Welcome to Pentecost 5.... a little wordier than usual, but I hope worth the read.
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11,19-23) 32-49 (Death of Goliath) or 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16 (The morning after the death of Goliath) or…
Job 38:1, 8 - 11
Three for the price of one.
The lectionary offers a choice of OT lessons as we plow through the Sundays after Pentecost. I will not always comment on both – and this week, the Samuel texts are really parts of the same story - but there is something to be said for each (and I’m not sure which one will work its way into the sermon on Sunday… too early to call. Guess you’ll have to show up to find out).
Samuel – The story shifts from Samuel himself and gets us to the main event in the formative monarchy myth - Saul v. David. There are actually two Samuel texts to choose from this week. The one which tells the familiar story of David and Goliath – though I would bet the story in Samuel is different from the one you remember. (For starters, Goliath is never referred to as a giant, though by the cubits mentioned, he could probably play center for the San Antonio Spurs). And, a story immediately following the death of Goliath, where the hero David becomes best buds with Saul’s son Jonathan and moves into Saul’s palace.
In both stories, the ever-present shadow is always violence. And, the tension beneath the surface is how we interpret that violence – as righteous or as a deception. In John Boorman’s remarkable film Excalibur – and, yes, I have talked about numerous scenes from that film, but it is such a treasure trove of mythic illustrations that mirror biblical themes – there is an early scene where Arthur’s father, Uther, has vanquished his last foe, the Duke of Cornwall, and demands of Merlin the Wizard the sword Excalibur, the legendary sword of kings, forged when the world was young, etc., etc. Merlin agrees to Uther’s request, but gives him this stern warning: “You shall have it, but to heal, not to hack.”
From that point on the story goes something like this: Uther gets the sword at dawn, presents himself to Cornwall and the other lords, is proclaimed king, heads to feast, and by nightfall is using his new tool to wage war on Cornwall. The Duke dies later that night, and before you can say Lancelot du Lac, Uther is dead as well and his sword is jammed into some rock, waiting for a smarter king to remove it from the stone and ascend to the throne as healer. Arthur does pull the sword from the stone, but in spite of his best efforts and intentions, he, too, is drawn deeper and deeper into that web of righteous violence that also claims his life and takes Excalibur beyond reach.
Saul and David are both led down that path, which I believe is the lesson we are to derive from these stories. Again, these are not biographies nor is the content rea history. Saul, much like Uther, is the strongest, and feels he deserves the kingship that is given to him. And, he will use that strength – disguised as holy wars against the Philistines, the indigenous population – to hold onto that power. David slays Goliath in the name of Israel’s God, and takes over as Saul’s enforcer. Saul’s jealousy of David leads them into the power struggle that will ultimately lead to Saul’s death and David’s acquisition of the throne. But, once you start down that path… David, then Solomon are
Job: This should probably be the test we use on Trinity Sunday. (It is a much more significant text than the Genesis passage that we use. My opinion). The curious thing about this passage is that there is strong evidence that it was a later redaction, not part of the original story. And, that makes sense since in this passage, for no apparent reason, God changes from being an advocate for Job with his so-called friends and instead turns on Job in the grand finale.
Still, I like the imagery of the passage.
2 Corinthians 6: 1 - 13
The problem with Paul – as our Attorney General should take note – is that we want to interpret every last one of his statements in some abstract theological terms and give them some eternal weight and meaning, when Paul was actually writing to a specific audience – in this case the Corinthians – in response to some very specific, and for him, often hurtful, situations that he was having with the members of that congregation. As we noted before, there were rumors abounding about him that had strained relationships with some influential types in the community, and there was the jealousy he felt about their devotion to the ‘super apostles’ from Jerusalem. And, ironically, he was also under pressure to raise money for the Jerusalem church. So, what do you write under these circumstances? (Keep in mind, he is not writing something for posterity – he is not thinking of me or you or the United States or the EU or China or the Caps – but for a group of people he knows by name).
Still, given all of that, he is able to write about reconciliation, and pour his heart out to his detractors, quoting Isaiah and inviting them into a day of salvation (which means healing, reconciliation, not life after death or eternity). And then, he offers is defense as if to say, what more can I show you? What else must I endure? What more can I say? He opens his heart and bears his soul to them. (He might have refrained from saying “In return – I speak as to children – open your hearts also.” Probably not helpful). But, he is only human.
Mark 4: 35 - 41
Big and little things going on.
Macro-theme: Chaos. The period of time when the gospel of Mark is written is in the waning months and in the immediate aftermath of the horror and confusion of the Roman-Jewish War. Water is a symbol of chaos and as we can read, a storm is raging and the boat is already swamped. (And, we’re only in Chapter 4) Jerusalem and the Temple are rubble, survivors are fled and scattered, the Davidic cult is in shambles, and the surviving followers of the Way feel like they have failed to build anything, and, oh by the way, that expected return of Jesus never happened. You think that Paul and his team had a hard time putting something meaningful on papyrus – pre-war? That was personal. Put yourself in Mark’s sandals.
Macro-theme: The disciples really are failures. Peter and these other blockheads don’t get anything, even when the symbolism is raging unabated all around them. (Well, they are the best straight men/fall guys in history – at least before Charlie Brown wanted to kick a football with Lucy as his holder). That is an important thing for Mark- as noted, the surviving members of the Way felt like failures. Mark used the demonstrated oblivion of the disciples to make them feel a little better about themselves, but also to remind them that grace abounds. (No other way to explain Peter). It is telling about this story that it comes right after the parable of the Sower which scholars agree – and I am one of them – is the gospel of Mark in microcosm and is all about the ways that the disciples fail to produce a harvest. They are the many soils and terrains described in that parable and as the Gospel unfolds we will get to see al of them played out. (And, remember the part of the parable about the seed that fell on rocky soil? Just before the parable – in Chapter 3 – Mark’s Jesus gives Peter the nickname, ‘Rocky’. You can’t make this stuff up.
Micro-theme: There were other boats. You master the chaos and others benefit… We get that a lot in other stories. (Not even a cup of water given goes without reward)