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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 12 - Year B
I Samuel 17:32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; II Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION  TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Ordinary 12 Year B (Proper 7)


1 SAMUEL 17:32-49.       The story of David and Goliath reads as one of the
great feats of Israel's legendary hero-king. It comes from a cycle of early
narratives about Israel's first king, Saul, and his more famous successor,
David. Where Saul failed David succeeded in a continuing conflict with
invading Philistines, a sea-going people who had settled along the
Mediterranean coast. 
     
As it presently exists, the story has been combined with a later source and
still later edited into a long narrative that is at times inconsistent. The
point of this passage, however, is to show that David triumphed because of
his trust in God.


PSALM 9:9-20.            This is an excerpt from a longer psalm originally
consisting of Psalms 9 and 10. It is both a hymn of thanksgiving for God's
help(vss. 9-12); and an appeal for God's favour (vss. 13-14), and for
judgment against wicked enemies (vss. 15-20).


2 CORINTHIANS 6:1-13.    This passage should be read in connection with the
preceding passage beginning at 5:11. Paul had a continuing conflict with the
Corinthians Christians. They did not always accept him and his preaching as
he would have preferred. Despite extreme difficulties he reiterates his
appeal that the Corinthians respond to the message of reconciliation with God 
through Jesus Christ and become witnesses for Christ in the world.

 
MARK 4:35-41.            The question about who Jesus really is comes to the
fore in this brief story. He calms a storm which  had suddenly arisen as the
disciples took him across the Sea of Galilee in a boat. Not only did he
rebuke the waves, he also rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith
     
That is the whole point of the story: nothing could harm the disciples while
he was with them. Many people have found great comfort in sensing Jesus'
constant presence in the most difficult and dangerous crises. Mark's audience
in Rome in the 60s AD surely felt that way as they faced persecution by
Emperor Nero during which both Peter and Paul were probably martyred.

************

1 SAMUEL 17:32-49. This is surely one of the best loved children's stories in
the Old Testament. But it is anything but a children's story. It tells one of
the great feats of Israel's legendary hero-king. It comes from a cycle of
early narratives about Israel's first king, Saul, and his more famous
successor, David. Where Saul failed David succeeded in a continuing conflict
with invading Philistines, a sea-going people who had settled along the
Mediterranean coast. 

As it presently exists, the story has been combined with a later source and
still later was edited into a long narrative that is at times inconsistent.
The point of this passage, however, is to show that David triumphed over
Goliath only because of his trust in God.

Archeologists and historians have all but despaired finding any evidence that
David actually existed.

The best estimate of the Saul and David cycle of stories likens them to the
legends of Arthur, the Celt tribal chief who may ruled in Britain some time
after the end of Roman occupation in 407 CE.

Like those English narratives, romantic story-tellers and balladeers used
literary imagination to enhance the achievements of their hero for other
purposes. Yet there may well have been real tribal chieftans, like Arthur,
Saul and David, who in times of transition or crisis achieved much on behalf
of their people. Later generations embellished the legendary sagas of these
heroes into meaningful and inspirational stories with a religious motif. In
the case of Arthur, the stories amounted to a literary enrichment of genteel
Victorian morality based on male dominant chivalry. In the case of David, the
stories became part of Israel's faith history based on the covenant
relationship of Yahweh to Israel. A good historical-critical exegesis of the
stories is found in Professor George Caird's study in *The Interpreter's
Bible*, vol. 2. Of particular value is the introductory article, Section VII,
pp. 865-868 on the historical value of the sources from which the present
canonical text developed.  

All that aside, this story of David slaying Goliath still can be used as
lighter sermon fare for topical  preaching in summertime. Here are some
possible themes: "Little stones make holy weapons." "How God can multiply the
power of the weakest." "The biggest isn't always the most powerful." "Trust
in God but load your slingshot!" Note too that Jesus often used rebukes and
confrontational challenges to get the point of his ministry across,
especially in dealing with recalcitrant unbelievers and dangerous opponents.
The parable of the wicked tenants in Mark 12:1-12 comes immediately to mind.


PSALM 9:9-20.  This is an excerpt from a longer psalm originally consisting
of Psalms 9 and 10. It is both a hymn of thanksgiving for God's help (vss. 9-
12); and an appeal for God's favour (vss. 13-14), and for judgment against
wicked enemies (vss. 15-20).

We often forget that the praises of Israel arose out of life situations, most
of which are now completely unknown and unknowable.  The context of this
excerpt appears to reflect a time of great national distress, perhaps of
imminent danger from foreign invasion. The image of Yahweh as a stronghold in
vs. 9 suggests the need for something more than military defenses. In
biblical times all cities and even small towns had a fortress into which the
people retreated when invasions occurred. The preceding verses reflect a
temporary victory of Israel over an unnamed enemy (vss. 3, 5- 6, 13-14). The
victory was attributed to Yahweh who sits enthroned as an imperial potentate
exercising judgment over the nations (vss. 4, 7, 8, 16). 

The religious response to these events requires that the faithful put greater
trust in Yahweh. The suffering poor, possibly those widows and orphans who
lost husbands and fathers in battle, or those wounded and no longer able to
provide for themselves, have special need for this assistance (vs. 12). Yet
they are often forgotten and rejected (vs. 13, 18). Anyone who has visited a
hospital in which dismembered, disfigured or demented veterans of war must
live out their days knows how these pitiful human sacrifices have been
isolated from public view. 

Ultimately, of course, the psalmist's hope rests on his trust in Yahweh (vs.
20). At the same time, his narrow ethical viewpoint prevents him from
recognizing "the nations" (i.e. other nations which are Israel's enemies and
lack Israel's covenant faith) as being of any value to Yahweh. He also sees
Israel as righteous people who draw superhuman strength from Yahweh. This
attitude is reminiscent of the "evil empire"views of the Soviet Union during
the 1980s and of the Republican vs. Loyalist conflicts of the American War of
Independence. A similar notion of national superiority based on divine
purpose has provided the impetus for bellicose policies in the building and
defending of Israeli settlements in the occupied territory of the
Palestinians.

2 CORINTHIANS 6:1-13.  This passage should be read in connection with the
preceding passage beginning at 5:11. Paul had a continuing conflict with the
Corinthians Christians. They did not always accept him and his preaching as
he would have preferred. Despite extreme difficulties he reiterates his
appeal that they respond to the message of reconciliation with God  through
Jesus Christ.

Faced with their determined opposition to his ministry, Paul sought a
cooperative rather than a confrontational relationship with the Corinthian
community (vs. 1). He saw them "working together" in a common mission, to
make God's reconciling love in Christ known everywhere and to everyone. To
him that was the only possible human response to what God had done in Christ.
Any other response to this grace would be utterly in vain. To emphasize his
point that the time to respond is now, as they heard the gospel preached,
Paul quoted from the Greek version of Isaiah 49:8. His urgency reflected his
view that the end was near, i.e. Christ would soon return to judge the living
and the dead. Then it would be too late for the recalcitrant to repent and
turn to God.. 

At this point Paul launched into a defense of his ministry with particular
emphasis on his diligence and how much it has cost him in personal suffering.
He set this in the context of the general apostolic mission, as if his
experiences had not been particularly unique. Hence the use of the phrase "as
servants of God" and the first person plural in vs. 4. It makes quite a list
of what the sincere evangelist in those times might well expect. Is he just
boasting as he denied he was doing in 3:1 and 5:12? Is it still possible in
our own time to face similar privations? Some newly ordained pastors and
their spouses appointed to hinterland parishes far away from their urban
roots might well wonder, as many can attest from their own experience.

Commentators have noted that this is the one place where Paul addressed the
Corinthians by name (vs. 11). Thus the citation of general apostolic
sufferings had a particular reference to this community. It was for them that
he endured so much. Paul's main purpose in listing these ordeals was to
reassure the Corinthians that he truly did love them for Christ's sake and to
remind them that their problem was with their own attitudes (vs. 12). In
other words, "It's your problem, not mine!" The words of the text convey a
not so gentle sense of rebuke.

William Barclay's *Daily Study Bible* commentary on the Corinthians letters
(p. 9) cites this passage as part of the reconciling letter Paul wrote after
having written a much more severe letter now contained in (2 Cor. 10-13).
While other scholars differ as to the exact divisions of Paul's
correspondence, the general consensus is that we now have a "scribal
compilation"of at least three letters woven into a well-constructed whole.
This would have been done as part of a general incorporation of the
Corinthian correspondence into a Pauline corpus. 

We, of course, have only the canonical version of this complex collection.
Brevard Childs discusses the significance of the canonical text as it now
stands in his *The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction* (Fortress Press,
1984). "The ministry about which the apostle is talking is not just a defense
of his actions before the Corinthians, but relates to the gospel in the
eternal purpose of God.... Far from being an idealization of the apostle, 
it explains why his suffering was not simply an unfortunate accident, but 
offered as the true evidence of his divinely commissioned apostolic office."

In an age when secular culture concentrates on entirely different and selfish
values, the spiritual insight of this passage may bring certain inspirational
comfort (i.e. strength as well as compassion) to Christians striving to live
by the sacrificial values God set before us in Christ Jesus.


MARK 4:35-41.  The question about who Jesus really is comes to the fore in
this brief story. He calms a storm which  had suddenly arisen as the
disciples took him across the Sea of Galilee in a boat. Not only did he
rebuke the waves, he also rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith
     
That is the whole point of the story: nothing could harm the disciples while
he was with them because he exercised divine control over the forces of
nature. Many people have found great comfort in sensing Jesus' constant
presence in the most difficult and dangerous crises. Mark's audience in Rome
in the 60s AD surely felt that way as they faced persecution by Emperor Nero
during which both Peter and Paul were probably martyred.

Two other aspects of this pericope bring to the fore different and perhaps
more primitive interpretations about Jesus. He is at once a miracle worker
and he has dominion over both natural and demonic forces. Yet there is also
a remarkable depth to the story offering many homiletic opportunities.  

In *The Complete Gospels* (Robert J. Miller, ed.. Polebridge Press, 1992.) A
note on this passage makes several significant points: This is one of several
lake crossings in Mark's Gospel, which he calls a sea (*thalassa* - a term
usually referring to the Mediterranean Sea). This may be an exaggeration for
emphasis. It "resonates powerfully" with "God's creative and redemptive
control of the waters (Gen. 1; Ex. 14; Pss. 69, 89, 93, 104-107; Isa. 43;
51:9-10)." It develops Mark's theme of "faltering trust and faulty
comprehension of Jesus' band of followers." The words the disciples use to
waken Jesus are usually addressed to God (Ps. 44:23). Jesus stills the storm
as if exorcising a demon in much the same way as he did in many of Mark's
miracle stories. 

Donald Spotto has an important comment on Jesus as a miracle worker in his
*The Hidden Jesus: A New Life.* (St. Martin's Press, 1998) He notes that our
understanding of the word "miracle contains a notion that would be
incomprehensible to the world of the Bible.... For the Jewish and Christian
people of biblical times, God was trusted as the Lord of everything created;
nothing was outside the range of his power." In this instance, Mark was
saying this about Jesus. The pericope is a metaphor for the early Christian
confession, "Jesus is Lord." If John had used this story in his gospel, he
would have included it as one of the signs Jesus gave to declare openly who
he is. Mark, on the other hand, keeps that truth hidden  even from the
disciples (vs. 41). Experienced boatmen though they may have been and knowing
full well the dangers of a sudden squall sweeping down from the Golan
Heights, they were simply awed and confused by what had happened to them. 

Tourists who have taken the boat ride to Capernaum on Lake Galilee and have
been caught in one of these squalls can attest to the sense of terror that
the disciples must have felt. It takes very few minutes for a storm to
develop from dead calm to a raging torrent of rain, mighty waves and contrary
winds. Galilean fishing boats of that era with oars and flimsy sails were
much smaller vessels than the diesel-driven tourist boats now plying these
waters. One tourist who had such an experience told me that it was a moment
of revelation for her despite her reassuring trust in the skill of the
helmsman and the size of the vessel. As the psalmist sang in Ps. 46:7 "The
Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge."

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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