Wednesday, June 30, 2021

July 18, 2021 - 8th Sunday after Pentecost

                                Biblical Words                      [725]

II Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

God risks a Covenant with those of worldly power, and remains faithful to those who wait for the promised king.  

II Samuel 7:1-14a.  

The prophetic reading and the Psalm selection are about God’s promise of a perpetual reign for the house of David. 

At other times in the Lectionary cycles these passages are read preparing for Advent, the coming of the Anointed One who fulfills the promise to David given here.  In our current series of readings, however, David’s covenant promise from God is the highpoint in the story of God’s dealing with Israel in the age of the kings.  This is the place where the concrete historical reality of a royal dynasty in the ancient tribal kingdoms of Judah and Israel is claimed to be the working of God in the history of humankind. 

While the history of David’s own time is known only from the Biblical record, the existence of a Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem is attested in Assyrian and Babylonian records in the eighth to sixth centuries BCE.  

After the northern kingdom of Israel had been absorbed in the Assyrian empire (722 BCE), the royal house of David in Jerusalem continued as a rallying point for a restored Israel, especially in the eras of King Hezekiah (about 725 to 700 BCE) and King Josiah (640 to 609 BCE).  It was in this later time that the viewpoint on the whole history of the Age of the Kings was developed in Jerusalem.  This viewpoint (called “Deuteronomistic”) shaped the books of Samuel and Kings as we now have them.  

The promise to David (II Samuel 7) and Solomon’s dedication of the Temple (I Kings 8) are the high-points toward which the stories of Samuel, Saul, and the young David move, and they are the peak from which the stories of the later kings are a staggered decline.  The books of the “former prophets,” Joshua through II Kings, have their organizing center in the promise to David in II Samuel 7. 

Because of this focus on the king and temple in Jerusalem, these books (with the partial exception of Joshua) were later rejected as scripture by the Samaritans, who denied the centrality of David and Jerusalem in God’s plan for true Israel. 

Psalm 89:20-37. 

This psalm uses the language of “covenant” about God’s promise to David several times (for example, verses 28 and 34).  But the beginning of the psalm is even more emphatic:    

            I have made a covenant with my chosen one,

                  I have sworn to my servant David: 

            ‘I will establish your descendants forever,

                  and build your throne for all generations’ (89:3-4). 

This covenant promise is like the one made to Abraham in that it is unconditioned.  It does not say, “if you carefully obey my laws I will maintain your dynasty forever.”  It simply says, I will do this.  I will discipline your sons as needed (Psalm 89:30-32), but “I will not violate my covenant” (verse 34).  The fulfillment of the promise depends only on God; therefore, in some way or another, God will see it carried out, even if humans cannot discern the divine faithfulness -- and therefore feel betrayed. 

And, outside our readings, betrayal is asserted!  If we look at the whole of Psalm 89, we read also a long passage in which the speakers assert that God has betrayed the promise to David (Psalm 89:38-51).  “But now you have spurned and rejected him; you are full of wrath against your anointed” (verse 38). 

This latter part of Psalm 89 brings the divine promise into the troublesome uncertainties of reality.  The Davidic kings could be defeated.  The kingdom could be overrun by conquerors, as it was by the Assyrians and Babylonians.  How, under those conditions, can the faithfulness of God be understood? 

The pressures of historical reality drove the Judean people to reshape their own understanding of their place in history, even though – and precisely because – they never gave up faith in God’s promises.

Ephesians 2:11-22.  

The Epistle reading continues the current selections from the thick-textured letter called “To the Ephesians,” though it was written to all the churches of (the Roman province of) Asia. 

This rhetorically rich passage begins with the recognition of a great division among believers, the division between the “circumcision” and the “uncircumcision,” between those who have scrupulously lived by the Judean law and those who have been strangers to the keeping of that law. 

The passage affirms that this great division between the circumcised and the uncircumcised has been broken down in the reign of Christ.  The Anointed One has abolished the law that divides, “that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace” (2:15, NRSV). 

While this joyful vision of a new humanity is the primary emphasis, there is also a destructive aspect to this work.  The old is being abolished, the “wall” (about which some care a lot) is broken down, “hostility” is put to death (verses 14-16). 

In the real world, the old traditions and deep family practices do not easily drop away, and the great majority of Judeans who survived the Roman wars did not give up their distinctive practices for the sake of Christian ones.  There is a major cutting away of old ways that must be achieved, sustained by the joy and ecstasy of the new union in Christ and in the new life of the common body of believers. 

Paul did not view it as switching from Judean to Christian; he viewed it as everybody giving up old ways and genuinely becoming newly accultured in a way made possible “in Christ.” 

Thus there is the backward-looking aspect, the destruction of the old, and the forward-looking aspect – the unity, the peace, the citizenship of the saints.  This unity is imaged at the conclusion of our passage by the building of the temple of God, a structure which contains various complementary parts.  Such a building is blessed because it is “a dwelling place for God” (verse 22). 

Out of diversity and exclusiveness comes inclusiveness in Christ, a harmony and wholeness resulting from Christ’s rule – kingship – over all authorities, powers, and dominions that till now have controlled the world (verses 20-22). 

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.  

The Gospel reading presents the return of the apostles from their missions (on which they were sent in 6:7-13).  After this great effort on their part, Jesus says it is time for a retreat for rest and renewal (verse 31).  Thus they take off by boat and succeed in reaching “a deserted place.”  

The people on shore are able to track them, however, and whatever rest they got was short.  The desperate need of the people ultimately takes priority, as the latter part of our reading emphasizes.  Out in the retreat area, Jesus “saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (verse 34). 

The Gospel writer emphasizes that the people recognize their shepherd, their king!  They stream to Jesus because they recognize in him the power and goodness that the great anointed one of old symbolized for them – the David to whom God promised an unending reign.  They followed this shepherd seeking a yet-to-come source of relief and fulfillment.  Jesus came for the simple as well as the complicated-but-faithful-people who yearned for the promise of old to come true – even that ancient promise to David. 

Our reading skips over some major actions of Jesus, including the miraculous feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:35-44).  We will hear about that feeding, and its aftermath, during the next several Sundays, as told in the Gospel According to John. 


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