Tuesday, July 9, 2024

July 14, 2024 -- 8th Sunday after Pentecost

                          Biblical Words                                       [890]

II Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14Mark 6:14-29.

When the Lord comes there is ecstasy before a holy mystery – though wicked kings blunder on in evil ways.  

II Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19.  

Our reading from the history of kingship in Israel presents, with fabulous awe and exaltation, the entrance of Yahweh of Hosts into the future City of God for the first time! 

Yahweh of Hosts did not always reside on Zion.  Through the victories over his enemies, Yahweh led David to a triumphant possession of that holy place. 

Yahweh’s own movements were told in the Ark Narrative (I Samuel 4-6 + II Samuel 6), of which our reading is the climax. 

Marked by the presence of the Ark – God’s mobile throne – the mighty Lord had moved from the old Israelite sanctuary of Shiloh (because of the sins of its priests), and then had embarrassed and manipulated the victorious Philistines.  After the defeat of the Philistines, the Ark had situated itself on the Philistine-Israelite border to wait for David to take Jerusalem and make it ready for the Holy One. 

Tracing these movements of Yahweh became important in later times when the idea became fixed among the “true” worshipers that Yahweh could be found at only ONE holy place, instead of the many Yahweh places like Bethel, Gilgal, Beersheba, and – heaven forbid – Samaria!  (This narrative, like all the Old Testament, is controlled by a Jerusalemite viewpoint.)

Our narrative emphasizes three things: 

1) Yahweh was a holy power, deadly to improper contact (verses 6-11, omitted from the reading), though the holiness is also expressed in the mass of people coming to this event (verse 1) and the multitude of sacrifices offered during the deity’s transit (verse 13). 

2) It is important that All Israel was active and enthusiastic in this transit of Yahweh of Hosts to Jerusalem – 30,000 “chosen” men of Israel were involved, summarized as the action of “David and all the house of Israel” (verse 15, NRSV). 

3) Finally, this was a marvelously exciting event, with lots of instrumental music, singing, and uninhibited dancing. 

Our reading includes the brief description of Michal watching David cavort before the Ark (verse 16).  The narrative tells us that Michal was Saul’s daughter, but it assumes that we remember that she was also David’s (first) wife. 

Michal did not approve of the ecstatic styles of sacred dance in which David indulged.  But because this dancing was in honor of Yahweh, we are to understand that it was OK, even if it was an innovation from the viewpoint of old-time Yahweh people.  Thus, off-stage, as it were (that is, verses 20-23, omitted from our reading), Michal is punished by Yahweh by having no children – thus denying to her the status of queen-mother (ultimately occupied by Bathsheba). 

Psalm 24.  

The psalm reading is a ritual and a liturgy for Yahweh’s entry into the Jerusalem temple as that action was repeated periodically in the ceremonies of Zion. 

There is a declaration of Yahweh as owner of all the world (verses 1-2), followed by two things:  qualification tests for humans who would worship Yahweh in person (verses 3-6), and an exuberant proclamation of Yahweh’s entrance into the temple gates (verses 7-10). 

Who can enter Yahweh’s holy place?  The qualities required have nothing to do with ritual purity – such as freedom from contact with the dead or menstrual women.  They are “clean hands” (meaning no murders or assassinations) and “pure heart” (no deceit), no swearing to lies.  Also, one who acknowledges that blessing comes from Yahweh, the God of Jacob. 

After the entrance exam comes the real glory of this psalm:  the triumphal entry through the gates of the temple: 

Lift up your heads, O gates!

      and be lifted up, O ancient doors! 

      that the King of glory may come in. 

Who is the King of glory?

      The Lord [Yahweh], strong and mighty,

      the Lord [Yahweh], mighty in battle.  (verses 7-8, NRSV)

And in case you missed that the first time, the whole full-throated throng will repeat it for you again – as any good climactic hallelujah chorus should do (verses 9-10).  

Ephesians 1:3-14.  

The Common Revised Lectionary now begins a selection of readings from the Letter to the Ephesians.  Probably not addressed to Ephesians only, this writing was originally a circular letter, intended for several churches in the province of Asia (of which Ephesus was the capital). 

Ephesians is a challenge to one reading Paul’s writings.  (1) It is relatively unique in both style and thought (only Colossians is close to it among the other letters).  (2) It presents us with some magnificent phrases, which invite extended pondering.  (3) However, its thought sometimes gets lost in its exuberant rhetoric, and (4) it is pervaded by a heavenly aura second only to the Book of Revelation. 

(Its treatment of the ekklēsia, the church, and “the heavenlies” [1:3, etc.] have made it a favorite of Protestant dispensationalists, who emphasize the “rapture” of believers to those heavenlies.  The term “dispensation” actually occurs in the King James translation of 1:10.)  

This first reading from the Epistle is an outpouring of language that overwhelms sense with eloquence. 

An early 20th century commentator wrote of this passage, “The twelve verses which follow [that is, verses 3-14] baffle our analysis.  They are a kaleidoscope of dazzling lights and shifting colours:  at first we fail to find a trace of order or method.  They are like the preliminary flight of the eagle, rising and wheeling around, as though for a while uncertain what direction in his boundless freedom he shall take.”  (J. Armitage Robinson, 1904). 

The difficulty is compounded by the fact that what are six complex sentences in the NRSV translation is a single sentence in Greek (Westcott and Hort edition). 

Nevertheless, so much is clear:  the whole passage is a blessing, a benediction (“Blessed be the God and Father…”).  It is common to find the center of the thought in the phrase “the mystery of his [God’s] will” (verse 9). 

It is also possible to see (as do the notes in The New Jerusalem Bible) this topic developed in a sequence of blessings, things for which God is blessed, running through the whole as follows: 

1) we were elected, verse 4 (“he chose” NRSV);
2) we were predestined for adoption, verses 5-6; 
3) we were redeemed from our sins, verses 7-8;
4) we received revelation of the mystery of God’s will, verses 9-10;
5) we received hope, “inheritance,” a promised future, verses 11 and 14;
both for us Judeans, verse 12;
and for you non-Judeans, who have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, verse 13. 

The overall sense of the passage is that there is a vast work of God underway throughout the cosmos and the ages, and we are the blessed recipients of its benefits, without any reference to our works or merits. 

Mark 6:14-29.  

The Gospel reading is an interlude in Jesus’ works in Galilee, filling the time while the disciples are out on their missions (6:7-13). 

The main story here (6:17-29) – of John the Baptist’s criticism of Herod, of the dance of Herodias’s daughter (elsewhere called Salome), and of Herod reluctantly serving John’s head on a platter – all this is a flashback.  What happens in the present time of the narrative is that Herod says, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised” (verse 16, NRSV). 

Herod Antipas is haunted by John the Baptist. 

This son of Herod the Great is a coulda, woulda, shoulda kind of ruler.  He holds grand events for his friends, but he is a deeply fearful man.  His conscience is troubled about his permitting the execution of John, enough so that the rumors about Jesus revive his conviction that he did not in fact get rid of John.  (Herod eventually became too ambitious and died in exile in Spain, with his wife Herodias.  So Josephus, Jewish War, 2.9.) 

The story of Herod Antipas in his luxurious court is set ironically against the activity of the disciples, who are passing on their itinerant journeys among the poor in Galilee.  Those folks in Herod’s court have no ears for the good news that is moving quietly through the countryside, the good news ultimately about the blessed mystery of God’s will for the salvation of all (Ephesians). 


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