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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 18 - Year B
II Samuel 11:25-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-12; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

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 Eighteen (Proper 13) B


2 SAMUEL 11:26-12:13a.   The confrontation between David and Nathan, the
prophet, brings to the fore the magnitude of David's adultery with
Bathsheba.  The story is one of the most powerful in the whole sequence of
hero-legends about Israel's greatest king.  The story makes the point,
however, that even the greatest cannot misuse God-given authority and power
for selfish ends.


PSALM 51:1-12.           Because of the superscription many assume that
this psalm refers directly to David's sin, but that is highly unlikely.
Psalm titles were added much later by scribes seeking to relate as many of
them to David's life on the mistaken assumption that he was author of the
psalms.  Nonetheless this one is a very beautiful prayer of repentance.


EPHESIANS 4:1-16.        This exhortation to live the Christian life in all
its fullness emphasizes the gift of the Spirit to bring unity to the church
and the power to equip all members for their common ministry.  It presents
a clear mandate for the mission of every congregation 


JOHN 6:24-35.            This reading shows a special way in which John
handled the miracle of feeding of the five thousand.  For John, miracles
had much more to them than seeing them happen and benefitting from them. 
This one led to a discourse by Jesus about being the bread of life.  Many
scholars believe that John used this discourse in place of the narrative of
the Last Supper in the other three Gospels.  John completely omitted that
story.

The passage makes three significant points: The miracle was another of the
signs identifying Jesus as the Messiah/Christ, the Son of God.  Somewhat
ambiguously, however, it pointed beyond Jesus to God who is the source of
all life.  Finally, by placing particular emphasis on his statement, "I am
the bread of life," it identifies Jesus completely with God.  This is a
more spiritual and theological reflection than one finds in the other
Gospels.

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

2 SAMUEL 11:26-12:13a.  The confrontation between David and Nathan, the
prophet, brings to the fore the magnitude of David's sin with Bathsheba,
then arranging for her husband's death in battle to cover up what he had
done.  The story is one of the most powerful in the whole sequence of hero-
legends about Israel's greatest king.  On the surface it makes the point,
however, that even the greatest cannot misuse God-given authority and power
for selfish ends.

There is some artificiality about the story.  David was no dummy and should
have seen through Nathan's device without difficulty.  As king he was also
the chief judge of the nations, so the incident that Nathan related was a
likely case to come before him.  Whether it actually happened in David's
reign (circa 1000 BCE) or is a parable with a deeper purpose is moot.  The
situation was not uncommon when viewed in light of the social justice
messages of Amos and Isaiah in the 8th century BCE.  As a parable, it ranks
with those of Jesus in the NT gospels for its power "to disturb the
conscience and produce repentance." (*The Interpreter's Bible,* Vol. 2,
1102).  That is its primary purpose in the David cycle as redacted by the
Deuteronomists of the late 7th century BCE. 

The intent of the redactor was not to denigrate or diminish David in the
eyes of a later generation.  Rather he intended it to show how David's
transgression fitted the overall tendency of Israel to depart from the
covenant of Yahweh in much the same way as had Saul and all succeeding
monarchs from the founding of the institution to its end in the Babylonian
exile (596 BCE).  In every instance, as in this case, a continuing moral
and spiritual crisis beset the nation and led to its ultimate destruction.
Although this incident marked a serious crisis for David and the beginning
of his decline, he is to be seen not so much as an individual, but as the
representative of the nation.  Thus the story has to be read from the
perspective of the prophetic mandate to call Israel to repentance so that
it may survive the crisis into which the sins of its whole populace, like
those of their greatest king, had led.


PSALM 51:1-12.   Because of the superscription many assume that this psalm
refers directly to David's sin, but that is highly unlikely. Psalm titles
were added much later by scribes seeking to relate as many of them to
David's life on the mistaken assumption that he was author of the psalms.
Thirteen psalms bear similar titles referring to incidents in David's life.
The existence of these titles in the Greek version indicate that they date
from pre-Christian times as Jewish traditions derived from the late
compilation of the Psalter.

Nonetheless this psalm is a very beautiful prayer of repentance by an
individual who is both deathly ill and very conscious of his personal
transgressions.  More significant, perhaps, is the fact that there are no
attempts to blame anyone but himself for the fate that has befallen him.
The whole psalm presents a personal confession as poignant as any in all of
scripture.

The psalm begins with a plea for mercy and an expression of faith in
Yahweh's forgiveness.  The double parallel of vs.1 emphasizes the way in
which the psalmist has cast himself wholly on divine mercy.  The phrase
"blot out my transgressions" conveys an image of a record from which the
sin be completely obliterated.  The image of washing in vs. 2 recalls the
liturgical ablutions of Leviticus 14:11-20 as an act of atonement.  The
Seer of Revelation (7:14) adapted the image to refer to the baptismal
garments of lst century Christians.  Similarly evangelical Christians
envisaged being "washed in the blood of the Lamb" as a metaphor of their
salvation and atonement through the death of Jesus Christ. 

The confessor makes no effort to conceal his sin and deny his guilt.  Vs. 4
readily acknowledges the justice of whatever penalty is laid to his charge.
Various translations of vs. 5, however, have led many to assume that this
is a statement of original sin.  Rather than placing blame on his parents,
it affirms of what Ecclesiasticus 15:11-15 described as an evil inclination
resulting from the freedom of our human wills.  We are not born sinful, but
do sin because of self-motivated willfulness resulting in sinful choices.

Vs. 6 posits Yahweh's choice for humanity: freedom from sin expressed as
"truth in the inward being." (NSRV)  The Hebrew text is difficult to
translate.  The New English Bible has a better  translation: "Though thou
hast hidden the truth in darkness, through this mystery thou dost teach me
wisdom."  This brings forth a further petition for cleansing and a desire
to rejoice in the resulting freedom of spirit (vss.7-9).

The final verses of this reading have a depth of spirituality and moral
responsibility reminiscent of the great prophets of the exilic period,
Jeremiah (31:33-34) and Ezekiel (37:26-27).  It is not improbable that the
psalmist either knew these scriptures or belonged to the same prophetic
company from which those texts came.  The psalmist draws upon a concept of
spiritual regeneration through the activity of the Spirit close to that of
the NT as expressed by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 and Romans 8.


EPHESIANS 4:1-16.  At this point in the letter, the mood changes from one
of exultation in the blessings of salvation to exhortation about living the
Christian life in all its fullness.  The author places emphasis on the gift
of the Spirit to bring unity to the church and the power to equip all
members for their common ministry. 

Memories of Paul's troubles in Ephesus and in Corinth may well lie behind
this passage.  The early church did not have an easy transition from being
a Jewish sectarian movement to a Gentile community of faith distinct from
and yet continuous with its predecessor.  Factionalism was its greatest
problem.  Dependence on the Spirit with the particular gifts of humility,
patience and love had to be its primary resource for creating a sense of
unity and motivating its evangelical mission.  The symbol of this spiritual
competence which all could share came from their common baptism, "the
outward sign of inward, spiritual grace."

Particular functions, divisions of labour and specific responsibilities in
the evangelical mission had not yet become fixed when this letter was
composed.  Apostles and prophets are named together with evangelists,
pastors and teachers without any recognizable difference in their functions
within the community.  The offices identified in vs. 11 cannot be regarded
as literally applicable to any later period.  Rather these are functions of
service common to all members of the community.  Every member had a
responsibility "for the work of ministry, for building up the body of
Christ."  However, this should still be interpreted as a clear mandate for
the mission of every member in every congregation today.

In his *Church Order in the New Testament* (SCM Press, 1961) Eduard
Schweizer makes a strong point that in the Pauline epistles, notably
Colossians and Ephesians, the Church has the attributes of the kingdom of
God.  The image of the body serves to describe "not so much the Church's
state as its growth; this is true both for 4:12-16, where the head is both
the source and the object of growth, and also for the image of the temple
or God's dwelling, where everything grows from Christ the cornerstone, and
from the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets (2:20-22)." 

Schweizer also notes that in ancient times buildings such as temples were
regarded as living organisms much like a living body in contrast to our
modern view of buildings as manufactured infrastructure.  This view finds
expression clearly in the metaphor of maturity measured by the "full
stature of Christ" (vs. 13) contrasted with the vacillations of immaturity
(vs. 14) and the emphasis on love as the crucial element of nurture which
"promotes the body's growth" (vs. 16).

In Schweizer's analysis, under the influence of the Spirit the church has
become both a world wide unity and a cosmic reality.  "Its mission is
indeed of cosmic range."  As a result, the members of the church as well as
the apostle function in a common ministry on a global and even cosmic
scale, not merely as part of a particular local congregation.  This passage
thus forms the scriptural basis for the outreach ministry of every local
congregation, where, as individual members and as a gathered community, we
must think globally and act locally.


JOHN 6:24-35.   This reading shows a special way in which John handled the
miracle of feeding of the five thousand.  For John, miracles had much more
to them than seeing unnatural events occur and benefitting personally from
them.  This one led to a discourse by Jesus about being the bread of life.
Many scholars believe that John used this discourse in place of the
narrative of the Last Supper in the other three Gospels.  John completely
omitted that pericope from his version of the Passion.  It many respects
this discourse is a homily on the meaning of the sacrament.

The passage makes three significant points: The miracle was another of the
signs identifying Jesus as the Messiah/Christ, the Son of God.  In vs. 27.
Jesus claims to be the Son of Man, which by this time had acquired a
christological connotation which it did not have in the Hebrew scriptures
of Ezekiel and Daniel.  He also bears the "seal" which the Father has set
on him.  The Greek verb *spragizein* used in this instance occurs also in
3:33.  In both cases the verb refers to the well-known custom of stamping
one's personal signet on wax sealing a document, product or vessel to
validate its ownership and authenticity in much the same way that modern
silver is hallmarked.  Ephesus, a noted commercial centre featuring the
manufacture of fine silverware and the probable place from which the Fourth
Gospel came, the custom would have been well known to John.  Here it
symbolized trustworthiness, i.e. Jesus is the one person who can give
eternal, spiritual life because God has set his seal upon him.

Somewhat ambiguously, however, the passage points beyond Jesus to God who
is the source of all life.  The miracles Jesus performs are "the works of
God."  Believing in Jesus, the Christ, is the only essential divine work
because God alone is the source of all life and power including Jesus'
power to perform the miracle of feeding the multitude.  The manna Moses
gave the Israelites in the desert came not from Moses but from God.  Then
John has Jesus' interlocutors ask reverently for this "bread from heaven"
which opens the way for Jesus to launch into his discourse, "I am the bread
of life."

Finally, by placing particular emphasis on his statement, "I am the bread
of life," John identifies Jesus completely with God.  This is a more
spiritual and theological reflection on the both the miracle and the person
of Christ than one finds in the other Gospels.  It comes close to defining
the trinitarian view of the person and work Christ.  Writing from the
viewpoint of a Jew in a thoroughly Hellenistic cultural milieu, John had
not yet gone as far as his successors the Greek Fathers would go in
defining the abstract trinitarian hypostasis of Christ.  He still maintains
the Hebrew sense of spiritual life in the context of daily existence in the
world where bread is eaten for physical sustenance.  Yet, it also looks
beyond the materialistic element of a few loaves and fish to the divine,
spiritual Source of life itself.  The purpose of eating the bread of life
(i.e. believing in Jesus Christ) is to live spiritually in the world here
and now while waiting for the *eschaton* yet to come.  But that carries us
beyond the immediate passage to the remainder of the discourse (vss.35-58).

                         
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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