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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 15 - Year B
II Samuel 6:1-5,12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

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 Fifteen (Proper 10) B


2 SAMUEL 6:1-5,12b-19    Many celebrations include experiences of both
boundless joy and a measure of sadness. Such was the case too when David
brought the ark of the covenant, Israel's foremost religious symbol, to
Jerusalem. In a frenzy of jubilation, David danced among the happy throngs
that accompanied the ark on its way. But David's wife, Michal, was ashamed
of her husband's nearly naked display of religious enthusiasm. 


PSALM 24.                This psalm celebrates two crucial elements of
Israel's religious tradition: the whole creation as the possession of God
alone and the temple as the visible symbol of God's presence within
creation.                                          


EPHESIANS 1:3-14.        While the address of this letter cites Paul as its
author, many scholars attribute it to someone who knew his other letters
and teaching very well, but also summarized and extended his thought even
further. It has been suggested that this letter began as a prayer of
blessing and a sermon to new converts preparing for baptism at Pentecost. 
     
Jesus Christ is the central figure of this passage, as he was for all of
Paul's teaching. It lifts up Christ's pre-existence, his role in God's plan
of salvation, his continuing presence, and the believer's response to all
this through the gift of the Holy Spirit.


MARK 6:14-29.            The execution of John the Baptist was only one of
many acts of extreme violence attributed to Herod Antipas, the Roman's
puppet-king of Galilee and Petrea. There would appear to be as much legend
as fact in the story of Herod's rash promise to his paramour's daughter,
Herodias. 
     
Yet the story played such a large part in Mark's narrative because it
reflected the king's guilt and his fear that Jesus and his disciples would
start a rebellion threatening his shaky hold on power. The idea that Jesus
was John raised from the dead was popular among the common folk of the
time.

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

2 SAMUEL 6:1-5, 12b-19.   Many religious celebrations include experiences
of both boundless joy and a measure of sadness. This may be particularly
evident when a large number of people participate and a charismatic leader
is present. A form of mob psychology seems to take over. People behave with
excessive enthusiasm and not infrequently run amok. Such was the case too
when David brought the ark of the covenant, Israel's foremost religious
symbol, to Jerusalem. 

This was indeed an occasion for jubilation. The ark of the covenant
symbolized Israel's unique relationship with Yahweh because it held the
stones on which, according to the sacred tradition, the Law had been given
to Moses. It had also become the symbol of national identity and liberation
from the Philistines under the skillful leadership of David, now the
popular choice as chieftain of all the tribes of Israel..

All was not well, however, within David's own household. His wife, Saul's
daughter Michal, did not join the celebration. Perhaps she was jealous of
her husband having such fun with the throngs of men and women who joined
with him in the happy occasion. One expositor suggested that although
formally committed to the state religion, she was actually irreligious.
There could have been a simpler cause for her disfavour. Vs. 14 notes that
David was wearing "a linen ephod." This was an undergarment and could have
been no more than a  loincloth scant enough to make Michal angry and
ashamed of her husband. Then too, his ecstatic display of religious fervor
in a frenzy of jubilation only exacerbated her negative attitude toward
him. 

What can we make of this legendary tale that may be spiritual helpful to
our time? A few years ago,  an eminent Methodist scholar made a special
trip to Toronto the inquire into the ecstatic displays of religious fervor
in the Toronto Blessing. What he found was a fairly typical Christian
charismatic renewal movement which demonstrates exaggerated forms of
ecstatic behaviour, characterized in particular by what is called "Holy
Laughter." Those involved interpreted this as evidence of the Holy Spirit
in their lives. For some, it may have been an unusual way of finding relief
from the stresses of life. Once a part of the Vineyard Movement attracting
thousands of participants every night of the week, the group has been
dismissed from that association and has affiliated with the loosely
connected Christian Fellowship Churches. The chief emphasis of the Toronto
Blessing, now evolved into the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, is on
emotional religious experience no matter how manifested. Its opponents
regard it as heretical because of its scant theological basis and its
contacts with similar ecstatic charismatic movements that have occurred
outside the mainstream of Christian tradition. More recently, it has
extended its mission into an upper middle income suburban neighborhood.

Having observed the Toronto Blessing in process, the visiting professor
asked, "How do we know that we have the Holy Spirit?" There appears to be a
similar question of David's behaviour in this passage. It probably dates
from the Deuteronomic redactors of the Davidic cycle of legends who saw
both cause for rejoicing and yet had some serious reservations about his
handling of the sacred artifact, the arc of the covenant.


PSALM 24.    This psalm celebrates two crucial elements of Israel's
religious tradition: the whole creation as the possession of Yahweh alone
and the temple as the visible symbol of God's presence within creation.
Although attributed to David in the superscription, it comes from a much
later date as evidenced by the references to the temple (vs. 3). Similarly
the cosmology of creation is typical of the ancient world-view which saw
the earth set in a three tiered universe with heaven above and hell beneath
sandwiching the flat earth. 

It would appear that the psalm had liturgical origin and was sung in a
procession on some festival occasion. Late Jewish sources regard it as a
hymn for the New Year festival when Yahweh's work of creation was
commemorated and the sovereignty of Yahweh over all creation celebrated.
There is also a strong element of holiness in vss. 3-6. Ritual purity had
special meaning for entrance into the temple because the sacred precincts
were regarded as the place where Yahweh dwelt in absolute holiness.

The antiphonal song of vss. 7-9 again emphasizes the entrance of Yahweh
into the holy place. The gates of the temple are personified and responsive
to the approaching worshipers represented by the 
holy people of Yahweh. Yet the identification of Yahweh and the people of
Israel is not altogether complete. Hence the question, "Who is the King of
glory?" The poetic image used in answering this question (vs. 8)  is that
of a victorious monarch leading his triumphant army home. One commentator
suggests that this may have been the point in the procession where the ark
or some other symbol of divine presence moved into the temple.

In Jewish history, the temple was the last stronghold to fall to an
invading enemy. Its few remaining stones in the Western Wall still form the
centre of Jewish spirituality.  In the Scottish Protestant tradition, the
antiphonal verses were sung to the tune of St. George's Edinburgh at the
evening service in many churches  on Communion Sunday.


EPHESIANS 1:3-14. Scholarly controversy over the authorship of the Letter
to the Ephesians may never be settled. While the address of this letter
cites Paul as its author, many scholars attribute it to someone of the next
generation who knew Paul's other letters and teaching very well, and on
that basis summarized and extended his thought much further. In an
appealing thesis dating from the 1960s,  John C. Kirby, of McGill
University, Montreal,  suggested that this letter began as a prayer of
blessing and a sermon to new converts preparing for baptism at Pentecost.
At some later date, it was transformed into a letter circulated from the
Ephesian church rather than written to the Ephesian community.

This opening passage, Kirby asserts, has all the marks of a Jewish
*berakah* or prayer of blessing.  Such a prayer formed a significant part
of the Jewish liturgical tradition in which Paul would have frequently
participated. This prayer blessed Yahweh for two special divine acts which
caused Israel to wonder and worship: creation and deliverance. The Psalms
include numerous examples. Psalm 111 contains both of these themes. So also
does the opening passage of this "letter."

Jesus Christ is the central figure of this poetic blessing, however, as he
was for all of Paul's teaching. It lifts up Christ's pre-existence, his
role in God's plan of salvation from the beginning, his continuing
presence, and the believer's response to all this through the gift of the
Holy Spirit. Few if any passages in the Pauline corpus reach the heights of
poetic grandeur as do the words of this opening prayer.

Not only have those who believe received redemption through Christ's blood
and the forgiveness of all trespasses (vs. 8). We also have wisdom and
insight into the mystery which Christ reveals (vs. 9). This is the vision
of the *eschaton* in which all history will be brought to its fulfilment in
Christ (vs. 10). That too is our inheritance and destiny in Christ (vs. 11)
to the end that we may "live for the praise of his glory" (vs. 12). The
gift of the Holy Spirit is the divine pledge we have that all this is true
(vss. 13-14).

Everything that follows in the remainder of the letter depends on this
opening liturgy. After this initial  awe at what God has done in Christ
comes its essential meaning for all who believe. Specific admonitions as to
the implications of the awe-full act of God for every Christian's daily
life are clarified in the later sections of the letter which, according to
Kirby, formed the admonitions of a baptismal sermon.

Two lively metaphors referring to the Holy Spirit stand out in vss. 13 and
14. The "seal of the promised Holy Spirit" has to do with the mark of
ownership placed on shipments of goods to prove that it came from a
specific owner and had been delivered intact. We still use such means to
designate the safe transmission of valuable goods. Thus the Holy Spirit
seals us as belonging to God. 

The "pledge of our inheritance" (Greek = *arrabon*) also came from the
Hellenist business world. It represented an advance payment which formed
part of the purchase price as a guarantee that the remainder would be paid
in full in due time. Paul uses the word here to say that the gift of the
Holy Spirit now is God's guarantee of future blessedness in eternal
fellowship with God. It is the promise that  someday we shall enter into a
full relationship with God. If we need to know what that will be like, we
need only look at how the gospels describe Jesus living from day to day and
after his death by crucifixion was raised and, in the words of Acts 1:9,
ascended to be with God. 


MARK 6:14-29.  The execution of John the Baptist was only one of many acts
of extreme violence attributed to Herod Antipas, the Roman's puppet-king of
Galilee and Petrea. There would appear to be as much legend as fact in the
story of Herod's rash promise to his paramour's daughter. This tradition
may well come from circles closely associated with John himself. Herodias
obviously had a grudge against John, but the outcome of the story is not
surprising considering the danger John's movement of repentance had for the
profligate Antipas. 

We might wonder, however, why Mark makes such an issue of Antipas'
hesitation to execute John. A similar pattern emerged in the narrative of
Jesus' trial before Pilate (Mark 15:6-15). It is more than likely that Mark
told the stories this way not so much as to exonerate the Roman authorities
for these executions, but to show how they vacillating in the face of
forces they could not control. In both instances, political expedience
rather than justice prevailed. The Romans were masters of such machinations
long before Machiavelli developed his theories that those with political
power are not subject to traditional ethical norms, but only need to use
whatever means were necessary to sustain them in power. Modern politicians
have learned such lessons well.

Yet the story played such a large part in Mark's narrative because it
reflected the puppet king's guilt and his fear that Jesus and his disciples
would start a rebellion once again threatening his shaky hold on power. The
idea was popular among the common folk of the time that Jesus was John
raised from the dead, and John in turn was Elijah returned from the dead.
In fact, this was one of the answers the disciples gave to Jesus when he
asked "Who do people say that I am?" (8:27-28).

Walter Wink has written a helpful article on John the Baptist in the
supplementary volume of *The Interpreter's Bible Dictionary (vol. 5, 488-
9). Wink makes a strong argument that John's movement was absorbed into the
post-Easter church and for this reason Mark consistently portrayed John as
Elijah resurrected. By linking the suffering of Elijah, the execution of
John and the crucifixion of Jesus, "Mark succeeds in saying that John's
suffering is not meaningless, any more than is that of the Christians in
Rome." Mark thus attempted to encourage his Roman audience at a time of
severe persecution without drawing unnecessary disfavour from the Roman
authorities. As a prelude to the passion narrative, the story of John's
imprisonment and execution set before the church the promise of an end to
their suffering and humiliation.

Is there not a message in this passage for the church today as it calls for
justice in the face of entrenched political power?

                         
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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