A brief look at this weeks texts. As always, here is the link if you would like to read them/
Numbers 11:4 – 6, 10 – 16, 24 - 29
Moses gets some helpers in this passage from Numbers. Interesting narrative note. The Israelites depart Sinai in an earlier chapter in Numbers, and by Chapter 11 their complaining has reached the breakpoint for Moses. Since the burden of the people is too much, God instructs him to name 70 elders to assist him in managing this ungrateful horde. Yet, according to the book of Exodus, when the Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai, God tells Moses to bring Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and the 70 elders up into the mountain, so that they may ratify the new covenant with some rather serious blood sacrifices. (So, either God forgot that the elders had already been appointed or else we should not read too much into a different version of the story).
So, this is an interesting distraction from the complaining story – not sure why it is inserted in here – but as soon as it ends we do not mention it again, and we go back to complete the story about the manna. God sends quail into the camp to give the Israelites the desired dietary change. (A story which Exodus places in the 16th chapter, but who’s counting?)
But, I can understand why it is paired with the other texts. The strong craving (desire) plays well with James’ admonitions. And, with the controversy over Medad and Eldad – who did not go through the proper channels to become elders – raising the wrath of those who played by the rules (or at least, the way they read them).
James 5: 13 - 20
The grand finale of our journey with James. (We shift to Hebrews next week) The connection with the other texts is also unmistakable. The Lord will raise up those who will be ministers to the people. (And not anyone else for their opinions as to whom that shall be).
Mark 9: 38 - 50
Much too much going on in this text. The section that takes us back to Numbers deals with the disciples - complaining to Jesus that others are performing healings in his name, but they should be stopped because they are not following ‘us’. (Note: they are not complaining about those others because they are not following Jesus, but because they are not following the disciples. We’ll have some fun with that on Sunday).
But. what’s going on with the discourse on becoming a stumbling block, or the admonition to cut off those offensive body parts so as to avoid a one way trip to hell. A way to get at this is to work backwards. The reference to ‘hell’ by Jesus is not about some mythical, eternal residence for those who flunk the after-life exam, but rather a reference to an actual place, the valley of ben-hinnon, the place where idol-worshipping Israelites had engaged in… child sacrifice. (Now, that’s a stumbling block). But more so, I think it is to reflect a certain form of destructive living, which – as we have expressed before – is based on violence and blame and retribution and if left unchecked, will feed off itself forever.
Our behaviors, by commission or omission, whether active or passive, that support this status quo, are stumbling blocks to those who would break the destructive patterns. Hence, what ever part of us – our pride, our ego, our fear (our eye, our foot, our hand) – is causing us tofail, we need to cut it out.