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Some of us might have already gone to church today (whether in the late morning or evening, Vespers time), but even if you haven’t, here’s a little more to think about and ponder before your day is done:

Look mercifully on Thy people, we beseech Thee, O Lord: and grant that they who discipline the body by abstaining from carnal food, may also, by Thy grace, cease from harmful vices; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost: ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Once again with this prayer we note the mention of fasting physically, yet the real purpose and higher goal of fasting is emphasized: to abstain from sinful desires which war against the soul. Some people have issues with fasting physically; we are free to or not to fast, but what’s non-negotiable is the struggle against the flesh and its tendencies, which is really one of the things fasting should remind us of. (If the prayers or readings that emphasize fasting don’t sit well with you, that’s okay; just take what you can from them and you’ll still be blessed.)

The Gospel for today is Matthew 20:17-28, the familiar account of Salome, the mother of Zebedee’s sons, interceding with Christ to get her boys upgraded seats in heaven. (What any good mother would do, right?) Naturally the other apostles are indignant. Nothing torques people so much as someone else doing first what you secretly want to, and maybe getting an advantage in the bargain. Contrasted with that grasping, me-first mentality is Christ’s humble, nearly-forgotten example of humility — serving, not served; giving His life as ransom for many. Was there ever such love and such sacrifice as this? This Gospel is heard at other points in the year (it’s appointed for several apostles’ days, and it shows up as the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Lent in year A), but it’s always a welcome reminder. Pride is at the root of so much sin, and it has brought about so much evil in the past (cf. e.g. the Fall into sin.)

The Epistle for today comes from Numbers 16:23-50, which is a stunning contrast to Jesus’ humble selflessness. What brought about the shocking punishment described in this reading (the earth opened up and swallowed Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and all their families) was the same pride at the root of the disciples’ feuding and jockeying for position and power. Ultimately, all such insubordination and arrogance shakes its fist at God. Here, Moses’ authority and his call to lead the children of Israel was in serious question, so God had to act to root out the sin from within Israel. Along with the earth swallowing up the ringleaders (an awesome punishment and a warning if ever there was one!), fire comes out from the Lord and consumes the rebels. One sometimes wishes that God would deal with troublemakers in His church in the same fashion today…although perhaps it’s good He doesn’t. Would false teachers and ordinary people be so bold and shameless in agitating for their own version of “truth” (one that cuts God’s Word out of the picture) if they were cognizant of the earth’s potentially opening under them? Probably not! (Stop sinning or something worse will happen to you! That goes for all of us….) Korah’s rebellion is referenced in Jude 11 as a type of false teaching, which is interesting. Such belligerent anti-clericalism (which is what Korah was engaged in — denigrating Moses’ divine call to lead God’s people & arrogating for himself that right) fits in well with the American mindset. It works in tandem with the old canard that “everyone is a minister.” Everyone’s not a minister, at least not in the sense of doing what a pastor does, but then not everybody has the same work to do from God. It’s the doctrine of vocation all over again…which, if you don’t understand justification by faith, inevitably will come out wrong. Part of what’s wrong with the modern religious landscape, I guess. For us, we should be happy in the station in life God has given us, and do whatever we do for Him, even if it’s answering phones or selling insurance or wiping snotty noses. Make the tree good and its fruit will be good…so are we good through faith in Christ. Something to ponder.

The thing that always gets me about this account is what happens after the rebels are consumed by fire from the Lord: He tells Eleazar the son of Aaron to pick his way among the charred and smoking corpses and to collect up the censers the men were using, and then hammer them into metal sheets and plate the altar with them. WOW! Every time an Israelite looked at the altar his eye would fall on those metal plates, and he’d remember how Korah rebelled, and how he should not be like that. That shows both the severity of God in punishing sin exactly as it deserves to be punished, and in an odd way His love too. Like a loving but fair parent, He didn’t want to have to do that again if He didn’t have to — so He told them to plate the altar with those scorched censers.

Then the children of Israel grumble and accuse Moses of killing Korah and his followers, and the Lord has to appear in His glory as crowd control. God is ready to do away with the lot of them (His patience is long, but not limitless), yet Moses tells Aaron to take a censer and offer incense before the Lord, because the plague, the tool of God’s wrath, was already sweeping through the camp. Aaron the high priest stands “between the living and the dead” and thus the plague was halted. Aaron’s intercession for the people prefigures Christ’s intercession for His people as the High Priest of a better covenant, one based on grace and His own atoning work. Jesus offers up the fruits of His own righteousness earned in our place, and God’s wrath is stayed against us. A dramatic reading, and edifying to faith when one considers the connection to Christ.

(We’ll, ah, look into this a bit more tomorrow, heh.)