Sunday, June 13, 2021

June 27, 2021 - 5th Sunday after Pentecost

                       Biblical Words                   [722]

II Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; II Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43.

Grief and anxiety come to the faithful, but the Lord responds in God’s own time.

The readings for this Sunday present people expressing deep and profound feelings.

Such feelings are called forth by the death of loved ones (David and Jairus), the depths from which one speaks of one’s own iniquities (Psalm 130), and the anguish of many years of pain and ostracism (the woman with the blood-flow).  Only the Epistle reading, about the collection to sustain the saints in Judea, is more occupied with the ordinary world. 

II Samuel 1:1, 17-27. 

The reading from the Prophets is David’s lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, a poem that gave European rhetoric the outcry, 

“How the mighty have fallen!”  

While modern Biblical scholars have doubted that the religious poetry of the Psalms comes in any substantial way from a historical David, this archaic poem of lamentation is thought to have come from David himself.  Its power and beauty have been uniformly praised. 

The lament comes from the trials of war; the mighty have fallen “in the midst of battle” (verse 25), and the prowess of Saul and Jonathan as warriors is celebrated (verse 22).  Not mentioned at all in the poem is that David himself is a warrior, who will in fact revenge the deaths of Saul and Jonathan and conquer the Philistines. 

This poem is like a funeral oration that concentrates single-mindedly on the glory and greatness of what has been lost.  David had a strong loyalty toward King Saul (verse 24) and an even stronger love for Jonathan (verse 26).  That meant that it was now a time to weep, and the present moment is one in which “the weapons of war [have] perished!” (verse 27). 

Historically, the man David had much to gain from the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.  It reduced the obstacles to his becoming king of Israel himself.  A cynical reading of his purposes in this lament would ascribe it to good media management, unbounded praise for the leaders now out of the way – in order to capture the support of their followers. 

Such manipulative motives, however, look a bit like modern projections back on people of an ancient culture.  If Saul and Jonathan had been slain in worthy battle against Israel’s oppressors, it was the doing of God (as had been the great defeat of Israel in Eli’s time, I Samuel 4). 

David was a charismatic leader through whom God would work out a destiny of God’s own choosing; David’s role was to exert himself as adroitly and effectively as possible, mindful always of the primacy of his God, and trust that the “glory” (actually “beauty”) of Israel would once again shine from a high place (see verse 19). 

Psalm 130. 

The Psalm for this Sunday has been known through Christian centuries by the Latin of its opening words:  de profundis, “out of the depths.”  It is the sixth of the seven Penitential psalms, though hope and trust are more pronounced here than in some of the other Penitentials. 

Let’s pause over the Hebrew word translated “depths,” which occurs five times in the Hebrew Bible.  It is poetic and cosmic in its reverberations: 

I am sinking into the slimy deep and find no foothold;

I have come into the watery depths;

the flood sweeps me away.  (Psalm 69:2  NJPS)

Rescue me from the mire; let me not sink;

let me be rescued from my enemies,

and from the watery depths. (Psalm 69:14  NJPS) 

Was it not you who dried up the sea,

the waters of the great deep;

who made the depths of the sea

      a way for the redeemed to cross over? (Isaiah 51:10 NRSV) 

In a taunt song over Lady Tyre, portrayed as a magnificent commercial ship, her goods are lost in the depths. 

Now you are wrecked by the seas,

      in the depths of the waters;

your merchandise and all your crew

      have sunk with you. (Ezekiel 27:24) 

It is from these cosmic depths that our psalmist prays: 

Our of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. 

In Psalm 130 these depths are all the powers that threaten to overwhelm the speaker, but particularly the “iniquities” of one’s life (verse 3). 

If we imagine David uttering this psalm, the depths could be the defeat and occupation of Israel by Philistines after Saul’s death.  Israel calls from these depths and hears the injunction to “wait for the Lord” (verses 5-6).  Whatever plans a David might make for deliverance, “It is [the Lord] who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities” (verse 8). 

II Corinthians 8:7-15.  

The Epistle reading is not about death, but about living generously as servants of the Christ.  The passage urges the Corinthians to be generous and eager in their collection to assist the poverty-laden believers in Judea. 

There is one note that links with the depths of the other readings:  “For you know the generous act [literally “grace,” charis] of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (verse 9, NRSV).  This probably echoes the view of Christ’s work sung of in Philippians 2:6-11.  Christ “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” 

In God’s work of redemption, Christ went down into the depths of human life to transform it and make humans rich.  The Corinthians are imitators of Christ when they yield up some of their meager wealth to save and ease the trials of distant fellow believers. 

Mark 5:21-43.  

The Gospel reading is the account of two healing miracles, one inserted into the other. 

Jesus is fresh off the boat from the East Bank when an esteemed religious leader of the community hurries up to him, falls at his feet, and begs desperately for Jesus to come and save his daughter, who is on the verge of death.  Mark’s account emphasizes the desperation of the father. 

While Jesus is on his way, our attention is directed to the crowd where there also is a desperate woman.  She has suffered for twelve years from a continual menstrual flow, and the best medical practice has only impoverished her without providing a cure. 

Whatever the medical dangers of her condition, it rendered her a social outcast. 

According to the lore that became firm Judean practice, blood was a highly contaminating substance.  Consequently, during menstruation women were ritually unclean and could engage in no normal contact even with family members.  (The law for this woman’s case is in Leviticus 15:25-30.)  She could probably be in this crowd only by deception and a daring violation of the rules. 

This desperate woman pursues her own plan and determines to grasp a hope of cure by touching a magic garment, that of the now famous healing teacher.  In the crowd she grabs an edge of Jesus’ garment and experiences a shock through her body:  she knows in her inner depths that healing has happened. 

But Jesus turns and confronts her:  she has not been furtive enough; she is caught in the act and falls down before Jesus in fear and pleads her story.  Jesus knows in his depths what has happened.  He blesses her, and tells her it is her faith, not some magic, that has made her well. 

Meanwhile word comes that the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue ruler, has died.  To a collapsing father, Jesus says, Don’t be afraid, only keep faith. 

At the house there is a tumult of grief with weeping and wailing.  Jesus puts everybody out except the parents and his three most confidential disciples.  He then takes the twelve-year-old girl by the hand and commands her in her native tongue (Aramaic), “Little lamb, get up!”  She does so and proceeds to walk around.  Mark then relates that Jesus urged them to keep it a secret – a likely prospect! – and tells them to feed the healthy little creature. 

The Gospel tells the story of an impending, then actual, death.  In the world’s ordinary events the young girl would have been a tragic statistic.  But God “does not delight in the death of the living” (Wisdom, 1:13, an alternate reading for this Sunday). 

No, the Reign of God has started a campaign in Galilee – it is breaking in at surprising moments and in unexpected ways.  Jesus moves with confidence against the prevailing opinion that Death has won this person.  He takes her hand – surrounded by those who love her and those who follow him faithfully – and presents her living, ready for something to eat.  (The mourning, and her fasting, are at an end.) 


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