Tuesday, June 11, 2024

June 16, 2024 -- 4th Sunday after Pentecost

                                             Biblical Words                                         [886]

I Samuel 15:34-16:13Psalm 20; II Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34.

God’s reign moves secretly toward great outcomes, claiming both bodies and hearts.  

I Samuel 15:34-16:13 

The reading from the Historical Books takes us to the second episode concerning the emergence of kingship in Israel.  This topic is mostly about David, who is the central figure of the books of Samuel after I Samuel 16. 

This is the anointing of David.  A main emphasis in this story is on God’s knowledge of the inner character of persons.  This includes the always-surprising truth that the least likely candidate may be the best. 

Samuel is sent on a secret mission to Bethlehem, knowing that a new king is in the making.  Bethlehem is a small town and Jesse with his several strong sons is clearly the leading figure in the community.  Samuel's coming is a scary thing to the local people, who come trembling to ask “Do you come peaceably?” (verse 4, NRSV).  The entire episode bears an aura of covert action and mystery.  God is up to something in the midst of devious human circumstances. 

As the ceremonies progress, Jesse’s eldest son is introduced and Samuel is sure this handsome and impressive young man must be God’s choice for the next king.  God’s response is, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, …for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (verse 7). 

The selection process continues until all candidates have been rejected.  The person sought is not present!  There must be someone else – somewhere.  Jesse finally reports that there is one youngest son who only does shepherd duties, not yet having reached warrior status.  When this handsome teenager has been brought, God says, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one” (verse 12).  

Anointing is something that happens to the body, but it signifies an inner state of divine charisma.  The figure of destiny for Israel has been selected, and David becomes the Anointed One of God. 

Psalm 20. 

The Psalm reading is an emphatic and unambiguous royal psalm

It is a liturgical response by an Israel that believed and hoped completely in the Anointed One who ruled in Yahweh’s name from Zion.  It is at once a prayer and a confession of faith that God will hear the king in times of danger, will accept his offerings, and will give him victory. 

The psalm keeps perspective, however, by affirming that victory comes from relying on God, not on superior chariots. 

II Corinthians 5:6-17.  

The Epistle reading presents, on a more profound level, the theme that God knows the inner being and that worldly appearances are not what count.  Here too, anointing happens to the body, but it signifies an inner state of divine empowerment. 

First, concerning bodily life.  In the larger context Paul has said, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away [we are getting older], our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (II Corinthians 4:16NRSV).  He goes on to refer to bodily life as “being at home in the body”; but if we are “at home” in the body, we are at the same time “away from the Lord” (verse 6). 

Clearly being “at home” in the body is not just a physical condition; it is also an attitude.  It is the attitude of investing this life with our hopes and confidence.  Those who live by faith “would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (verse 8). 

The distinction between “at home” and “away” in relation to the body is not just future; it is present, in the experience of ecstasy (which literally means “standing outside [oneself]”).  Ecstasy is what Paul refers to when he says, “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you” (verse 13). 

Having ecstatic experiences is like speaking in tongues.  It may be great for the person having the experience, but it is not constructive for the community (see I Corinthians 14:1-6).  On the other hand, bodily life is necessary to the reality of personal existence with God.  It is life lived in the body that stands before the Lord in the last judgment (verse 10), and it was in the body that Jesus made the sacrifice that offered release from sin for all people (verses 14-15). 

Nevertheless, life beyond the body is so important that Paul asserts that everyone should be viewed in that way all the time.  “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view [literally “according to flesh”]; 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...” (verses 16-17). 

Life in the body has transcendent meaning because it is what we are before God.  Life in the body is the whole person continually related to the ultimate requirement and grace of the Holy One. 

Mark 4:26-34.  

As the Gospel readings continue in Mark, we come to the chapter on parables (4:1-34). 

In the Parable of the Growing Seed (verses 26-29) a comparison is made to the kingdom of God.  “The kingdom of God IS as if someone would scatter seed…”  The comparison does not equate the kingdom with the seed, nor with the “man” (the “someone” of NRSV) who sows and harvests the seed.  The comparison is not even with the earth that grows the seed after the man forgets about it. 

As we move through the brief parable, the subjects of the verbs keep shifting.  First the man scatters seed and goes about his daily business; then the seed sprouts and grows; then the earth “produces of itself” stalk, head, and full grain; then the grain has ripened; and finally “he” extends a sickle to cut the grain for the harvest.  There is no single actor here; there is a succession of actors, and all of their actions add up to one EVENT. 

The event is the grain growing from seed to harvest, full cycle. 

The kingdom of God is like a process that goes from seed to harvest.  The long middle part of this process – the growing – is the work of the seed and the earth.  It goes on by itself (the Greek word in verse 28 is automatē, as in our word “automatic”).  At the critical point, the grain is ripe, the harvest is ready. 

The question to the hearer of the parable is, Where are we in the process?  Has the grain fully ripened?  Is it yet time for the harvest?  Those are the questions the parable is intended to inspire about the imminent coming and presence of the kingdom of God

In the Parable of the Mustard Seed (verses 30-32) there is also a comparison to the kingdom of God.  “With what can we compare the kingdom of God…  It is like a mustard seed…” 

The marvelous thing about the mustard seed is also that it represents a process of growing and maturing.  When sown it “is the smallest of all the seeds on earth”; yet it becomes “the greatest of all shrubs.”  It is so grand that it imitates the world-tree.  It “puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (compare Ezekiel 17:23). 

Both the grain and the mustard seed are fast growing plants.  Things move right along, whether the humans around pay attention or not.  And they move toward an end, toward a climax.  The grain gets ripe – and after that it will rot in the field if not harvested.  The mustard bush gets very large, supporting many bird homes.  Their growth is INEVITABLE, and when it is complete, something must happen! 

kingdom of God is at hand; it is at a climax.  There is no putting it off to a more convenient time.  That, undoubtedly, is the punch line of these two parables, in Jesus’ time – and since.  

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