I would be willing to wager that most of the readers of my blog are familiar with the movie The Ten Commandments which was produced by Cecil B. DeMille. There is one scene in that movie immediately after Moses descends from the heights of Mt. Sinai with the tablets of the Law and finds the Israelite camp in open rebellion against the Lord. Moses throws the tablets of the Law to the ground which opens up and swallows all of the rebels. That scene does not happen in the Book of Exodus and it was not occasioned by the rebellion of Israel and their worship of the golden calf. It happens in the Book of Numbers and is part of the story of the sons of Korah, the authors of Psalm 49 which is used as the response to the readings in today’s readings.
Korah was the grandson of Kohath, one of the three sons of Levi. The Kohathites were given the responsibility of transporting and maintaining the items that were kept in the Holy of Holies: the ark, the table, the lamp stand, the altars, the articles of the sanctuary used in ministering, the curtain, and everything related to their use. They were not, however, allowed to touch these items. The priests had to wrap them in special coverings before they could be transported. The Kohathites had to bear the items on their shoulders as they wandered through the desert for forty years. In the Book of Numbers, we read of Korah and his companions who rebelled against Moses and the priests. They had grown tired of their task and began to covet the roles of the priests. Because of their rebellion, Moses called them before the assembly. After accusing them of insurrection, the ground opened and swallowed Korah and his fellow rebels.
Korah’s sons were too young to be part of the rebellion. Seven generations later, the house of Korah produced the prophet Samuel. This Levite family became the doorkeepers of the Temple and guardians or custodians of the Tabernacle. In that capacity they also began to produce a number of psalms, all of which are filled with beautiful poetic images expressing a spirit of great gratitude and humility to an awesome, mighty God. They express a longing for God and deep devotion.
Psalm 49 affirms confidence in God in the face of the apparent good fortune of the unjust rich. Reliance on wealth is misplaced for it is of no avail in the face of death. After inviting all to listen to this axiom of faith, the psalmist depicts the self-delusion of the ungodly whose destiny is to die like ignorant beasts. Their wealth should occasion no alarm, for they will come to nought, whereas God will save the just. The psalm is used to respond to the reading from the First Letter to Timothy in which St. Paul tells Timothy not to worry about those who use religion for their own gain. He urges Timothy to stay true to the message of the Gospel. “But you, man of God, avoid all this. Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (I Timothy 11-12)
This message is just as important today as it was in the time of Timothy. As the saying goes, the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer. However, material wealth is nothing compared to the rich inheritance that is waiting for those who maintain their relationship to God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The lessons we learn through the life of Timothy and through the story of the Sons of Korah are just as powerful today as they were when they were written.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator