Wed, 10 January 2018
(1Sm.4:1-11; Ps.44:10-11,14-15,24-25,27; Mk.1:40-45)
“Our souls are bowed down to the dust;
our bodies are pressed to the earth.”
The Israelites suffer “a disastrous defeat” at the hands of their worst enemy. Not only do they lose thirty thousand men, but the ark of God – “who is enthroned upon the cherubim” which protect it – the tabernacle which holds the manna and the tablets of the Ten Commandments. This most holy ark is taken into the camp of the Philistines. How can this be? The Israelites trusted in God’s presence to save them, and they are beaten down. Our psalm addresses their plight directly: “You have cast us off and put us in disgrace, and you go not forth with our armies… those who hated us plundered us at will.” And so the psalmist cries out with the defeated Israelites, “Why do you hide your face, forgetting our woe and our oppression?”
The Israelites – like the thieves on the cross either side of Christ, like us all – deserved their crushing defeat. They, again, as us all, turned their faces from the Lord of hosts to worship false and empty gods. There should be no question as to why the chastising hand of God is upon any of us. But our psalm is about more than this defeat of Israel or even our own punishment for sin. Written as the voice of Jesus Himself, it reveals the suffering of the innocent Lamb of God in our stead: “You made us the reproach of our neighbors, the mockery and the scorn of those around us.” Jesus endures the scourging and the crown of thorns and the crucifixion for no other reason than to save our souls from similar fate, and worse, from condemnation. The sinless dove dies for the sinful flesh, which keeps us all in prison and pushes our faces to the dust. Though the sons of the high priest die in battle and are no more, Jesus lives, and through His death in battle for our souls, all now live.
In our gospel “a leper approach[es] Jesus with a request, kneeling down as he address[es] Him.” Here we all are as sinners, symbolized by this outcast, coming earnestly to Jesus and humbling ourselves to the ground which, without God, is our place, is the dust from which we come and to which we return. Jesus is “moved with pity.” Jesus “stretch[es] out His hand.” Jesus “touch[es] him,” and says: “Be cured.” And the man is made whole.
Yes, this leper must be each of us, brothers and sisters. Humbly, our faces to the ground, knowing our sin and being repentant of it, we must come to Him. And He will raise our souls from the dust and our bodies from the earth into which they have fallen. This is why He has come; let us come to Him.
O LORD, we come to you to beg your grace:
make us no longer the laughingstock of the nations.
YHWH, our bodies are pressed to the earth; we are bowed down to the dust. As the leper we come before you begging your healing touch. May your Son reach out to us that we might be saved from all evil.
Disastrous defeat we suffer at the hands of the devil for we have sinned against you, O LORD our God. Our enemies overcome us for you do not fight with us, and so we are without a savior. Our courage fails for we are alone and have no help from you.
What can we do on our own, dear God? Of what worth are our souls left to their own device? Where shall we find the strength to withstand the attack against us? Our oppressors bring us to woe, we are put to disgrace, for you have cast us off and we cannot enter battle alone.
O LORD, if you will to do so, you can cure us! Turn with pity to your wayward sons. Hide not your face from us, but let us know the merciful gaze of Jesus.