The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, 5 July 2015
II Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
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
- What do the people treasure about David?
- Why was the notion of David “being kin” important?
- 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:
- Why was Jerusalem an ideal capital for David?
- What kind of message did it send to the people of Israel?
- What did David wish to build but couldn’t/
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:
- Why does Ezekiel object to his call?
- How does God see Israel as a people?
- 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:
- What do you see when you look for God?
- What are your emotions when you find something that speaks to you of God?
- 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:
- Why does Paul boast?
- What about your life in Christ do you boast of?
- 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.” A quote from Erich Gräßer is poignant as well, “just as his power is our salvation, so our unbelief is his powerlessness.” 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:
- Why do family and friends reject Jesus?
- Have you ever been at odds with your family? What happened?
- 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