01 July 2015

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, 12 July 2015

II Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24
Amos 7:7-15
Psalm 85:8-13

Ephesians 1:3-14
St. Mark 6:14-19

Background: Herod Antipater (Antipas)

Born around 20 BCE and died sometime after 39 CE, Herod was the tetrarch (a ruler of a quarter) of Galilee and Perea. We know him from the Christian scriptures for his role in the life and death of John the Baptist, and incidents in the life of Jesus. He was given the throne by Augustus at the death of his father, Herod the Great, in 4 BCE. His area of responsibility was serving as the ruler of a Roman client state. He oversaw several building projects at Sepphoris and Tiberias.

He is remembered in the New Testament as the person who imprisoned John the Baptist for speaking against his marriage to his divorce from Phasaelis, and subsequent marriage to Herodias the former wife of his brother, Herod Philip I. According to the gospels (see the reading below) he ordered the beheading of John the Baptist at the request of his daughter Salome. Herod was an ambitious man and there were border difficulties with the Nabateans that resulted in a war into which the Romans were forced to intervene. Later Herod Antipater was accused of conspiracy by his nephew, Agrippa I. He was sent into exile in Gaul by the Emperor Caligula. It was in Gaul that he died.

Herod also makes an appearance in the passion of Jesus, when Pontius Pilate sends Jesus to Herod. It was felt that Jesus, as a Galilean, was properly in Herod’s realm of jurisdiction, since most of his activity was in Galilee. Herod sent him back to Pilate.

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

They brought in the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the LORD. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

Interested persons ought to read the story of the capture of the Ark by the Philistines in I Samuel 4. It is interesting that the number of soldiers that accompany David in our reading equal the number of Philistines who capture the Ark. We also get a peak into the emerging purity laws when it is reported to us that the Ark was carried on ‘a new cart,’ one that was not made impure by other or prior use. The Ark is accompanied by song, and by, perhaps, musical instruments as well.

As the procession continues with music and with sacrifice, David dances before the Art, “girded with a linen ephod.” The ephod was a liturgical vestment, and so we have in this image a scene of David in the role of both king and priest. This was not an uncommon blend in the ancient near east. For an example, see the story of Melchizedek in Genesis 14. The linen ephod was apparently tied loosely around his waist, so that in his dancing his intimate parts were exposed to the public. In the levitical laws steps up to an altar were not allowed in that the person mounting the steps would expose himself to the altar.

Michel, David’s wife, is upset with this scene, and she is depicted not at the King’s wife, but rather as “the daughter of Saul”, so sour was the estrangement.  We are not permitted to join the fight, however, but continue on to the royal ceremonial. In a way this reading and narrative serves as a sort of cusp. All of the attachments to Saul are completely gone, and now David is king in his own right, and not only ruler but also a sort of pontifex maximus as the Ark is brought into the City of David.

Breaking open II Samuel
  1. Why did David want to move the ark?
  2. Was this a religious or a political move?
  3. What is the purpose of the biblical story?

Psalm 24 Domini est terra

The earth is the LORD'S and all that is in it, *
the world and all who dwell therein.

For it is he who founded it upon the seas *
and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.

"Who can ascend the hill of the LORD? " *
and who can stand in his holy place?"

"Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.

They shall receive a blessing from the LORD *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation."

Such is the generation of those who seek him, *
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.

"Who is this King of glory?" *
"The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle."

Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.

Who is he, this King of glory?" *
"The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory."

The first three verses of this David psalm form a bit of an introduction, and a subsequent question the answers to which form the remainder of the psalm. The mythic foundations of the psalm are in its observance of the God who creates the earth, and who founds it “on the seas,” a reference to God’s power over chaos and disorder. Then the psalmist wonders about who might be able to go to this place “set firm upon the torrents.” The framework here is as in a “psalm of assents”, a psalm that might be sung by pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem.

What follows are a list of qualities: “clean hands, a pure heart, no falsehood, no fraudulent oaths.”  Such are the righteous men and women who are given the invitation to ascend into the holy district. Their voices join in an antiphonal chant between two groups. There is the invitation, “lift up your heads, O gates,” which is followed by the processional chant (perhaps originally a separate psalm). A question, “Who is this king of glory?” is followed by the answer, “YHWH Sabaoth.” So who is it that enters here? Is it the King, or the King with the Ark, or is it YHWH returning to the Sacred House? Perhaps it is all of the above, depending on the context of its being read.

Breaking open Psalm 24:
  1. What is the image of God that this psalm projects?
  2. What is the image of the pilgrims here?
  3. What are your thoughts when you enter church?


Amos 7:7-15

This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A plumb line." Then the Lord said,

"See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; 
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, 
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, 
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword." 

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, "Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,

Jeroboam shall die by the sword, 
and Israel must go into exile 
away from his land.'" 

And Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom."

Then Amos answered Amaziah, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, `Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'"

It is always a bit disconcerting to see Amos in the collection of the minor prophets. To me he stands quite tall, and immensely engaging in his arguments. In the seventh chapter we have a series of visions, and you may wish to read them so that the context of our pericope is properly set (Amos 7). The first two (verses 1-3, and 4-6) are so-called event visions, looking forward to something that is about to happen. The second pair (verses 7-9, and 8:1-3) are punning visions where YHWH supplies the meaning to the word. Also included in our reading is an accusation by Amaziah, a priest a Beth-El, against Amos, and a subsequent oracle against Israel.

First, let’s look at the wordplay. God presents a strong visual to Amos. An ancient building (Israel) no longer is true to the exactitude of the plumb line. God notes that the high places and sanctuaries will be “laid waste,” and “passed by”. This is an unusual statement. It can have one of two meanings. Either God is abandoning the high places and sanctuaries where God’s name was hollowed and honored, or the “high places and sanctuaries” represent the apostacy of Israel where they worshipped other gods (Jeroboam founded sanctuaries at Beth-El and Dan, where he set up golden calves – not idols in themselves, but seen as an enthronement for a god). In either situation, God is abandoning Israel. Apropos of the Track 1: first reading where David brings the Ark to his royal city, both priesthood and kingship in Israel will face judgment according to Amos.

Breaking open Amos:
  1. What does the plumbline represent to you?
  2. Where are we out of bearing with what God wants for our world?
  3. What are your idols?

Psalm 85:8-13 Benedixisti, Domine

I will listen to what the LORD God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

The LORD will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

These latter verses of Psalm 85 serve as a more than adequate response to Amos’ message. Here there is a message of return to God, and to an attentive ear to hear God’s message of forgiveness. There are two senses of metanoia (repentance) here. God turns from God’s wrath, and the people turn from their folly[1].  What is restored is a balance and harmony beautifully captured in the verse, “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” The God who laid aside wrath (see the first verses of the psalm) now is led by righteousness and peace back into the land and people that God had formerly abandoned.

Breaking open Psalm 85:
  1. When have you returned to God?
  2. Where do you see God’s forgiveness in your life?
  3. How is your life harmonious?

Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

We now move from II Corinthians to a continuing reading from Ephesians. All the usual grist of Paul’s mill in other letters, the mission to the gentiles, the house churches, and the fellow travelers is missing from this letter. Some suggest that the letter was intended for a broader audience than just that of the Ephesians. It may be that the letter reflects a later time in which a more rare apostolic band, and new theological and ecclesial challenges, forced a different kind of commentary.

The initial blessings is comparable to the blessings in II Corinthians, and II Peter, and mirrors the blessings which would have been included in Jewish worship. There are some commentators who believe these verses to be an early Christian hymn. There are strong themes of God’s initiation and Christ’s agency. There is also a pointing to God’s place in the events of our earth, and our promise in “The heavenly places.”  Words that point to our election, “destined,” “inheritance,” and “marked” are meant to assure the readers of their place in the divine promise.

Breaking open Ephesians:
  1. What do the “heavenly places” indicate to  you?
  2. How do you bless the members of your family or your friends?
  3. To what has God destined you?

St. Mark 6:14-29

King Herod heard of the demons cast out and the many who were anointed and cured, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

This reading is a bit of a flashback on the part of Herod. Having heard about Jesus and his works, Herod and his party wonder if he is John the Baptist redivivus. Thus we are led into a recounting of John’s demise at the hand of Herod, and his (illegal, according to the Baptist) wife Herodias. Indeed Herod seems to be if not innocent here, at least a bit removed from Herodias’ anger and spirit of revenge – Herod is the weak one in this tragic narrative. Is this history or is it a story with a classic gathering of characters and a moral? Josephus comments on the murder of John the Baptist by Herod, but Josephus sees it more as a political act then one ensconced in melodrama.  In this story John indeed stands as the prophet, and that is perhaps why the framers of the lectionary have chosen the reading from Amos. It is John who speaks God’s word to Herod and his court. According to Mark he stands steadfastly to proclaim God’s word to his time. It may also be that Mark is preparing us for Jesus’ fate as well, for the both of them function as prophets in Mark’s work. For the readers of Mark in the first and second centuries, such a political situation and fate would also be informative to a persecuted and oppressed church and people.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. In what ways was John the Baptist a prophet?
  2. When have you had a courage like his?
  3. What characters from our time could stand in for Herod?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Robert Alter (The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, location 6814) renders verse 8 (9 in his counting) as, “when he speaks peace to his people and to his faithful, that they turn not back to folly.” It is a more striking portrayal of the dual roles than the BCP translation, “and to those who turn their hearts to him.”

25 June 2015

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, 5 July 2015

II Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123

II Corinthians 12:2-10
St. Mark 6:1-13

Background: The Great Schism
The schism between the Eastern Church and the Western Church took many centuries to develop but came to a head in 1054 CE. The issues largely centered on the liturgical/theological issues of the filioque in the Creed (the question as to whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son), the use of unleavened bread in the west, the papal claim to universal jurisdiction, and the role of Constantinople as a patriarchal see. Such issues were not absent political considerations as well such as the presence of the Normans in southern Italy, and their subsequent conquest of that territory. The loss of the loss of the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem to Muslim forces in 661 CE, and the increase of Constantinopolitan power also added to the political difficulties. Multiple and mutual excommunications further complicated the relationships. It was a long process, but in 1054, the papal legation entered the great church of Hagia Sophia, and placed a bull of excommunication against Cerularius, the Patriarch of Constantinople. It is also said, and this might be more legend than fact, that the papal legation shook the dust off their sandals at the altar of Hagia Sophia prepared for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. With that in your minds, now read the Gospel for today, and struggle to understand this action and the mind of Christ, and the continuing sin of disunity.

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, "Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The LORD said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel." So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inward. And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.

Now we meet David on a trajectory following the demise of Saul. The northern tribes, which had been loyal to Saul, now turn to David, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time it was, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in.” In a more realistic view of David’s accession to kingship we see a scene in which leaders come and ask him to lead. The essential part of their argument is his being kin, and his success at defending Israel. However, it is not only them, for the Lord is quoted in the narrative as designating David as “shepherd of my people Israel.” He is anointed again in spite the prior anointing at the hand of Samuel. The final sentence of the lectionary pericope describes the establishment of the City of David. The whole reading serves almost as a subtitle to the continuing narrative about David. Here he is established as king with the traditions and anointings of the northern tribes standing behind him.

Breaking open II Samuel
  1. What do the people treasure about David?
  2. Why was the notion of David “being kin” important?
  3. In what other ways was David a leader?

Psalm 48 Magnus Dominus

Great is the LORD, and highly to be praised; *
in the city of our God is his holy hill.

Beautiful and lofty, the joy of all the earth, is the hill of Zion, *
the very center of the world and the city of the great King.

God is in her citadels; *
he is known to be her sure refuge.

Behold, the kings of the earth assembled *
and marched forward together.

They looked and were astounded; *
they retreated and fled in terror.

Trembling seized them there; *
they writhed like a woman in childbirth,
like ships of the sea when the east wind shatters them.

As we have heard, so have we seen,
in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God; *
God has established her for ever.

We have waited in silence on your loving-kindness, O God, *
in the midst of your temple.

Your praise, like your Name, O God, reaches to the world's end; *
your right hand is full of justice.

Let Mount Zion be glad
and the cities of Judah rejoice, *
because of your judgments.

Make the circuit of Zion;
walk round about her; *
count the number of her towers.

Consider well her bulwarks;
examine her strongholds; *
that you may tell those who come after.

This God is our God for ever and ever; *
he shall be our guide for evermore.

This psalm celebrates the founding of the city of Zion, an effective follow-up to the first Track 1 reading. It is interrupted by verses (4 – 7) that seem to introduce the story of a military adventure. The enemies are confounded by YHWH, and set a standard of performance and power for the city that the psalm celebrates. Quickly the psalm returns to its central focus on the city and the temple. The second to the last verse gives us a clue as to who might be the intended audience of this psalm, “Make the circuit of Zion; walk round about her.” This is a psalm for pilgrims who are drawn to see the City of David, the place where God dwells. There is a generation aspect as well. The pilgrims are asked to discover and explore the city so that they can tell the next generation about it.

Breaking open Psalm 130:
  1. Why was Jerusalem an ideal capital for David?
  2. What kind of message did it send to the people of Israel?
  3. What did David wish to build but couldn’t/


Ezekiel 2:1-5

The Lord said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, "Thus says the Lord GOD." Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.

The verbs that crowd the initial verses of this reading describe the call of Ezekiel: stand up, listen, spirit entered, set me on my feet. We can compare the calls of Jeremiah, Isaiah, and others and we will sense the same things. Before the Mortal (Ezekiel) can object or note his deficiencies, God notes the deficiencies of Israel: rebels, transgressors, impudent, and stubborn. This is what the prophet will have to address, and it corrects our vision of what prophets really are. God calls Ezekiel to be God’s spokesperson in the here and now of Ezekiel’s time, “they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.”

Breaking open Ezekiel:
  1. Why does Ezekiel object to his call?
  2. How does God see Israel as a people?
  3. What are Ezekiel’s job duties?
Psalm 123 Ad te levavi oculos meos

To you I lift up my eyes, *
to you enthroned in the heavens.

As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, *
and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

So our eyes look to the LORD our God, *
until he show us his mercy.

Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy, *
for we have had more than enough of contempt,

Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, *
and of the derision of the proud.

What is the look of dependence or servitude, devotion or admiration? Hopefully several images will come into your mind – for these are the images that the psalmist wants us to effect as we “lift up (our) eyes (to) the dweller in the heavens.” Again it seems to be something of a waiting game, “until God grants us grace.” That we should wait for God’s grace and mercy is not about the waiting but about the effort and the result. And what obstructs us in our waiting? For everyone that waits up and looks up to the Lord, there is another who affects a contempt and smugness – “the scorn of the indolent rich.” Beyond this, the psalm is silent. It is an exercise in expectation and frustration.

Breaking open Psalm 123:
  1. What do you see when you look for God?
  2. What are your emotions when you find something that speaks to you of God?
  3. What does the psalmist have against the rich?
II Corinthians 12:2-10

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven-- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person-- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows-- was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations.

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

We are caught up into two visions of Saint Paul here. By vision I do not mean the one of which he boasts of in the first verses of this pericope, but rather a vision of his sense of self. In many respects, he begins to mirror the prophets here. Moses asks for a vision of God, but is spared the actual sight by God’s hand covering the glorious vision as God passed by Moses hiding in the cleft of a rock. We also might think of Ezekiel (see the commentary on the Track 2 first reading) who is known for his visions. What we learn from this vision is not the nature of its content, for that is not shared with us – it is too ineffable. What we do see is Paul’s stance as a prophet, a visionary, and someone close to God. That vision is contrasted with his own weakness. Whatever the “thorn” was, it is not shared with us (just as the ineffable vision is not). What we see is Paul’s weakness, and his boasting of it, for as he hears, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” One wonders, is the Christian life nothing more than a continuum between these two points, in which God is always present? Such a vision of self ought to make us ready not only to wait upon God, but also to accept the conditions and situations in which God meets us.

Breaking open II Corinthians:
  1. Why does Paul boast?
  2. What about your life in Christ do you boast of?
  3. In what ways are you weak? Strong?

St. Mark 6:1-13

Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

In the first of the two pericopes that form the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Mark both completes the prior scene of Jesus’ teaching and marvelous acts. In the second pericope, Mark sets the scene for the ministry that is given to the disciples. The first scene is a rejection of all that has been evidenced before (the teaching and marvelous acts) by family and friends, and by inference, by the religious authorities. The questions in the first pericope are not positive, “Where did this man get all of this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him?” Etc. Jesus responds with a saying, that actually may serve as the purpose and intent behind the narrative, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own home.” Later in the next pericope, Jesus will comment to the disciples on entering a home. Here, however, the rejection is so total, that Jesus looses some power and ability. Usually it is those who witness Jesus’ teachings and marvelous acts who are amazed, but here Jesus is amazed by their unbelief. In their commentary on Mark, Daniel J. Harrington, and John R Donahue remark, “The power of God that works through Jesus seems limited by human resistance.”[1]  A quote from Erich Gräßer is poignant as well, “just as his power is our salvation, so our unbelief is his powerlessness.”[2] All of the actions in the setting see Jesus as a human being, with all the foibles that come with that. He is “Mary’s son”, and what he has taught and marvelously done seems to be at odds with what his kin are expecting of him. Thus Jesus stands in a long line of prophets who have been rejected.

What is the model of the missionary that Jesus proposes to send out? Recently some commentators see in these prescriptions the “wandering cynic” (threadbare cloak, a satchel, a cup and a bowl for begging, and a staff), while others see the disciples in the guise of Israel, simply clad as it leaves the slavery of Egypt – the urgent journey. Some argue that Jesus model for the disciples is to distinguish them from the wandering cynics, thus Jesus allows a staff, but no bread or bag or money, sandals, however are to be worn. The mission itself is vaguely described. We need to look to Q, or Matthew and Luke to see a fuller version. Here there is just urgency, momentum, and a focus on that which is local “stay there (in the house) until you leave the place.” The rules in case of rejection match what is prescribed as deprecation, an act used when returning from Gentile lands. The important directive is to go out as a response to being sent out. Be received, or be rejected – those are the choices. In short, the mission is to travel light and to be prepared for anything. We never talk about failure when we talk about mission. Perhaps we should.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Why do family and friends reject Jesus?
  2. Have you ever been at odds with your family? What happened?
  3. How do you “travel light”?
 After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Donahue, J., and Harrington, D, (2002) The Gospel of Mark, Collegeville, The Liturgical Press, page 188.
[2]Gräßer, E, (1972) Jesus in Nazareth, BZNW, Berlin, page 35.