The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10 - 15 July 2012

Amos 7:7-15
Psalm 85:8-13
Ephesians 1:3-14
St. Mark 6:14-29

Background: Herod Antipas
We encounter a number of Herods as we read through the Gospel, and a particular Herod plays a major role in today’s Gospel reading.  Born around 20 BCE, he was the son of Herod the Great, a client king of the Roman Empire who died around 4 BCE.  Herod the Great was known for expanding the Second Temple and for building the great port at Cesarea Maritima.  His son, Herod Antipas, inherited a portion of the kingdom and was named Tetrarch (ruler of a quarter) who ruled Galilee and Perea during the time of Jesus.  He also built Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee to honor his patron, Tiberas, the Roman Emperor.  He is connected to the John the Baptist story due to his imprisonment of John for preaching against his (according to John’s view) incestuous marriage to Herodias, the former wife of Herod’s brother, Philip.  His life ended in Gaul to which he was exiled by the Emperor Caligula after Herod’s nephew had accused Herod of treason.  He died in 39 CE.

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.'"

Amos, the prophet, communicates both his call, and the establishment’s reaction to his call and message in a series of visions at the conclusion of his book.  In this reading we are given the vision, or rather the model, of the plumb line.  Is the wall (here the people of Israel – the Northern Kingdom) true.  The objectivity of the plumb line (Amos’ oracle) will tell us, “No, it is not”.  Such truth telling earned Amos no easy praise.  He is attacked by the priestly caste, and by other prophets as well.  Amos objects that he is not a “professional prophet” exacting fees for oracles that please those in power.  He is only a “dresser of sycamore trees”.  The call of God, however, makes no such distinctions.

Breaking open Amos:
  1. Why is Amos treated so badly by his fellow prophets?
  2. Do we have “professional prophets” today?  Who are they?
  3. Who in your life has spoken with honesty and truth out of the simplicity of their own life?

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.

There is a sense, in these verses, that the poet is on the cusp of something.  It is not an accomplished fact yet, but it will be met with great anticipation.  The line, “truly, his salvation is very near” may reflect the urgent hopes of exiles either about to return or in the process of returning to the land of their fathers and mothers.  The very earth is pregnant with all of God’s graces: truth, righteousness, prosperity, righteousness, and peace – all are aspects of God’s acts as God embraces a people once again.

Breaking open Psalm 85
  1. What kind of great justice do you wait for from God?
  2. What will its virtues be?
  3. How will it affect humankind?

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.

Photo by Manuella Richter 

The usual introductory greeting present in Pauline letters is passed by here, for an introductory hymn of praise to God – The Mystery hidden from Eternity.  Here Paul praises God for our incorporation into the family, and the words and phrases are all redolent of Baptism.  There is adoption, our destiny in Christ, our being chosen, just as Christ was chosen, and our inheritance.  This was God’s plan that centers around the salvation of God’s own, his children.  Here Paul adds the “seal of the Spirit” to the usual baptismal formula of being baptized in the name of Jesus.  It is a paragraph of activity directed by God to the family of God’s choosing, and an example of the “richness of God’s grace.”

Breaking open Ephesians;
  1. What do you know or recall about your own baptism?
  2. How are you a part of God’s family?
  3. Do you think that the church is forgetting about Baptism?

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.

Here we have two interludes which circle about the people’s opinions about Jesus, and about John the Baptizer.  Thus we are greeted with various opinions, some of which will be repeated in a cruel manner at the cross.  The question is really about the power of John and the power of Jesus.  The story is a flashback, for the discussion about the power of John is a discussion about a dead man, which the latter part of the pericope fills in.  In a way it rephrases John’s own musings on the question of who is greater, and an answer that John readily admits.  Here, the repartee is designed for us to see the power of Jesus, and to portray the evil that he is set up against.  Herod, in his marriage to his brother’s wife (see Background above) was the focus of some of John’s preaching.  It was an exposure of the bankruptcy of the powers that surrounded the ministry of Jesus and of John.  In the chapters that follow, Jesus will show what he is all about, and what his power is all about.  In these verses however, John serves as a foreshadow (again) of what will happen to Jesus, “they came, and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.”

Breaking open the Gospel:

  1. What are the wonderfully human elements in this story?
  2. What is horribly human in this story?
  3. How do you follow Christ?

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.


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