The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28, 15 November 2015
I Samuel 1:4-20
I Samuel 2:1-10
St. Mark 13:1-8
Background: Apocalyptic Literature
With the latter Sundays of the church year comes a series of readings that are grounded in the apocalypticism of the Hebrew Scriptures, and of the early Church. The readings reflect an “Advent Shadow” that shows us a longer season of Advent. The apocalypticism (the revelation of hidden meanings) of the Hebrew Scriptures provides a great deal of the content here. The origins of the Hebrew material come from the post-exilic period and is largely found in the books of Joel and Zechariah, with the chapters of 24-27, and 33 of First Isaiah as well as the book of Daniel. The prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah also contribute in a developmental way to this literature. A great deal of this literature treats on the coming of the Messiah, and thus fits in nicely with the Christian writings that wrestle with the same notions. The intent of both schools, however, differ sharply – a Messianic literature centering on the restoration of the Davidid kings being one point of focus, and the description of Jesus as Messiah in the Christian Scriptures providing an opposite focus. In the first case we have writings that spring from a flourishing prophetic tradition informed by a Persian worldview, and in the second, writings that are dependent on the prophets who are used to support the Christology of the early Church. Placing these readings in the literary context can help the parishioner, lector, or preacher to understand the foundations, and how they were then attractive to both evangelist and writers of the epistles.
1 Samuel 1:4-20
On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the LORD had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb. So it went on year by year, as often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, "Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?"
After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the LORD. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: "O LORD of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head."
As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, "How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine." But Hannah answered, "No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time." Then Eli answered, "Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him." And she said, "Let your servant find favor in your sight." Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.
They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the LORD remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, "I have asked him of the LORD."
This reading, which seems to jump out of the cycle of readings that preceded it, seems only to provide a context for the Responsorial reading that follows it, Hannah’s Song. The song, perhaps a model for St. Luke’s Magnificat, has its own ample theological themes that will be discussed below. In the story we are introduced to Elkanah, but it is really Hannah that serves as the main character of the story. We are caught in a cycle of time, and also in a “contest” between wife “A” and wife “B”. The first has children, while the second does not. It is on the second that the story focuses. It is also interesting that Hannah is the favored one, and Elkanah seems to make special efforts to indicate that to her. The real central notion in this story is first the effectiveness of prayer, and secondly on a God who answers and intervenes. The prayer has a quid pro quo aspect matching the desire to have son with the willingness to give him away. A surprise element is that of the High Priest Eli, who does not perceive the genuineness of Hannah’s request, and who describes her attitude as like unto someone who is drink. The cycle is typified by Eli’s question, “How long will you do on drunk?” Perhaps Eli is jealous, for Hannah has not asked him to indicate God’s answer, but rather depends on God providing the answer directly. The denouement is announced quickly and succinctly – “they went back…he knew her…YHWY remembered her, in due time she conceived. All of the elements of a good story are here, and in it we see not only the intentions of the Prophet Samuel, but also the intentions of his mother – a deeper context for the great prophet.
Breaking open I Samuel:
- What makes Hannah’s prayer deeply personal?
- What makes her song of thanksgiving unusual?
- How often are others included in your prayer life?
1 Samuel 2:1-10
"My heart exults in the LORD;
my strength is exalted in my God.
"There is no Holy One like the LORD,
no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's,
and on them he has set the world.
"He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
for not by might does one prevail.
The LORD! His adversaries shall be shattered;
the Most High will thunder in heaven.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king,
and exalt the power of his anointed."
The end of this psalm indicates to us that it was written at a later date and added into the cycle of the story, “(God) will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of (God’s) anointed.” Here we are introduced to a God who is intimately concerned with human beings, who knows the depths of the human experience, and who is capable of and does turn the tables on their misfortune. One commentator sees this psalm, and David’s victory psalm (II Samuel 22) as bookends to the Samuel narrative that includes the fortunes of Saul and David as well. We are, however, not reading this pericope for the history that it might provide us, but rather to understand the theology that Luke will find so attractive for his song of Mary. The psalm begins with a rejoicing heart and “exalted strength” (although Alter translates the word “strength” as “horn”). The horn imagery matches the closing anointing verse, for the horn would have been used as a vessel for the anointing. Thus we have a psalm that rejoices in the blessings of kingship. One can read the verses as displaying the attributes of a benevolent God, or perhaps as the vision of an anointed king, dispensing God’s blessings through the royal office. The nation’s enemies are appropriately dealt with, and the wicked are shown for what they are. It is, however, the lifting up of the lowly that attracts Luke, and Hannah’s song becomes a bit of a promise to those who will live in the future. Powers will be overthrown, but God’s goodness for all the living regardless of their status will obtain.
Breaking open I Samuel:
- How is Hannah’s song like Mary’s song?
- Who is protected in Hannah’s song?
- What is the promise in Hannah’s song?
The Lord spoke to Daniel in a vision and said, "At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever."
The last six chapters of Daniel provide for apocalyptic visions from which our pericope is taken. In section called “The Final Revelation” we meet Michael, the great prince, and the deeds of protection that he will perform. Clearly set as an unwrapping of present history (the conflicts of Persia and Greece), the vision wants to make certain that God is yet king, and that the fate of God’s people is assured – even beyond death. Imported themes dominate the larger pericope (Daniel 10 -12:13) and we are introduced to the idea of the resurrection of the dead, and the final outcomes of Daniel’s vision. For the purposes of this day, however, the reading introduces us to the notion of the end-times, and of expectation. In this shadow of Advent, this introduction can be important. Preachers may want to break open this test so that it is not an impediment to understanding its own wisdom, but it’s wisdom in connection with the other readings.
Breaking open Daniel:
- What image of Michael do you get here?
- What is this reading’s sense of history?
- Why is resurrection a new idea here?
Psalm 16 Conserva me, Domine
Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; *
I have said to the LORD, "You are my Lord,
my good above all other."
All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, *
upon those who are noble among the people.
But those who run after other gods *
shall have their troubles multiplied.
Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.
O LORD, YOU are my portion and my cup; *
it is you who uphold my lot.
My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
I will bless the LORD who gives me counsel; *
my heart teaches me, night after night.
I have set the LORD always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.
For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.
You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
In this psalm we have a confession of faith that is made more poignant by the distancing the author makes to pagan cults, “But those who run after other gods shall have their troubles multiplied.” The psalmist is “casting his lot” with the God of Israel. Dangers seem to abound even in what the author describes as “a pleasant land.” Paganism on one side and death and “the Pit” extend on the other. In the midst is the psalmist and his God who will show him “the path of life". It is a psalm of contrasts, a happy companion to our readings for the day.
Breaking open Psalm 16:
- What does it mean to you “to believe”?
- What is it that you believe in?
- In ways do you follow God?
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
Every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, "he sat down at the right hand of God," and since then has been waiting "until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet." For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. [And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
"This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,"
he also adds,
"I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more."
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
This is the last of our readings from the Letter to the Hebrews. It comes from a section entitled, “Christ’s One Perfect Sacrifice”, and again compares the ancient priestly service with the priestly service that Christ affords. There is an economy here – a once and for all time sacrifice. The psychology of this is, I suppose, the uncertainty that accompanies a repeated event compared to a sense of surety with a once and for all time event. The author quotes from Jeremiah’s example of a spiritualized faith, rather than one that relies on physical acts or documents, “I will put my laws in their hearts.” Christ, the high priest, is the example of priestly service, and it is in this model that we have assurance.
Breaking open Hebrews:
- What is perfect about Christ’s sacrifice?
- Which is better on perfect event, or repeated events? Why?
- What is your spiritual sacrifice?
St. Mark 13:1-8
As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, `I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs."
If you have ever been to Jerusalem and looked out over the city from the prospect afforded on the Mount of Olives, you will have the context of this pericope well in mind. It may have been both Jesus’ and the disciple’s first experience with Jerusalem, and the view must have been stunning to someone not used to monumental architecture. The disciples are in awe, but Jesus is not. Jesus is actually dismissive, “not one stone will be left here upon another.” One wonders if Mark conveys this scene with the full knowledge of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. The disciples are eager to know, however, for they are beginning to understand that they are in the midst of a decisive time. This section of Mark is called the “Little Apocalypse” as opposed to the more major revelations in the great vision of Saint John the Divine. These apocalyptic sayings also appear in Matthew and Luke. We might wonder what the purpose of these sayings was.
If Mark (or Matthew or Luke, for that matter) experienced the final days before Rome put its foot down on a rebellious Jewish state, then the categories that Jesus reveals to his questioning disciples may move from the realm of “vision” to a certain reality. What are the signs? – False leaders and teachers, wars and rumors of wars, international upheaval, earthquakes and famine – and this is just the beginning. Perhaps Jesus is supplying the answer to “what does our time mean?” Or it may be more specific. Donahue and Harrington, in their commentary on Mark note the opinion of some that these sayings stem from a Jewish reaction to the intent of Caligula to place a statue of himself in the Jerusalem Temple. Whatever the source – it prepares the reader for the horrific events that will follow in the next days. Why is it here on the cusp of Advent? Perhaps to give us pause to reflect on our own horrific times.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- What were the disciples impressed by?
- What were Jesus’ thoughts about Jerusalem?
- What will happen to Jerusalem?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; 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
Alter, R (2013), Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton& Company, Kindle Edition, Location 5297.
Donahue, J., Harrington, D., (2002), Sacra Pagina Series Volume 2 The Gospel of Mark, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Mn., Page 379