Wednesday, June 9, 2021

June 20, 2021 - 4th Sunday after Pentecost

                         Biblical Words                    [721]

I Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; II Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

In God’s work there are victories, times when the storm of chaos is overcome by a word of peace.

I Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-49.  

Our readings about the beginning of kingship in Israel bring us to the famous story of David and Goliath.  The last half of I Samuel is about David, the true and future king, in his relations to Saul, the once and failing king. 

First is how David became a public person. 

There are two ways that David gets introduced to Saul’s court:  In one David is brought to court to play soothing music to still Saul’s troubled soul (I Samuel 16:14-23).  In the other, David shows up as an intrusive brat on the field of battle and wins his credentials as a warrior.  The Goliath story is the second of these introductions of David to Saul’s court. 

The center of the David and Goliath story is David’s report to Saul of his powers to protect the sheep from lions and bears – with God’s help, to be sure (verses 32-37).  Given David’s experience at wrestling and killing aggressive lions, this loud-mouthed giant, Goliath, will be no trouble.  After all, he has insulted the Lord and Israel. 

After rejecting the cumbersome armor Saul puts on him, David selects his smooth stones, approaches the boastful giant in bronze armor, and pierces his forehead with an accurate shot from his sling (verses 38-49).  It was indeed a heroic entry into the ranks of Saul’s warriors and men at court. 

Scholars have long recognized, of course, that the story has been well tailored and fluffed in the media centers of Jerusalem, probably starting in Solomon’s time if not in David’s.  

In the official annals (the Pentagon archives, as it were), credit for shooting down Goliath went to a fighter named Elhanan.  “Then there was another battle with the Philistine at Gob, and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam” (II Samuel 21:19). 

Later, in the times of David’s kingship, those archives showed that Elhanan served in the King’s elite guard in Jerusalem (23:24).  At such a time it would have been fair to credit David with the victories of his men, especially after David was forced to retire from active battle (21:15-17).  As we have it, however, the famous deed of slaying Goliath has been transferred to the divinely chosen youth at a time when his royal destiny still lay far ahead. 

The scribes of Solomon’s court knew that there was something special about the young David.  As a mature leader, he brought about greater changes in their world than anyone in many centuries.  He had to have been God’s man, and thus a heroic man, from the beginning. 

David and Goliath was made into a great story, and has become the universal symbol of the triumph of the worthy one who is also a hopeless underdog. 

Psalm 9:9-20. 

The Psalm reading is a selection from a psalm that ended up being split into two psalms in the Hebrew text, giving what Protestant Bibles have as Psalms 9 and 10.  (They are still one psalm in the ancient Greek and Latin translations, and therefore also in Orthodox and older Roman Catholic Bibles.)  

There is a difference in emphasis, however, between the resulting psalms:  Psalm 9 is mainly a thanksgiving for God’s victory, appropriate for David to sing after his triumph over Goliath.  Psalm 10, on the other hand, is mainly a prayer that God will defeat the arrogant wicked, suitable for Saul to have prayed before David showed up! 

The concluding verses of our reading declare that the weak are protected against the arrogance of the nations: 

The wicked shall depart to Sheol,

         and the nations that forget God. 

For the needy shall not always be forgotten,

         nor the hope of the poor perish forever. 

Rise up, O Lord!  Do not let mortals prevail;

         let the nations be judged before you. 

Put them in fear, O Lord;

         let the nations know that they are only human. 

(Verses 17-20, NRSV.)

II Corinthians 6:1-13.  

The Epistle reading is a passage that makes a powerful appeal to the Corinthians to affirm the validity of Paul’s apostleship, and to make a move from their side toward reconciliation with him. 

As in his other writings, Paul makes amazing rhetorical use of lists.  Here he tumbles out a wildly-improbable stream of credentials for an apostle – the kind of apostle that he is.  In verses 4-8, he ticks off 24 conditions that constitute his apostolic credentials (following NRSV punctuation).  

Then comes this magnificent climax (in the New Jerusalem Bible translation): 

 

[We are] taken for impostors and yet we are genuine;

unknown and yet we are acknowledged;

dying, and yet here we are, alive;

scourged but not executed;

in pain yet always full of joy;

poor and yet making many people rich;

having nothing, and yet owning everything.  (Verses 8-10.) 

The world presents floods of hardships and waves of troubles to these apostles struggling to keep the ship of faith afloat.  Yet, dying they are still alive, poor they make many rich. 

Mark 4:35-41.  

The Gospel reading takes Jesus and the disciples from teaching the people in parables to battling the elements for a mission beyond the sea.  Our passage is the story of Jesus calming the storm.  It is a delightful piece of narrative, with nice touches of detail – such as the other boats that are with him (verse 36). 

It is, however, clearly a symbolic narrative.  The wind (anemos here, not pneuma) and the sea are the elements of chaos against creation. 

Review.  In Mark so far, Jesus has carried healing and hope into the villages of Galilee (1:21-45), brought opposition from religious authorities out into the open (2:1-3:6), organized the disciples in the face of opposition (3:7-35), and made the first attempts to teach the meaning of the kingdom of God (4:1-34).  Now, a kind of new departure occurs as they launch into the deep for their next level of engagement between the Spirit and the works of evil. 

Jesus sets out on the lake with the disciples.  The waves roar up to threaten the little ark like the waves of chaos in the psalms of God’s enthronement – “the floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring” (Psalm 93:3, NRSV). 

After he calms all with his words of peace, Jesus says to the terrified disciples, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?” (verse 40) – as if to say, Don’t you remember the rest of the psalm?  

“More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,

      more majestic than the waves of the sea, 

      majestic on high is the Lord!"   

The work of the Lord moves onward to cross this troubled sea. 


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