for help from God against personal enemies. Who at some time in their life has not felt like a broken pot, shunned and rejected by those who used to be friends? And yet there is hope for those who trust and who wait upon the Lord.
The fourth chapter of Mark begins with three parables, all of which have to do with seeds and planting, and it ends with a miracle. Exactly what Jesus intended by his use of parables has generated much scholarly debate. In verse 11, Jesus implies that he uses them not to be understood, which can hardly be the case! Most likely these words reflect Mark’s explanation of why Jesus’ earthly ministry was not more successful—people just didn’t “get” his teaching. The parable of the sower (also found in Matthew and Luke) seems to stress that, like Jesus, our task is to preach the gospel, realizing that our efforts may often fall on deaf ears (or, in the language of the parable, on “bad soil”). Yet the promise is that enough of our efforts will bear fruit that there will be a miraculous harvest.
What can ancient temple sacrifice teach us about our own “sacrificial giving” to God, to the church, and to others?
What are the obstacles that stand in the way of God’s purposes? What is the “bad soil” that you encounter in your own life and in the life of your community? How might these obstacles be overcome?
Oh God, you so generously sow your blessings in our lives. We thank you for the gifts of life, love, and laughter which we enjoy every day. Help us in turn to live generous, outwardly focused lives, giving to others of our whole being in thanksgiving and gratitude to you. Amen.
-The Rt. Rev. Kirk Stevan Smith
Bishop of Arizona