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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 17 - Year B
II Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

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 Seventeen (Proper 12) B


2 SAMUEL 11:1-15.   The story of David's double sins of adultery and
calculated murder form the introduction to a new and troubled phase of the
monarch's reign.  His adultery with Bathsheba and his plan to cover it up
by causing the death of her husband, Uriah, remains to this day the symbol
of a very human failure: through pride great leaders often bring about
their own demise. 

                                              
PSALM 14.           Profound wisdom and a deep sense of social justice lies
behind this psalm: Before God all people are sinful.  It ends with a
plaintive hope that God will deliver Israel from some unstated ill fortune.


EPHESIANS 3:14-21.  This letter which may have begun as a liturgy for
baptismal candidates at Pentecost.  Its first segment (chapters 1-3)
consists of a great prayer of blessing ending with rapturous petition for
Christ to come alive in the hearts and lives of those who first heard it.
The end result will be that those they will be filled with the fullness of
God whose Spirit gives them the power to love as Christ himself loved.
     
A final benediction ascribes praise to God who is able to do far more than
anyone could ever ask or imagine.


JOHN 6:1-21.        The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is the
only one that appears in all four gospels.  John's version of the tradition
varies from the others in revealing yet another sign of Jesus' divinity in
several ways. Knowing how the multitude would be fed and of the danger he
was in revealed his omniscience.  Performing the miracle and later walking
on water while the disciples crossed the lake in a boat against strong
winds revealed his omnipotence. 

As in other instances, John used this to introduce a long discourse by
Jesus about the meaning of this sign.  For John, this event became the
turning point in Jesus' ministry by separating believers from disbelievers.

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

2 SAMUEL 11:1-15.  The story of David's double sins of adultery and
calculated murder form the introduction to a new and troubled phase of the
monarch's reign.  He had already consolidated his power and reinforced it
with the nation's most important religious symbol, the Ark of the Covenant.
He had become strong enough to commit his army to a war with the Ammonites.
Under the leadership of Joab, the army were in the process of besieging
their capital, Rabbah.  Perhaps unwisely, as vs.1 appears to imply, David
stayed home in Jerusalem.  With too much time on his hands, he spied
Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop and lusts after her.  Exercising his assumed
rights of power, he lies with her and impregnates her while her husband is
away with the army. 

After messing with another man's wife, he had made matters worse by sending
for Uriah at the front and tried to get him to sleep with Bathsheba, so he
would be recognized as the child's father.  Faithful to his military oath
not the sleep with his wife while on duty, Uriah foils David's deception. 
So the king ordered him sent to the most dangerous part of the battle line
where he is killed.

David's adultery with Bathsheba and his plan to cover it up by causing the
death of her husband, Uriah, remains to this day the symbol of a very human
failure: through pride and the mistaken assumptions about their power, even
the great leaders often bring about their own demise.  It does not matter
that monarchs are few and virtually powerless today, it still happens to
elected politicians who take advantage of their positions for immoral
purposes. 

Henry Kissinger, former American Secretary of State once said, "Power is a
great aphrodisiac."  David's willful adultery follows the familiar pattern
of human sinfulness.  He saw Bathsheba, desired her, sent for her, lay with
her; then he arranged her husband's death in battle.  Perhaps Jesus had
this familiar story in mind when he said, according to Matthew 5:28 "I say
to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed
adultery with her in his heart."  Many people sneered at former US
President Jimmy Carter when he admitted to a journalist that he had done
what Jesus condemned.  In the more recent past we have seen the current
president of the USA ruin his presidency and bring ignominious shame upon
himself by a dalliance more common on a college campus than in the highest
public office.  High office does not protect even the most powerful from
human corruptibility.


PSALM 14.  It may astonish to realize that this psalm is almost identical
to Psalm 53.  The only explanation for this double appearance is its prior
existence in two distinct collections.  Scholars regard Ps. 53 as the
better preserved.  Of note is the name of Yahweh ("the Lord") in this
version while Ps. 53 uses the name Elohim ("God"), as do most of the psalms
in what is known as "the Elohistic Psalter." (Pss. 42-83)

Profound wisdom and a deep sense of social justice lies behind this psalm:
Before Yahweh all people are sinful.  But those who are atheistic receive
special condemnation.  The end state of unbelievers is to be greatly feared
(vs.5a).  A time of retribution is at hand.  Neglect of a spiritual
relationship with Yahweh results in the destruction of truly human nature.
As Augustine of Hippo said in his Confessions, "Thou has made us for
thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee."

The psalm ends with a plaintive hope that Yahweh will deliver Israel from
some unstated ill fortune.  The great prophets often spoke of an imminent
threat of foreign invasion or subjugation to a foreign overlord as the
penalty for the apostasy of the people.  This would indeed be an
unmitigated disaster.  The religious tradition of the times regarded such
an event as spiritually ruinous as well as politically and economically
catastrophic.


EPHESIANS 3:14-21. As previously noted, this letter which may have begun as
a liturgy for baptismal candidates at Pentecost.  Its first segment
(chapters 1-3) consists of a great prayer of blessing (similar to a Jewish
*berakah*) ending with this rapturous petition that Christ come alive in
the hearts and lives of those who first heard it.  The author was probably
not Paul, but one who knew his teaching well.  Christian tradition as well
as the added the title and address at the beginning of the letter
attributed it to the great apostle to the Gentiles.

Vs. 14 contains a vivid image of a person at prayer.  Standing was the
normal Jewish posture for prayer.  Prostration represented particular
intensity.  Bowing the knees, presumably with the face lifted upward and
the hands spread out, would appear to be somewhere between normalcy and
ecstasy.  William Barclay, however, believed that this prayer was so
intense that Paul was prostrate. 

This petition expresses the hope that the Spirit of God would strengthen
his audience spiritually (vs. 16).  That would come about through Christ
dwelling in their hearts.  This is the imaginative effect of faith in
Christ.  As the old Sunday school chorus resoundingly proclaimed, they
would have "the love of Jesus down in their hearts."  The image Paul used
was that of a tree firmly rooted in the ground.

Swiftly the image in Paul's mind changed to one that appears almost
architectural or astronomical.  To know what a building is like, it must be
measured in all its spatial perspectives - length, breadth, depth, height.
The love of Christ is such that it cannot be measured or fully
comprehended.  Indeed, when the love of God in all its fullness invades,
dwells in and fills the human heart, as Barclay notes, it is as if Paul has
asked us to look at the whole universe and measure it.  This will give all
who believe the power to love as Christ himself loved.

A final benediction ascribes praise to God who is able to do far more than
anyone could ever ask or imagine.  The NSRV translation loses much of the
poetic grandeur of the KJV: "Now unto him who is able to do exceeding
abundantly above all that we can ask or think...."  An early 20th century
evangelist once put in this way: "God is able to do all that we ask or
think;... above all that we ask or think;... abundantly above all that we
can ask or think;... exceeding abundantly above all that we can ever ask or
think."     

That is how Paul thought of the church, a fellowship of infinite,
boundless, universal, eternal  love.  The church exists to give glory to
God who could do all that through love fully revealed in Jesus Christ.
Would that this were so!     


JOHN 6:1-21. The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is the only
one that appears in all four gospels.  John's version of the tradition
varies from the others in that this miracle depicts yet another of the
distinctive signs by means of which Jesus reveals his divinity.  Mark and
the other synoptic gospels tends to use it to deepen the mystery about
Jesus' identity.

Knowing how the multitude would be fed and of the danger he was in revealed
his omniscience (vs. 6).  Performing the miracle not only fille the crowds'
need for food, but convinced them that he was "the prophet who is to come
into the world" (vs. 14).  This may be a reference to Elijah whose return
was thought to precede the coming of the Messiah.  On the other hand, it
may actually be a messianic reference.  Immediately John reports that Jesus
realized that the crowd intended "to make him king," i.e. their perception
of the Messiah.  Knowing this is another indication of Jesus' omniscience.
Later walking on water while the disciples crossed the lake in a boat
against strong winds revealed his omnipotence.  These several small clues
represent John's intention that the events pointed beyond themselves to
Jesus' divine nature.

The passage cannot be read in isolation from the rest of the chapter.  As
in other instances throughout the Fourth Gospel, John used this miraculous
sign to introduce a discourse by Jesus about its true meaning (vss. 25-59),
including another of his "I am..." sayings (vs. 35).  Furthermore, John saw
these events and the discourse as the turning point in Jesus' ministry. 
The narrative of the discourse is set in a running debate with "the Jews"
(vss. 25,28,34,41-42,52).  The end result separates believers from
disbelievers, including many of his erstwhile disciples (vs. 66).

Did John have access to a tradition unknown to the earlier gospel authors? 
More than likely, John knew the same tradition as they, but had engaged it
a theological reflection which suited his literary purpose more explicitly.
No hidden Messiah as in Mark; no new Moses as in Matthew; no compassionate
friend of Jew and Gentile as is Luke; this is the sovereign Son of God,
fully revealed in all his power and glory.  He moves steadily forward
knowing where he is going and what he must do to achieve his mission,
almost above the ebb and flow of the world around him, yet in total control
of all that happens. 

Disciples, crowds, opponents alike all contribute to his self-revealing
ministry.  As at the moment of the first creation, in him light  has come
into the world.  Exposed to this light, all people must decide where they
stand, in the light with him or hiding from him in the darkness of their
alienation.  By him food for body and spirit is freely provided.  Each
person has only to decide whether to accept or reject it.  To see him
exercise his creative and redemptive power with a few loaves and fish or
walking on water is not just astonishing, it is terrifying even to those
who have been closest to him.  Once reassured as to who he really is amid
the stormy waves and strong winds, they are safely ashore (vss. 18-21). 

The narrative can be seen as a midrash.  The events form a microcosm of
life.  Without expressing it in so many words, it asks the question: "Who
do you say that I am?"

                         
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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