The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6, 17 June 2018

Track One:
I Samuel 15:34-16:13
Psalm 20

Track Two:
Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14

II Corinthians 5:6-17
St. Mark 4:26-34

Background: Anointing

What began as an act of hospitality, offering scented fats to travelers both expected and unexpected, soon became a ritual of setting aside a person for a specific call. It was also a form of healing as well, and thus the act was well known in its various practices in the ancient near east. In our time, anointing is known its use in health issues, hospitality, religious rites, and royal ritual. The Greek term chrism is also seen in the title given to Jesus, Christ, Messiah, or “the anointed one”. The practice in all of these realms dates from the earliest of times. The fat of sacrificed animals was a token of strength and the value of the life of the individual. In Christian usage it is seen in Baptism, Prayers for Healing, and in the Consecration of sacred ministers. In the New Testament the anointing of Jesus by Mary is a sign of the power of this practice.

Track One:

First Reading: I Samuel 15:34-16:13

Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, 

“The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

The debate over the monarchy seemed to be resolved with the anointing of Saul as king, but as the initial verses of this pericope make clear, Saul is a deep disappointment to both Samuel and God. You may want to read through the whole of chapter 15 to get a sense of the disappointment. It will be jarring to the modern ear, for Saul chose not to slaughter the people of Amalek but spared them. Why does the Lectionary jump over the difficult texts?! 

Samuel and Saul part ways, and the Hebrew of the text of v.35 indicates that there is a death that must be grieved – the death of Saul as king. Thus, Samuel is sent on with his horn of oil to find another king to succeed Saul. In the previous verses the action depended on the ability to listen, however here it depends on the ability to see, with an overtone of providing. So, Samuel goes to see Jesse in Bethlehem, but not without some fear. In light of Samuel’s fear of Saul, God provides a pretext for the journey – to offer sacrifice in Bethlehem. The sacrifice that would be offered is a communion sacrifice in which only certain parts are consumed in the sacrificial flames, the other parts offered in a communal meal. Samuel is not the only one who is afraid, it appears that the townspeople have a fear in the prophet’s presence.

There is an aspect of a folk tale in the next verses, with Samuel reviewing son after son, with the Lord rejecting each one. Samuel appears to have a weakness in his ability to seethe one that the Lord has seen, “with the heart” as the text further defines the ability to see. It is with this sight that Samuel asks to see the lowliest, the youngest, the shepherd. With David there is a pleasant sight and aspect, but that is not what sets him apart. “This is the one,” God say. 

The anointing is private, secret, and treasonous. It is also God’s desire seen in the fact that David is immediately anointed by the Spirit of the Lord. That same Spirit departed from Saul, and a new epic begins.

Breaking open I Samuel:
  1. What does it mean to be seen from the heart?
  2. What do you see when you see someone you admire?
  3. How does the author emphasize Samuel’s dilemma?

Psalm 20 Exaudiat te Dominus

     May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble, *
the Name of the God of Jacob defend you;
     Send you help from his holy place *
and strengthen you out of Zion;
     Remember all your offerings *
and accept your burnt sacrifice;
     Grant you your heart's desire *
and prosper all your plans.
     We will shout for joy at your victory
and triumph in the Name of our God; *
may the Lord grant all your requests.
     Now I know that the Lord gives victory to his anointed; *
he will answer him out of his holy heaven,
with the victorious strength of his right hand.
     Some put their trust in chariots and some in horses, *
but we will call upon the Name of the Lord our God.
     They collapse and fall down, *
but we will arise and stand upright.
     Lord, give victory to the king *
and answer us when we call.

This psalm seems to address the perilous situation that follows the anointing of David in the family circle of Jesse. The real focus of this royal psalm, a prayer for the king, is found in verse 7, “Some will put their trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will call upon the Name of the Lord our God.” The reality of the politic of the time, namely armies and horses, is put down by the spiritual values that accompany the king – calling upon the Name of the Lord. The spiritual life of the king is recounted in the description of his sacrifices. There is also an indication of what the king’s desires and plans are, all in accordance with God’s will. All of this supports the anointed king, and adds to the prayer, “give victory to the king.”

Breaking open Psalm 138:
  1. How do you pray for the ruler of this land?
  2. What does it mean in the psalm to “give victory”?
  3. How is God guiding this country?


Track Two

Second Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24

Thus says the Lord God:
I myself will take a sprig
from the lofty top of a cedar;
I will set it out.
I will break off a tender one
from the topmost of its young twigs;
I myself will plant it
on a high and lofty mountain.
On the mountain height of Israel
I will plant it,
in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
and become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live;
in the shade of its branches will nest
winged creatures of every kind.
All the trees of the field shall know
that I am the Lord.
I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.
I the Lord have spoken;
I will accomplish it.

In order to understand these three verses, one must read through the entirety of the chapter. These verses are a contrast to verses 1-21, in which in metaphorical language the prophet describes the situation on 597 BCE, when Nebuchadnezzar had deported Jehoiachin and set upon the throne Jehoiachin’s uncle Zedekiah. Zedekiah had made an oath of loyalty to the Babylonian King, but then under the influence of the Egyptian Pharaoh Hophra rebelled against his Babylonian Suzerain. The verses of our reading reverse the initial part of the chapter. It is the God of Israel that plucks from the cedar tree and plants a new kingdom of Israel. Oddly enough, this is an interesting commentary on the Track One First Reading.

Breaking open Ezekiel:
  1. How is a tree like a kingdom?
  2. What are the contrasts in the reading from Ezekiel?
  3. What does the Lord hope to accomplish?

Psalm 92:1-4,11-14 Bonum est confiteri

     It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord, *
and to sing praises to your Name, O Most High;
     To tell of your loving-kindness early in the morning *
and of your faithfulness in the night season;
     On the psaltery, and on the lyre, *
and to the melody of the harp.
     For you have made me glad by your acts, O Lord; *
and I shout for joy because of the works of your hands.
11    The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, *
and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.
12    Those who are planted in the house of the Lord *
shall flourish in the courts of our God;
13    They shall still bear fruit in old age; *
they shall be green and succulent;
14    That they may show how upright the Lord is, *
my Rock, in whom there is no fault.

Perhaps this is a temple psalm, sung as a part of the temple rites on the Sabbath. Currently it is sung during the Sabbath service in the synagogue. If we consider only the verses provided for here, it is a psalm of thanksgiving. The elided verses, 5-10, have a Wisdom flavor, wondering about the success of the wicked. Like the reading from Ezekiel, the psalmist uses a stately tree to contrast with that which passes away. The people of God, in contrast to the wicked, stand tall, and bear fruit even in old age. It is wise, then, to follow the Lord.

Breaking open Psalm 92:
  1. What fruit have your borne?
  2. Why do wicked people have success?
  3. How do you stand tall with your faith?

Second Reading: IICorinthians 5:6-10, [11-13],14-17

We are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord-- for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

[Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.] For the love of Christ urges us on because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore, all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Paul uses two words here to stand for other truth. “Tent” stands for the earthly body – temporary and fragile. “House” stands for the new body – the resurrected entity that is the house of God.  This is new kind of existence that flows from the offering that Christ made, making those who follow him whole and complete. 

The second section functions as a defense for Paul’s behaviors in leading the Corinthians to Jesus. Here he contrasts how the believer and the world (the flesh) perceive the cross. To one it is the quintessence of God’s purpose, while to the other it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Such a perspective is not limited to the cross alone, or even to cross, but to those who follow Jesus as well. To see the believer as from the flesh, is not to see the promise, or the new creation.

Breaking open Psalm II Corinthians:
  1. In what ways is your life fragile?
  2. In what ways is it strong?
  3. What role does faith play in its strength?

The Gospel: St. Mark 4:26-34

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

This parable continues the use of nature in describing or providing an example of the spiritual life. Here we have two “seed parables.” You might want to go back to verse 3to read the first of these seed parables. The second parable (the first in our reading) is peculiar to Mark. It is a parable of the Kingdom of God. Here we are not focused on the sower, but on an ordinary person. We sit back and look at the silent and secret process of the seed sprouting, growing, and providing abundance. We are drawn in this parable to the “end time” and to the great harvest. It is not the man who has caused the great harvest, but rather nature. Perhaps Mark calls on Christians to watch and prepare for a great harvest.

The Mustard Seed Parable is shared with Q and Thomas. It is also a Kingdom parable in which the mustard seed becomes a metaphor for the Kingdom of God. Just as in the other readings, the end state of the plant is stateliness, a haven for other creatures. Here the humble mustard bush is a sign of the “great world tree” under which the nations of the earth live and survive (see Daniel 4:12, 21and the first reading from Ezekiel). Here the parables look forward to the success of the Gospel.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What small thing in your life has grown large?
  2. How has your faith grown large?
  3. Who finds shelter in your faith?

For Discussion:          What is going on about us in secret – that brings forward the kingdom of God?

Discussion 1:              A vision of the Kingdom of God (either first reading)
Discussion 2:              The problem in Ezekiel – governments subverting God’s will
Discussion 3:              The harvest that comes in spite of us – have we seen such a thing (Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller


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