The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, 15 July 2018

Track One:
II Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Psalm 24

Track Two:
Amos 7:7-15
Psalm 85:8-13

Ephesians 1:3-14
St. Mark 6:14-29

Background: Herod Antipas

There are many Herods that greet us in the New Testament, but it is Herod Antipas (actually Antipatros) that commands our attention on at least two occasions – the arrest and death of John the Baptist, and the judgment of Jesus. He was not actually a king, but rather a tetrarch, or “ruler of a quarter”, namely the territories of Galilee and Perea. His father was Herod the Great, who ruled from ca. 41 BCE until 1 CE. His brother, Herod Archelaus succeeded Herod the Great upon his death. The recognition of Antipas by the Emperor Augustus made him head of the client states of Galilee and Perea. He made his capital at Tiberias, named in honor of Augustus’ successor Tiberias, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. He was first married to Phasaelis, the daughter of the Nabatean king, but divorced her to marry Herodias, former wife of his half-brother, Herod I. This divorce and subsequent marriage had not only theological implications, for the Baptist preached against it, but had political repercussions as well. There was a border dispute with King Aretas, father of Phasaelis, which lead to a war that did not go well for Antipas. In 39 CE he was accused by his nephew Agrippa I of conspiracy against Caligula and was sent into exile in Gaul. His death date is not known.

Track One:

First Reading: II Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of theLord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before theLord. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

This is a complex pericope with several focal points. The first is the ark, transported by David who desires to repatriate it to his new capital at Jerusalem. Attached to this procession is an instance (elided from the liturgical reading) in which someone in an effort to steady the ark touches it and is killed by God’s wrath – such is the holiness (the being “set apart”) of this object. 

The second focal point is the role that David plays in this scenario. Dressed in a linen ephod, he appears to the people not only as king, but as priest as well. This is a common pairing of roles in the ancient near east where kingship and priestly service are shared roles. We have a glimpse of that in the New Testament where Jesus is depicted as prophet, priest, and king. 

Another focal point is the role of Michal, who is described not as “the wife of David” but rather as “the daughter of Saul” which clues us into the enmity that she bears toward David. She looks out a window, and sees David dancing before the ark, most likely exposing himself in the course of his dance. The levitical instructions regarding the building an altar proscribed steps up to the altar so that the priest would not expose himself in ascending the altar. The window through which she sees “King David”, not “David her husband” seems to be a replication of the window through which she helps David escape Saul’s agents. Thus, the relationship of David and Michal comes to an end. 

Breaking open II Samuel:
  1. How are our secular rulers priests?
  2. How might we bring the “Ark” into our cities?
  3. Why is Michal put off by David?

Psalm 24 Domini est terra

1      The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, *
the world and all who dwell therein.
2      For it is he who founded it upon the seas *
and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
3      "Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? " *
and who can stand in his holy place?"
4      "Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
5      They shall receive a blessing from the Lord *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation."
6      Such is the generation of those who seek him, *
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7      Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
8      "Who is this King of glory?" *
"The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle."
9      Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
10    "Who is he, this King of glory?" *
"The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory."

As we observe the progress of the royal party accompanying the ark into the city, we might well have heard the words of this psalm sung in the procession. The first two verses for a context into which a series of questions and responses is posed. The God who “founded it upon the seas” is a reminder or informed by the creation myths of the ancient near east, where the god tames the chaos of the waters. Here that role is given to YHWH. 

Verse three states the first question, and this relates most especially to the first reading, “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord.” The alternation of question and response most surely indicates that this is a liturgical piece, perhaps sung by pilgrims and chorus on their way to the Temple. The subsequent verses speak of the attributes of the righteous pilgrim who makes a way to the Temple of the Lord. 

Some commentators see the final verses, 7 through 10, as a separate work. It shares a similar structure to the first verses, but its focus is not on the pilgrim visitor, but rather on the nature of the “the King of Glory”. Some propose that this is indeed the poem that accompanied the ark, perhaps even into battle. Thus, it speaks of “the Lord, mighty in battle.”

Breaking open Psalm 24:
  1. What are your qualifications to ascend to the hill of the Lord?
  2. What might keep you from entering in?
  3. In what battles that you know of is the Lord mighty?


Track Two

First Reading: 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 centre 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.'”

One might want to read the two “event visions” that precede this pericope in 7:1-3, and 7:4-6. The vision of the locust storm and the rain of fire anticipate what the prophet is to experience. The vision in our pericope is a “wordplay vision”, where the meaning of the vision depends on YHWH’s description of the scene. Verses 10 – 17 give us a reaction by Amaziah to the vision.

What we really see here is the near impossibility of Amos’ prophetic task, announcing to a people not his own the judgment of God. This is not only popular renunciation of his message but political and official renunciation as well. It is good to realize, however, that Amos does not just pronounce judgment, but prays for the people as well. See the prayers in verses 1-6that Amos gives for the people, in spite of their unrepentant behavior. 

The vision of the plumb line justifies the prophet’s warnings to both king and people. It enables both prophet and people to see and understand the standard that God requires – the straight and vertical. The results of not honing to the Lord’s standards are that the places of contact and covenant will be abandoned – and here the prophet speaks of the Northern Kingdom’s sanctuaries at Dan and Beth-El. Since these were royal shrines, we can understand Amaziah’s (since he was the royal prophet) objection to Amos’ words and prophecy. Despite Amos’ renunciation of the role of prophet, the effect is still the same, “Prophesy to my people Israel.”

Breaking open Amos:
  1. What does the plumb line represent to you?
  2. How do its precepts apply to you?
  3. Where are you “straight” and where are you “crooked”?

Psalm 85:8-13 Benedixisti, Domine

8      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.
9      Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10    Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11    Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12    The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
13    Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

The initial verses of this psalm speak of God’s forgiveness and restoration of Jacob, and perhaps that is the reason that these verses are eliminated from this reading. The psalm then better relates to the fate of Israel in the first reading. Verse 8 gives us an almost quid pro quosituation, although the translation in the Episcopal and Lutheran books seems deficient. The New American Bible seems to preserve this give and take:

“I will listen for what God, the LORD, has to say;
surely, he will speak of peace
To his people and to his faithful.
May they not turn to foolishness!”

God is urged to turn away from God’s wrath toward the people, and the people in turn are urged to turn away from their “foolishness.”What follows are a series of hendiadys (expressions of one idea by two words): “Kindness and truth,” and “justice and peace.” These ideas inform the way in which God will encounter the world again. God is given to walk the earth with kindness-truth and with righteousness-peace.

Breaking open Psalm 85:
  1. What are your images of kindness and truth?
  2. What are your images of justice and peace?
  3. Where are they needed in your world?

The Second reading: 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.

And so, we begin a lectio continua through the book of Ephesians. Following the usual greeting, Paul then speaks a blessing to God for all that God has done in Christ Jesus. We see similar blessings in Paul’s other writings (II Corinthians 1:3-4, and I Peter 1:3-12) as well as in the Hebrew Scriptures (I Kings 8:15Psalm 41:13). We encounter an unusual phrase in the third verse, “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (literally “the heavenlies”). Paul wants his readers to understand that they are already participating in a heavenly world, one wrought for them by Christ. The old age gives way to a new age. It is a sign of God’s plan for the whole cosmos – “the mystery of (God’s) will.” There is a wonderful Greek word that elicits the completeness of God’s will that Paul expresses here – pleroma or “fullness”. When I was in seminary, we used to have “pleroma meals” that would be full of good things to eat and drink. I think it was very Pauline. The fullness of all things is summed up in the fullness of Christ. Beginning at verse 12 we have an example of the “you-we” contrasts in which Paul notes the “we” (the Jews), and the “you” (the Gentiles). It is an effort on Paul’s part to us draw into this blessing and conversation both sides.

Breaking open Psalm II Corinthians:
  1. How is Jesus a blessing to you?
  2. What is the fulness of your faith?
  3. In your world who is the “we” and who is the “you”?

The Gospel: St. Mark 6:14-29

King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, 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.

We move away from Jesus and the disciples to a side story – the arrest and death of John the Baptist. It does not appear willy-nilly but is connected by a small pericope that includes Herod, Mark 6:14-16, Herod’s opinion of Jesus. This scene in our reading for today is only known in Mark. Why does Mark include this story? Perhaps to deal with John the Baptist and his role in a Christian world, or perhaps to contrast the “kingship” of Herod (he was really only a Tetrarch, see Background, above) with the kingship of Jesus. We have a glimpse of the kingdom of this world to which Jesus offers alternatives. We need to be careful when dealing with this pericope. Are we reading history here? Or, is Mark creating distinctions between Herod and Jesus, and John and Jesus? That it is not history only underscores the form of the Gospel. We do know John the Baptist and his fate in the writings of Josephus, and you may wish to click here to see what he had to say. Mark is writing from a point of view radically different than that of Josephus. One is a theological testament, while the other is a political account. Jesus, then, is in a real world of consequence and history. One commentator sees John as Elijah opposed by Herod (Ahab) and Herodias (Jezebel). Thus, the old and new fulfill one another. There may be another reference from the Hebrew Scriptures, the dance of Salome and the Book of Esther. Most of all this is the classic prophet vs. king scenario. Jesus comments to Pilate come to mind.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What are the similarities of our time to the story of John the Baptist?
  2. Why do you think Mark included this story?
  3. What do you think are the real issues of this story?

Central question:                 Who rules in your world?

Proposition 1:                      The necessity of addressing the rulers of this world in our time.
Proposition 2:                      A review of the prophets’ role and message.
Proposition 3:                      How do we judge the rulers of our world (Amos and the Plumb line)
Proposition 4:                      When do we preach against the status quo (John the Baptist and Herod)
Proposition 5:                      When do we bring the Ark (the presence of God) back into the city? (First Reading Track One)

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller


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