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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 16 - Year B
II Samuel 7:1-24a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34,53-56

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 Sixteen (Proper 11) B


II SAMUEL 7:1-14a.       Having pacified and united the nation, David
sought to build a temple in which to house the ark of the covenant, but was
denied. The story reflects a struggle between a more ancient tradition of
the ark in a moveable tent or tabernacle in contrast to the custom in other
cultures of having the main religious symbol housed in a more permanent
temple. 
     
The role of the monarch, nationalism and religious tradition intermingle in
this passage. The dual role of the monarch as sovereign and high priest is
similar to that of Queen Elizabeth II as "defender of the faith" and
titular head of the Church of England. 


PSALM 89:20-37.          This paean of praise for David was written in the
first person as if God was speaking. It dates from a later time after the
elite of Israel had been taken into exile in Babylon (586 BC). The hero-
stories of David then served both a religious and political purpose in
retaining a meaningful national identity after that disaster. It reads more
like a prophetic oracle than a hymn.

  
EPHESIANS 2:11-22. The author of the letter strove to create a sense of
unity among the several classes of converts  in the early church. Gentiles
and Jews are most prominent in this attempt to reconcile very significant
differences. The crucial element is their common faith in what Jesus'
sacrifice on the cross did in giving everyone access to God. 
     
The church is only now beginning to realize how fully open and universal in
the gift of God's Spirit to create a new humanity through faith. This has
great significance in the pluralist age in which we live. There can be no
closed doors in the fellowship of believers. 


MARK 6:30-34, 53-56. No matter where Jesus and his disciples went, they
could not escape the multitudes who ran after them. That only gave Jesus
more opportunities to teach the people and be compassionate toward those in
need.  The implications for the church's life today are obvious.

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

2 SAMUEL 7:1-14a.   The Jews were great storytellers. Many of the narrative
parts of the Old Testament were *ex post facto* tales of bygone days when
the great heroes of Israel's history were being reconstructed from scant
records and ancient oral traditions. This is particularly true of the Saul
and David narratives that compose the main contents of 1 and 2 Samuel. In
the Hebrew text, the two books are continuous. The current division of the
two books originated with the Greek version in the 3rd century BCE. 

If there is a central theme to this skillfully woven composite work, it is
the development of the covenantal institutions linking Yahweh and Israel
during the reign of the greatest of all Israel's hero-kings, David. As
Peter R. Ackroyd, of King's College, University of London, pointed out in
his article in *The Oxford Companion to the Bible* (Oxford University
Press, 1993. 677), the final text does more than "describe what was
believed about the past; claims are being made about the present, to depict
for a community that has its own questions and uncertainties the meaning of
that age which had brought into being the major institutions of the
monarchical period and to invite the reevaluation of these institutions in
a later time of change.." 

This passage shows how David, having pacified and united the nation, sought
to build a temple in which to house the ark of the covenant, but was
denied. The story reflects a struggle between a more ancient tradition of
the ark in a moveable tent or tabernacle in contrast to the custom in other
cultures of having the main religious symbol housed in a more permanent
temple. This was no minor issue for the covenant faith of Israel. It
represented a conflict of intense importance for Israel's concept of
Yahweh's true nature as well as reflecting the growing urbanization of
Israel's society. 

Historically, the invasion of Canaan and settlement in the Promised Land
was more two centuries behind them. Gone were the days of wilderness
wandering and the Yahwist traditions of the patriarchs and the tribal laws
that contributed to the decalogue of Sinai and its subsequent elaboration.
While they had defeated the earlier inhabitants of Canaan and the
Philistine invaders from the sea, the Israelites had also adopted many of
the cultural customs of their more settled environment.  Among the most
important of these were alphabetic writing and literacy for a limited
number of religious and cultural leaders, and forms of institutional
architecture such as temples for sacred rites such as worship and
sacrifice.  The religious practices of the wilderness and invasion periods
no longer suited this more settled and urbanized environment.  This story
reflects the transition that was taking place during the early monarchy and
would continue for several centuries until the period of the great prophets
of the 8th century BCE.

The Books of Samuel did not reach their final form until after the return
from the Babylonian exile.  At that time, the redactors of Israel's
religious literature faced an equally critical transition.  So they looked
back to this earlier period when under the leadership of their great hero-
kings, David and Solomon, the nation had been at peace and the national
institutions established under Yahweh's direction. 


PSALM 89:20-37. This paean of praise for David was written in the first
person as if God was speaking. It dates from a later time after the elite
of Israel had been taken into exile in Babylon (586 BC). The hero-stories
of David then served both a religious and political purpose in retaining a
meaningful national identity after that disaster. It reads more like a
prophetic oracle than a hymn.
 
As in the passage from 2 Samuel 7 above, the role of the monarch,
nationalism and religious tradition intermingle in this passage.  The dual
role of the monarch as sovereign and high priest is similar to that of
Queen Elizabeth II as "defender of the faith" and titular head of the
Church of England.  A civic religion, however, does not depend on an
established church.  The fact that in the most republican democratic
constitutions and national anthems declare a trust in God and dependence on
divine guidance, and religious institutions receive considerable tax
benefits from the public purse denies the much professed separation of
church and state.

Developing Judaic and Christian traditions both read messianic concepts
into this psalm.  Christian piety found in it proofs that the church became
the New Israel.  It is more expressive, however, of the covenant theology
of Israel derived from the prophetic era and institutionalized in the
centralized temple and its liturgies of the late monarchical and early
post-exilic periods.  Veiled references in vss. 38-45 nto included in this
reading appear to speak of a recent military disaster.  This may  possibly
be the Babylonian wars of the early 6th century BCE.  If this is so, then
the psalm expresses a religious means of coping with that devastating
experience when monarchy and temple were swept away by the destructive
invader and the liturgies of the people became laments for a nation still
clinging to its identity as the covenant people of Yahweh.


EPHESIANS 2:11-22.  Originally this letter, as was customary in the 1st
century, bore no title and no address.  Many scholars believe that
Ephesians was written *from* Ephesus rather than *to* the Christian
community in Ephesus.  In the earliest and best attested manuscripts of the
text, 1:l is not included. The letter simple begins: "Paul ... to all who
are saints and faithful in Jesus Christ." It is also evident from 1:15 and
3:2 that he is not familiar with the recipients of the letter, but knows of
them from others who reported their faith experience to him.  They too seem
unfamiliar with him.  Yet Paul spent three years in Ephesus.  It is
inconceivable that such a formal document as this could be understood as
being addressed to people whom he knew and who undoubtedly knew him so
well. 

The best solution to "the Ephesian problem" is that the letter came from
the hand of a disciple of Paul who was intimately acquainted with him and
his teaching, especially as expressed in the Letter to the Colossians.
Ephesians and Colossians have a close association, possibly through
Tychicus who is named in both in almost identical words (Eph. 6:21; Col.
4:7).  The unknown author used Paul's name to communicate the gospel of
reconciliation in Christ to a Gentile audience in a style and a language
that was not essentially Pauline.  It could have been a circular letter to
primarily Gentile churches reminding them the destiny of all people, Jews
and Gentiles alike, and all of creation, to be brought together under the
sovereignty of Christ. The church as the Body of Christ, this writer says,
has been created for this mission in and to the world.

The letter strove to create a sense of unity among the several classes of
converts  in the early church.  Gentiles and Jews are most prominent in
this attempt to reconcile very significant differences. The crucial element
is their common faith in what Jesus' sacrifice on the cross did in giving
everyone access to God.  Vss. 11-12 state the inherent separation of
Gentiles from God due to their "uncircumcision."  This represents a typical
Jewish view of all who did bear the symbol of belonging to Israel's sacred
covenant. Because of that exclusion, moreover, they were "at that time
without Christ."  Only Jews could inherit the promised blessedness of the
messianic commonwealth.

In a similar manner, many Christians still exclude from God's favour people
of other religious traditions because they do not believe that Jesus of
Nazareth is "the Christ, Son of the living God."  The church is only now
beginning to realize how fully open and universal is the gift of God's
Spirit to create a new humanity through faith. This has great significance
in the pluralist age in which we live. There can be no closed doors in the
fellowship of faith. This letter proclaims this message while at the same
time making is abundantly clear that such unity can only be through faith
in Jesus Christ. With the vivid metaphor of vs. 20, the author reiterates
that while the doors of faith are wide open to everyone, the building to
which we are moving in faith from many directions has Jesus Christ as its
cornerstone.  As so often in depicting theological concepts, the metaphor
creates the situation of truth being found not in a conflicting state of
*either/or* but of *both/and*.

Perhaps even more dramatically, the author makes what Jews might regard as
an outrageous statement full of anti-semitic antipathy.  In vs. 15, he
declares that Christ "has abolished the law with its commandments and
ordinances, that he might create in himself a new humanity."  That goes
much farther than and directly contradicts the tradition repeatedly
affirmed in Matthew 5:17-48.  Could Paul the former Pharisee have said such
a thing?  Does it not also conflict with Paul's anguish for his fellow Jews
expressed in Romans 9-11?  Is it not incumbent on Christians today to
enlarge their vision from  the exclusiveness voiced in so many of our
creedal statements, even though supported by some New Testament passages,
to include people of other faith traditions? 


MARK 6:30-34, 53-56. No matter where Jesus and his disciples went, they
could not escape the multitudes who ran after them. That only gave Jesus
more opportunities to teach the people and be compassionate toward those in
need. The compassion of Jesus stands out as the most remarkable feature in
these two brief summaries of the Galilean ministry.

The passage describes exactly what Peter told Cornelius, the Roman
centurion, in Acts 10:38, that. Jesus went about doing good. Mark assumes,
however, or rather uses these brief summaries  to demonstrate, what Peter
also said, "because God was with him." This further confirms the "Spirit
possession" theme Mark introduced in the baptism pericope (1:10) and has
illustrated with the numerous miracles and healing stories up to this
point. This would appear to be a conclusion to that theme sequence,
however, since 7:1 begins a new section of the narrative emphasizing the
developing opposition to Jesus leading toward the cross. 

In the first part of this reading (vss. 30-34), Jesus' compassion for his
disciples comes to the fore. We would say that he took them away fora time
of debriefing. Their time alone was short, as vs. 33 points out. As soon as
they were recognized, the crowds gathered from every direction. As the
pericope between the two parts of this reading tells us, the multitude
eventually reached 5,000 in number (vs. 44). This must have been a
significant proportion of the population within walking distance around the
Sea of Galilee at the time. That is quite a flock of sheep for the shepherd
to be concerned about (vs. 34).

Mark had two purposes in mind as he composed his narrative: to answer the
question, "Who is Jesus?" and to define what it meant to be one of Jesus'
disciples. He was telling the story, perhaps as he had heard Peter tell it
over and over again in brief anecdotes. If Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 150
CE) was right in attributing Mark with using Peter as his primary source,
they lived in dangerous times. It was during or just after the Neronian
persecution and the great fire of Rome which Nero blamed on the Christians.
It may also have coincided with the Roman-Jewish War (66-70 CE). Mark also
wanted his narrative to encourage the congregation in Rome for whom he was
writing. Not only were they suffering greatly, so were many of  their Roman
neighbours who struggled to survive after being burned out of house and
home. Discipleship for that group of Christians, Mark was saying, means
doing as Jesus himself had done in having such open and generous compassion
on the peasant folk of Galilee.

The implications for the church's life today are obvious. We can never
escape the bonds of compassion inspired by the Spirit who presents us with
the opportunity to be Christ-like in caring for the poor. This story
appeared in *Today's Devotional* on  on July 7, 2000.

The Prayer Vigil 

In Evanston, Illinois, there were a growing number of homeless people. A
Baptist church in a wealthy suburb of Chicago decided to open its doors as
a shelter and some Evanston church leaders were considering doing the same. 

When the Evanston city council heard about this, it moved to pass a new
zoning ordinance forbidding the use of churches as shelters for the
homeless. The organizer of one shelter project had no complaint. Rather
than opening up a shelter for the homeless, they  decided to host an
all-night prayer vigil to which all were welcome. Participants in the
prayer vigil received pillows and blankets along with bulletins and
hymnals. 

- by Denise Griebler from Aha!!! July-September 1999, Vol. 8, #4.

                         
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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