The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, 12 July 2015
II Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
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
- Why did David want to move the ark?
- Was this a religious or a political move?
- 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:
- What is the image of God that this psalm projects?
- What is the image of the pilgrims here?
- What are your thoughts when you enter church?
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:
- What does the plumbline represent to you?
- Where are we out of bearing with what God wants for our world?
- 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. 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:
- When have you returned to God?
- Where do you see God’s forgiveness in your life?
- How is your life harmonious?
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:
- What do the “heavenly places” indicate to you?
- How do you bless the members of your family or your friends?
- 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:
- In what ways was John the Baptist a prophet?
- When have you had a courage like his?
- 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
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.”