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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 14 - Year B
II Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; II Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

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 Fourteen (Proper 9) B


2 SAMUEL 5:1-5, 9-10.    The first part of this passage is one version of
the tradition of how David became king of Israel. As a successful military
leader, he was the people's choice as well the as divinely anointed
sovereign. He first established Hebron as his capital; then he captured the
fortress of Jerusalem and made it his capital city. The intervening verses
between the two segments of the passage are confusing due to a  corrupt
Hebrew text.

                                           
PSALM 48.                This highly nationalistic psalm praises Jerusalem
as the holy city of God. It still retains this designation for three great
religious traditions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - all for different
reasons.


2 CORINTHIANS 12:2-10.   In the midst of a conflict with the Corinthian
Christian community, Paul tells about two of his deepest spiritual
experiences. In one he had an ecstatic theophany when he received an
exceptional revelation. He does not say exactly what the revelation was. In
the other, he fervently prayed to have the unidentified cause of great
suffering removed, but was given instead the reassurance that God's grace
would be sufficient for his every need.


MARK 6:1-13.             Jesus' hometown folk felt uneasy with him in their
midst, especially when he taught in their synagogue on a sabbath. We are
not told why they were so offended. Certainly they thought he had far gone
beyond what one of his status as a humble carpenter should go. They did not
expect him,  a mere tradesman,  to be skilled in the interpretation of the
scriptures.

So Jesus adopted another strategy. He gathered his disciples together and
sent them out "with authority over the unclean spirits." This may have
meant that they merely had power to change people's minds about what they
might expect from Jesus. 

The end of the story tells how successful they were in calling people to
repent, casting out demons and curing the sick. This appears to have been a
trial run for the post-Pentecost church.

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

2 SAMUEL 5:1-5, 9-10.    The first part of this passage is one version of
the tradition of how David became king of Israel. It comes from the
Deuteronomic editors who viewed David as the supreme commander of all
Israel's army. This agrees with 1 Samuel 18:5, but not 1 Samuel 18:13.
Traces of an earlier source is found is vs. 3 where it is only
representative elders of the tribes rather than "all the tribes" (vs. 1)
who gather at Hebron to covenant with David and anoint him king. This
narrative makes the point that as a successful military leader, he was the
people's choice as well the as divinely anointed sovereign. 

Vss.4-5 also give the standard Deuteronomic formula for successive monarchs
of Israel. It tells us the exact duration of his reign which is now
calculated as spanning the year 1000 BCE. David first established Hebron as
his capital; then he captured the fortress of Jerusalem and made it his
capital city. The intervening verses between the two segments of the
reading are confusing due to a  corrupt Hebrew text. The narrator obviously
knew much more about the lay of the land than we are now able to determine
from the most advanced archeological data. Scholars still debate how much
we can depend on the geographical and historical validity of much of the
biblical narrative.

The intent of the Deuternomic editors of this passage was to tell their
generation of Israelites of the utmost significance of David's reign and
especially his relocation of the capital city to Jerusalem. They wrote
during the Babylonian exile about 550 BCE when the holy city had very
special significance for the nation's religious tradition. The stronghold
of Zion (vs. 7) was indeed a fortress situated on the southern ridge
between the valleys of Tyropoen and the Kidron brook It later included the
whole of the fortifications of Jerusalem. The name Zion subsequently became
associated with the sacred site of the temple built by David's son,
Solomon. In religious parlance, it became known as the dwelling place of
Yahweh, as evidenced by the numerous reference in the Psalms. Today, it is
occupied by two great mosques of Islam, El Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock.

The reference to "the Millo" in vs. 9 is obscure, but may indicate a
particular element of the fortifications which David built. I Kings 9:15,
24; 11:27 attribute its construction to Solomon. The word suggests a place
of stamped earth. It may have been a very secure house or perhaps a
military barracks and parade ground for gathering the city's defensive
forces.


PSALM 48.  In the century their return from exile in Babylon in 539 BCE,
the Jews recovered their national identity by rebuilding their temple and
their capital city of Jerusalem. The monarchy had ceased to exist, but the
temple priesthood replaced royalty as the most prominent leaders of the
people. Out of this restored religious culture arose a fundamentally
theocratic system which flowered in the elaboration of the cultus of temple
sacrifices, the creation of psalmody and other religious literature which
subsequently became the canon of scripture. This highly nationalistic psalm
praising Jerusalem as the holy city of Yahweh is part of that renaissance. 

Believed to be from a collection of "Songs of Zion," it may well have been
sung by pilgrims who came to Jerusalem for the sacred festivals. Many Jews,
especially those of the Diaspora, could only afford to make this pilgrimage
once in a lifetime. Every stone and handful of dust from the city would be
sacred to them. Pilgrims today still return from Jerusalem with souvenirs
of all kinds, the more valuable if they are part of the urban fabric rather
than commercial trinkets.

The theme of this psalm is Yahweh's protection for the city itself. It is
"his holy mountain" (vs. 2). The second part of that parallelism likens
Mount Zion to a mountain in the far north, possibly Mount Hermon, which
reaches to heaven. There follows a rewriting of history in vss. 4-8. Israel
had suffered from many foreign invasions. Her enemies had all perished but
Jerusalem had remained. With poetic hyperbole, the fear and panic of those
enemies is ridiculed "as a woman in travail." The psalmist was undoubtedly
a male who had little regard for the subject of his simile. He drew another
derogatory image from the violent storms that drove ships from the eastern
Mediterranean bound for the Phoenician port of Tartessus in Spain
(Tarshish), frequently wrecking them with its violent east wind (vs. 7).
Amidst all this terror, Jerusalem remained safe, at least in the
imagination of the .poet.

Worshiping in the temple, strolling through the streets, or marveling at
the city's fortification brings to mind why this Jerusalem is so secure:
Yahweh loves Israel. There can be only one response to this insight: praise
for Israel's protector.

Despite having been destroyed and rebuilt several times, Jerusalem still
retains the designation of "the holy city" for three great religious
traditions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - all for different reasons.


2 CORINTHIANS 12:2-10.   In the midst of a conflict with the Corinthian
Christian community, Paul tells about two of his deepest spiritual
experiences. In one he had an ecstatic theophany when he received an
exceptional revelation. He does not say exactly what the revelation was.
Perhaps it was beyond words, as such experiences often are. 

Such religious ecstasy brings forth negative attitudes and criticisms in
our intellectually sophisticated age. We should neither spurn them nor 
invent opportunities to create moments such as Paul describes. They can be 
very real, however or to whom ever they occur.  It may well be that certain 
people, like Paul and innumerable other saints in the history of the church,
have a special gift for or are particularly susceptible to such experiences. 

Modern psychology, psychiatry and neurology have attempted to describe how
these do happen. One of the best analyses was written nearly fifty years
ago by a British psychiatrist, William Sargent, in his book *Battle For The
Mind.* Sargent showed that  physiological similarities exist between
religious ecstasy and conversion, healing for shell-shocked and battle-
fatigued war veterans, forced criminal confessions, and politically
motivated brain-washing. He might also add the behavioral compulsions of
teenagers in response to their favorite rock stars.

In the other spiritual experience Paul described in this passage, he tells
how he fervently prayed to have the unidentified cause of great suffering
removed. Instead he was given the reassurance that God's grace would be
sufficient for his every need. Much speculation has been expended as to the
exact nature of Paul's problem. These vary from a painful and incurable
disease, a physical disability due to paralysis, a facial disfigurement or
poor eyesight, all the way to a tendency to homosexuality. The fact is that
we can never know for sure. More important, however, is the way he deals
with his "thorn in the flesh." It became a source of power in that it made
possible a deeper spiritual experience enabling him to withstand ever
greater hardship in pursuing his mission as an evangelist. 

Many ministers can attest to the reality that when they feel most incapable
of making an effective witness to faith, others have greatly benefitted
from their perceived failures. One minister invited to preach in a
prominent New York church felt he had utterly ruined the opportunity.
Retiring to the vestry after the service, his eye fell on a wall plague
bearing the words, "Hallelujah anyway! God is with us."  


MARK 6:1-13.   Jesus' hometown folk felt uneasy with him in their midst,
especially when he taught in their synagogue on a sabbath. We are not told
why they were so offended. Perhaps it was just their jealousy that one whom
they knew so well had become so famous. Certainly they thought he had far
gone beyond what one of his status as a humble carpenter should go. They
would have had respect for him as one skilled in such trades as carpentry
that contributed to the general welfare of the community.  But they would
not have expected him  to be skilled in the interpretation of the
scriptures or a radical social reformer. One of the contemporary group of
Jesus scholars has speculated that although verbally gifted in a
predominately oral culture, Jesus may have been illiterate.

Rejected at home, Jesus adopted another strategy. He gathered his disciples
together and sent them out "with authority over the unclean spirits." This
may have meant that they merely had power to change people's minds about
what they might expect from Jesus. The gospel authors like Mark who wrote
down the tradition for subsequent generations also believed that the
disciples possessed the same authority over unclean spirits that Jesus
himself had demonstrated. Apparently that is what Mark intended. But was
this "authority" (Greek = *exousia*) a moral and spiritual authority of a
pastoral nature or was it something more of a power to effect physical
cures? Without question then as now, anyone suffering from an illness,
however caused, would seriously affect everyone in the extended family or
the immediate community of the sick person. In such circumstances, even
death has a healing effect over time.

There is an interesting analysis by John Dominic Crossan of the
differentiation between the actual events in Galilee when Jesus lived there
during the late third decade of the lst century and the way the story was
told by Mark in the seventh decade. Crossan believes that the Markan
account described a difference of approach between those who were itinerant
apostles and those who were resident followers of the Way. He elaborates
this thesis in his essay "Jesus And The Kingdom" in the volume edited by
Marcus Borg, *Jesus At 2000.* (Westview Press, 1998). He concludes that
this passage is Mark's own description of the kingdom as *companionship of
empowerment* rather than the actual historical events of Jesus' ministry.
This is in keeping, Crossan claims,  with Jesus' inauguration of the
kingdom as an "interactive social radicalism" consisting of two distinct
elements: those who were itinerant preachers of a radical gospel and those
who were resident householders who witnessed to it less radically in their
normal community living.

The end of the story as we now have it in this passage revealed how
successful they were in calling people to repent, casting out demons and
curing the sick. This appears to have been a trial run for the post-
Pentecost church in which Mark was an active itinerant with Paul and
Barnabas, at least for while before accompanying Peter to Rome.

                         
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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