The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8, 28 June 2015
II Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24 or
Lamentations 3:21-33 or Psalm 30
II Corinthians 8:7-15
St. Mark 5:21-43
Background: Laments and Dirges
Reading the Track 1 reading from the Hebrew Scriptures my interest in forms were piqued. What is a lament? How is it different from a dirge? Does it even matter? I do think that it matters that we not only explore the context of a writing, but that we know in some way its form as well. What was it that David sang at the death of Saul? Each of these related forms have been used across a wide cultural swath from the Ancient Near East and the Indian subcontinent to the Christian West and beyond. The author of Second Samuel assigns the lament or dirge at the death of Saul to Daveid, yet dirges were usually performed by women. One scholar suggests that the laments of women form the base for what would later become the Illiad. The Laments that we find in the Bible (see Job) usually focus on an Israel or individuals in crisis, but David’s lament follows the crisis – the death of Saul. So the dirge with its peculiar rythms and poetic structure may obtain here, or it may not. Both serve to narrate the events of a great man or woman’s life.
The aspect of the lament that is most cogent here is that it is often a request for divine help. While a dirge may reflect back the great moments of a great life, the lament seems deeply caught in the web of life and its exigencies. Having these insights can help us see the nuance of what David or the virgin woman who laments in Joel or Jeremiah. Perhaps it’s like learning to pray all over again.
II Samuel 1:1, 17-27
After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. (He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said:
Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath,
proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon;
or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,
the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.
You mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew or rain upon you,
nor bounteous fields!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.
From the blood of the slain,
from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
nor the sword of Saul return empty.
Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you with crimson, in luxury,
who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women.
How the mighty have fallen,
and the weapons of war perished!
If you have skipped it, you might want to go up and read the Background material that directly relates to this reading. It is interesting here that a soon-to-be great leader, the subject of more than one narrative, is here the singer and narrator. That David can sum up the Saul experience in song and dirge, will serve him well as he begins to rule. In his song David relives his own difficulties. In the comment ‘Tell it not in Gath’ David obliquely refers to his own role as a vassal to the King of Gath, and sets a point from which his own kingship, devoted to Israel will derive. In a series of apostrophe (almost solo voce speeches to persons not present) directed not only to Saul, but to the women of Gath, the daughters of Israel, and finally to Jonathan we see the whole context of David and his role in Israel. Some of the history shared in the lament is oblique and implied. ‘How the warriors fallen, and the gear of battle is lost.’ This is how we really learn of the loss of both Jonathan and Saul – and now we are invited into the lament.
Breaking open II Samuel
- Why does David grieve the loss of Saul?
- Why does David grieve the loss of Jonathan?
- Whom have you grieved for? What were your emotions?
Psalm 130 De profundis
Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice; *
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
If you, LORD, were to note what is done amiss, *
O Lord, who could stand?
For there is forgiveness with you; *
therefore you shall be feared.
I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the LORD,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, wait for the LORD, *
for with the LORD there is mercy;
With him there is plenteous redemption, *
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
Is Psalm 130 the unspoken heart of David’s lament? I think that this is a helpful point from which to hear again this popular psalm. In the incipit of the psalm we hear a reflection of what we saw so amply in last Sunday’s readings. The depths are the waters of the sea, the waters that symbolize death, the waters whose bounds are set by God. Now we can place the author of this psalm in the place from which he sings about his despair, and his request of God. His penitence emerges from this deep psychological place. We often talk about the fear of God, but rarely explain what this really is. Here we learn what precedes this fear of God – forgiveness. The other virtue is one of patience, the verb for “waiting” is repeated often enough for us to realize that this is a valuable behavior for those who would know God, and request God’s forgiveness. What comes with waiting is expectation, and that is mirrored for us in the images of the watchperson, ‘O Israel, wait for the Lord.’
Breaking open Psalm 130:
- What do you fear most in life?
- Can you handle it alone, or do you need someone else?
- What role does God have in your fear?
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24
God did not make death,
And he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.
God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.
Although we may be led to expect both “Wisdom” and the thoughts of “Solomon”, neither is present here in the way we might imagine. The book originates, most likely, in Alexandria sometime around the cusp of the Common Era. The book is flavored with influences of Jewish apocalyptic, and the oppressions, lately by the Romans, that had been imposed upon Israel for several centuries. The beginning comments on death move beyond the conventional wisdom about death (that it is a common element of human life) to a statement that “God did not make death.” This may reflect the influence of Persian thought on resurrection – an influence that was discussed and debated even to the time of Jesus. This is a creation positive apologia that contrasts creation and Hades, and then God’s purposes and the devil’s.
Breaking open Wisdom of Solomon:
- What is the good news in this passage?
- What are your thoughts about death?
- In what way are youj “incorruptible”?
This I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."
The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for one to bear
the yoke in youth,
to sit alone in silence
when the Lord has imposed it,
to put one's mouth to the dust
(there may yet be hope),
to give one's cheek to the smiter,
and be filled with insults.
For the Lord will not
Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict
or grieve anyone.
Lamentations is a collection of five poems, four of which are acrostics, which commemorate the invasion and subsequent destruction of Jerusalem in 587/6. Their purpose is to relate very realistically the events of the destruction of the city. The form that is used is that of lament, dirge, and corporate lament. (You may wish to review the Background materials above). In most laments, there is the hope of rehabilitation, but here such considerations are completely absent. God is silent.
Never-the-less, the opening lines of our reading give us a start, “therefore I have hope,” We meet again the theme of waiting. All is gone. There is no city, there is no society, there is no temple, and all the author invites us to is waiting. There is however, only silence, and here the author says something that is really remarkable, ‘for the Lord will not reject forever.” We are called into a future of compassion and “steadfast love.”
Breaking open Lamentations:
- What were your thoughts when the World Trade Center was destroyed?
- From that vantage point can you share the emotions around the destruction of Jerusalem?
- What do you do when God is silent?
Psalm 30 Exaltabo te, Domine
I will exalt you, O LORD,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
O LORD my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.
You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
Sing to the LORD, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favor for a lifetime.
Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning.
While I felt secure, I said,
"I shall never be disturbed. *
You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains."
Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear.
I cried to you, O LORD; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,
"What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?
Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me; *
O LORD, be my helper."
You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.
This is a psalm of contrasts and bargaining. All of this is centered in death and we are clued in immediately with the phrase, “you have lifted me up.” The Hebrew vocable here is the same word that is used for drawing water from a well, and the image of water does not go unnoticed. Water is the very essence of death for the Hebrew, and so the image of God “drawing up” the author is a symbol of cheating death. Here begin the contrasts, “you restored my life as I was going down to the grave (Sheol).” And so it continues, tears in the evening, joy in the morning. Then the author begins to bargain with God, “what profit is there in my blood, if I go down to Sheol? Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?” The author counts on the realization that God not only engenders life but desires it as well. Unlike the gods who desired the sacrifices burnt on altars as food, it is praise and acknowledgement that YHWH desires. And so the author offers this psalm of thanksgiving to give an offering to the God who has delivered the author from death.
Breaking open Psalm 30:
- What other contrasts can you find in the Psalm?
- What do you think of the bargain that the psalmist attempts to drive?
- What thanksgivings do you owe to God?
II Corinthians 8:7-15
As you excel in everything-- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you-- so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something-- now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has-- not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
"The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little."
We continue with our on-going reading from II Corinthians, and we are deep in a discussion of economics that is related largely to the collection for the church in Jerusalem. Paul poses some questions for the Corinthians to answer – how does the “generous act” of Jesus impact your giving? The model that is set up is incredibly high, “yet for your sakes he has become poor.” We might be reminded of Janet Jackson’s question, “what have you done for me lately?” It was not a zero sum project – give all that you have so that others might have – but rather an exercise in equality. The petition from the Our Father is a good example: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us,” or, we give so that someday someone might meet our needs as well. Paul relies on Jesus’ own model, and this is what he hopes to convince the Corinthians of.
Breaking open II Corinthians:
- What model of giving does Paul offer us?
- What was Jesus’ offering?
- What do you offer to others?
St. Mark 5:21-43
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." He went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, `Who touched me?'" He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Several themes emerge here. We continue with stories that contrast purity and impurity, indeed this pericope is preceded by the healing of the Gerasene Demoniac. Other themes are the importance of women, and in this pericope we have a story about two of them. The final theme is the importance of faith. Each of these themes is engaging and leads us to some fundamental understandings about the Reign of God. Both of the women, the daughter of Jairus, because of her age, and the woman with the issue of blood, due to her illness, are really separated not only from society but from “righteousness” as well. Like the demoniac, they could not participate in corporate religious life. Some of this is related to gender and some of this is related to illness. Jesus is invited into both of them.
I say that he is invited into these situations, but the woman’s story is almost intrusive. She risks spreading her impurity to Jesus by touching the hem of his robe. Her impurity is overcome by Jesus’ presence. What Mark wishes to show us here is the Reign of God rushing in on these two situations in which it is visited on a Jewish household, and on a woman who had no hope whatsoever. There is a full compass to these two stories that guides us to see the gradual revelation that Mark makes about Jesus. Jesus brushes against social convention and popular piety and in doing so he shows the radical nature of God’s visitation. Faith makes whole, and it is seen in the lives of women.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- What are the impurities of your life?
- How does Jesus overcome them?
- In what ways have you been “raised up”?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; 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