The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11, 19 July 2015
II Samuel 7:1-14a
St. Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
In the second reading for today, Paul confronts the issue of male circumcision as a covenantal act, and notes that life in Christ supersedes such acts. Nevertheless, it is a physical act that is still practiced in some Christian circles, and is the subject of intense debate in our time. We often connect the act with Judaism solely, but circumcision was practiced in other cultures as well. It was variously seen as a rite of passage at puberty, an act of magic, a hygienic act, or an act that demarked one’s social status. It is known in some African cultures, and it was practiced in ancient Egypt as well. In Semitic culture it was connected with the notion of covenant – indeed the verb used when describing the enacting of a covenant is the verb “to cut”, one would cut a covenant. This notion is seen well in the story of Abraham. The Greeks abhorred it, and this becomes an issue during the Hellenistic period in Palestine, especially during the rule of the Seleucid kings. Christian has either condemned it (as at the Council of Basel-Florence in 1442) or has ignored it, proclaiming that it was unnecessary for Christians.
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
When David, the king, was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent." Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you."
But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.
Here we meet a new character in the David story, namely Nathan the prophet. He will appear again in the narrative, and will have to speak harsh words to David. The author makes here a comparison of conditions with David living in luxury (a stone palace with cedar paneling from Lebanon – an urban idea) and God dwelling in a “tent” (the Tabernacle, a nomadic idea). Nathan advises David to strive for this goal of building a temple, but a dream/vision will give David pause.
Looking at this from a political perspective, one can recognize in David’s desire the conviction to centralize religion in Israel, closing down the shrines and cult center in the countryside, and consolidating everything in the national capital, Jerusalem. There is no small amount of punning in this text, which gives us an inkling of what the real purpose was. David proposes to build “a house”, a temple for God. God’s counter proposal is that God will establish “a house” namely the Davidic line. The temple, however, will have to wait for another. So this is either an apology to the reader for the fact that the great King David did not build a temple, or it is a theological underscoring of the establishment of the Davidic dynasty. It’s probably both.
Breaking open II Samuel
- Why do you think this story is preserved in the Bible?
- Why does David want to build a temple?
- Why does God not want him to do so?
Psalm 89:20-37 Tunc locutus es
"I have found David my servant; *
with my holy oil have I anointed him.
My hand will hold him fast *
and my arm will make him strong.
No enemy shall deceive him, *
nor any wicked man bring him down.
I will crush his foes before him *
and strike down those who hate him.
My faithfulness and love shall be with him, *
and he shall be victorious through my Name.
I shall make his dominion extend *
from the Great Sea to the River.
He will say to me, 'You are my Father, *
my God, and the rock of my salvation.'
I will make him my firstborn *
and higher than the kings of the earth.
I will keep my love for him for ever, *
and my covenant will stand firm for him.
I will establish his line for ever *
and his throne as the days of heaven."
"If his children forsake my law *
and do not walk according to my judgments;
If they break my statutes *
and do not keep my commandments;
I will punish their transgressions with a rod *
and their iniquities with the lash;
But I will not take my love from him, *
nor let my faithfulness prove false.
I will not break my covenant, *
nor change what has gone out of my lips.
Once for all I have sworn by my holiness: *
'I will not lie to David.
His line shall endure for ever *
and his throne as the sun before me;
It shall stand fast for evermore like the moon, *
the abiding witness in the sky.' "
The psalm, a celebration of Davidic kingship, seems to argue for the later purpose (a theological foundation for the Davidic Dynasty) in the first reading. The remainder of the psalm is a grand panegyric to the kingship of David. It is martial and it is imperial, and it is probably well beyond the actualities of David’s empire. It also forms a theological commentary on Davidic rule, and the covenant and promise that God makes to David, God’s chosen one.
Breaking open Psalm 24\\89:
- How does the psalm describe a good king?
- What is the promise that God gives to David?
- What did the people expect of David?
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."
It would be good for the reader to look at the Track 1 first reading and psalm to give background to the notion of Kingship in ancient Israel, specifically to David kingship. Here the shepherds that Jeremiah excoriates are really the kings that have failed both God and people. Later in this same chapter (see verses 9-40) it is the prophets who reap Jeremiah’s wrath. In this reading it is God who takes back God’s people (oddly enough before sending them into exile) so that God might serve as shepherd and not the king or the prophets. For a similar judgment see Ezekiel 34. The other collective character in this passage is the sheep – Judah. One commentator called this section of Jeremiah something of a collection of scattered texts united by a theme of “judgment and hope.” We find the hope in three promises that are at the core of this reading: “I will gather the remnant,” “I will bring them back,” and “I will raise up shepherds.” In a sense, Judah is being sent away in something of a purge not all that dissimilar to the 40 years in the wilderness. Brought back by God, they will be renewed and looked after and cared for in a new world - a new reality. What follows then is a promise for the Davidids, “I will raise up for David a righteous Branch.” The actions of this new shepherd will be the execution of justice and righteousness. It makes me wonder what Jeremiah might have to say to our national leaders, and what we ought to be expecting of them.
Breaking open Jeremiah:
- Why is Jeremiah upset?
- Jeremiah discusses punishment for Kings and Prophets. What about the people?
- What are Jeremiah’s words of hope”
Psalm 23 Dominus regit me
The LORD is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You spread a table before me in the presence of those
who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
This is an odd selection, especially if Jeremiah’s use of the term “shepherds” is still ringing in our ears. We need to realize of course that this psalm will comment on God as shepherd, and listen from that perception. What works against us here is the sheer familiarity that we have with this psalm, which may obstruct our learning something new from it. If it is more than comfortable words that we want, we shall have to do some digging. The psalm is more than just image and metaphor, but entails actualities and realities. It is to real meadows of fresh grass and quiet waters that the psalmist wants us to experience under the leadership of the Shepherd/God. He puts it rather succinctly in the verse, “he revives my soul.” The Hebrew is much more literal, for it has the sense that God, “brings back my life.” However, it is not just life’s realities that are mentioned here, but the actuality of death as well. Death is compared to a shadow – something that is always there, that accompanies us day by day. In spite of that shadow, God is with us, and other blessings of life, anointing with luxurious oil and a table set with delicious food, are also signs of God’s presence.
Breaking open Psalm 23:
- What have you found new in this psalm?
- What is familiar and comforting to you?
- If death is a shadow, what is life?
Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called "the uncircumcision" by those who are called "the circumcision" -- a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands-- remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
As Paul moved into the world of the Gentile, he brought with him the questions of how Gentile believers would relate to Israel and to its history of salvation. Our reading today plumbs the depths of that problem by tackling the idea of circumcision. As usual, Paul takes the concept and spiritualizes it. No longer would it mean the actual circumcision of a male, but rather the idea of “cutting away” that which might keep us from God. “He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two.” Paul did not see two people – those who followed the old laws, and those who did not or who were unfamiliar with them. There is a new people who are no longer “strangers and aliens.” The closing verse is actually quite profound. “The household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In 70 CE the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. This would have been known to the Jewish members of Paul’s Ephesian community, and perhaps known to some of the Gentiles as well. His discussion of the household of God, sees a new vision of the temple as a spiritual construct, with all of the church involved. There was no time or place for grieving the destruction of a building.
Breaking open Ephesians:
- What have you cut out of your life?
- What do you know about Judaism, and how do you relate to it?
- Who is in the Body of Christ as you know it?
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
The lectionary gives us an introduction of the Feeding of the Five Thousand (6:35-44), but omits that actual story and the one that follows, of Jesus walking on the water (6:45-52). You may wish to read these to see the whole context of these two joined pericopes that form the text of our Gospel for today. The final section provides a summary of the healing power of Jesus. It is, in my estimation, a rather lackluster end to a series of healings that underscored Jesus’ power to heal, and the limits to that power in the unbelief of those around him. Nevertheless we will hear familiar verbs that recall the preceding healing stories.
The most dynamic of the two is perhaps the first verses, 30-34. Mark has the disciples, who were previously sent out two by two; fill Jesus in on the strength of their mission and what they have learned from it. It is then that he invites them to a “deserted place. (An isolated place – devoid of the crowds that were following)” Jesus longs for them to be in the place of the wanderings of Israel, or in the place of his own temptation. One gets the impression that he expects great gifts from the Spirit there, but the crowd follows. Such is the expectation that comes with listening to Jesus. But the lectionary bids us leave all this behind.
A similar summary of the ministry of Jesus can be found in Mark 3:7-12. What we need to focus on are the actions accounted for in these verses; the agency not only Jesus, but of the people as well. Listen to what happens, “they recognized him”, “they laid the sick,” “they begged him”, and “they touched”. These actions happen in the marketplace – at the center of community life. It is from this place and from the disciples and these people that the word will go out about where Jesus is, and what he might do for them. I guess that it is not so lackluster, but rather a profound call into mission.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- Where is the wilderness to which you retreat?
- What do you do there to renew yourself?
- What is the power of Jesus in your life?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son 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