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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 19 - Year B
II Samuel 18:5-9,15,31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35,41-51

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 Nineteen (Proper 14) B


2 SAMUEL 18:5-9,15,31-33.   Without doubt this is one of the most moving
stories from the whole David's reign. It actually told about God's love for
Israel in a very personal parable. 

A palace revolution set Absolam, one of David's sons, against his father
ending in David's flight and a bloody battle for power. Absolam suffered an
accident and was slain by David's ambitious general, Joab. When told the
tragic news, David wept bitterly for his rebellious son, as God weeps for
those God loves.


PSALM 130.               This short poem came from Israel's exile in
Babylon in the 6th century BC. Bitterly lamenting their separation from
their sacred temple, they could sing no song of praise to God in a foreign
land. The exiles could only hope for God's forgiveness for their sin,
followed by redemption and return to their homeland.


EPHESIANS 4:25-5:2.      Either Paul himself, or one of his disciples who
wrote this letter, exhorted his audience to live in a gentle and kindly way
rather than angrily venting their frustrations and injustices. Their model
was to be God's loving forgiveness for them so fully expressed in Jesus
Christ who died for them.


JOHN 6:35,41-51.         So different from the other gospels, John adds
this discourse to the story of Jesus feeding of the five thousand. It is
filled with John's reflections on who Jesus really is and the meaning of
his being the bread of life.
     
Jesus' claim to be the complete revelation of God puzzled his Jewish
contemporaries. They protested that they knew full well who he was because
they knew his parents.  Jesus went on to explain that he was not only the
successor to the prophets, but the one who makes perfectly plain all that
can be known about God and gives eternal, spiritual life to all who
believed.
     
John's Gospel was written possibly as long as sixty years after the
resurrection for the third generation of Christians. He gave the early
church's most profound understanding of what Jesus really means to every
generation. 

************
                                            
2 SAMUEL 18:5-9, 15, 31-33    The story of Absolam, David's third son,
forms a subplot to the life of David, in particular as a consequence of his
adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah.  An earlier part of the
narrative gave some justification for Absolam's rebellion.  Believing that
his father had lost his ability to provide adequate justice, Absolam took
matters into his own hands.  He arranged the death of Ammon, David's oldest
son, for raping his sister, Tamar ( 1 Sam. 13:1-29)  A palace revolution
set Absolam against his father and won a considerable following in Israel.
No longer sure of the loyalty of his troops, David fled from Jerusalem,
raised three battalions, returned to guerilla warfare and engaged Absolam's
forces in a bloody battle for power. 

David's forces won causing Absolam to flee.  He suffered a silly accident
by being caught by the forked branch of a tree as his mule ran through a
forest.  David's ambitious general, Joab, found and slew Absolam as he hung
there totally  vulnerable.  When told the tragic news, David wept bitterly
for his rebellious son, as God weeps for all those whom God loves.

Without doubt this is one of the most moving stories from the whole cycle
of narratives about David's reign.  It expresses profoundly human
sentiments and contains genuine theological relevance.  In a very personal
parable it told of David's love and grief for his both his sons, Ammon and
Absolam, both of whom had repulsed him. The story may also be seen as a
metaphor of God's love for recalcitrant Israel.  Because of this double
intent, it became sacred scripture. It can be read in an extremely dramatic
way bringing a deep sense of its pathos to an attentive audience.


PSALM 130  This short poem remains as one of the gems of the psalter.  It
came from the period after Israel's exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC.
Bitterly lamenting some unstated affliction, the poet could only hope for
Yahweh's forgiveness for sin.  His distress had no other explanation.
Waiting patiently for relief, he could only hope for speedy deliverance.    
                                                    
Yet at the same time this deep sense of trust in God's mercy and
forgiveness rested on the assurance of Yahweh's steadfast love.  After all,
the whole of Israel's faith-history about Yahweh's redemptive love lay
behind this fervent prayer.

The psalm was included in a collection known as the "Songs of Ascent,"
believed to have been sung by pilgrims as they approached Jerusalem for one
of the great festivals.  This one appears to fit the mood of those coming
for Yom Kippur, the Feast of Atonement.  On that holiest of occasions, all
individual and national sins were repented and received merciful
forgiveness.  All the people and the nation received atonement through the
designated sacrifices and the entrance of the high priest into the Holy of
Holies.  The fact that no mention is made of atoning sacrifices in this
psalm has caused scholars to assign it to a late, post-exilic date when
Israel's religious tradition had become more dependent on a spiritual
relationship with Yahweh much more like that of the New Testament. 

Vs. 6 contains a vivid image of watchmen on the eastern walls of Jerusalem
watching for dawn to break over the Mount of Olives.  From this, one can
surmise that the poem may well have been composed by an individual engaged
in a long night vigil contemplating two spiritual realities.  He may even
have been close to the city itself as he spent the night too moved by his
deep feelings to get any rest.  In his wakefulness, he longed for morning
to come when he could enter the city for the great festival.  At the same
time he was deeply conscious of his personal sin and had great hopes for
the peace of repentance and forgiveness.  Repentant Christians as well as
Jews have turned to this psalm for the reassuring hope that it brings tot
the troubled conscience.


EPHESIANS 4:25-5:2  As this continuing analysis of Ephesians has been
saying, either Paul himself, wrote this letter, or more probably one of his
disciples composed it from his knowledge of Paul's teaching, possibly after
using it as a baptismal sermon.  In this brief excerpt he exhorted his
audience to live in a gentle and kindly way rather than angrily venting
their frustrations and complaining about injustices they may have suffered.
Their model was to be God's loving forgiveness for them so fully expressed
in Jesus Christ who had died for them.

We need to keep at the forefront of our minds that the NT, and especially
the letters, were written for congregations scattered far and wide across
the eastern Roman empire.  However obliquely, they referred to real
situations within those faith communities.  We have few resources to
decipher exactly what those circumstances may have been when these letters
were composed.  It would appear from the context of this passage that there
was a considerable amount of bickering and quarreling going on in this
congregation.  Either that, or the letter was addressed to faith
communities in general which were in great conflict over the issue of
whether Jews and Gentile could fellowship together.  As someone put it in a
comment on last week's lesson, the issue was peace, not unity, although the
unity of Christ's body, the church, is named as one of the main themes of
this letter.

Apparently anger and deceit within the fellowship had become serious
concerns for "Paul" (vss. 25-27).  People also seem to have been taking
advantage of one another.  Some may have been only partially reformed
thieves (vs. 28).  When people are riled up about issues, they often
criticize and condemn one another mercilessly.  That may be what Paul had
in mind about "evil talk" in vs. 29.  His antidote to that kind of talk is
worth noting.  An elderly concert musician and teacher once said, "Like
good music, life needs to have plenty of grace notes.  That's what gives it
colour and flavour."

Did the anonymous author also have in mind Paul's "fruits of the Spirit" in
vs. 30?  He certainly made direct reference to the Spirit as the seal of
our future redemption, a phrase that occurs in the Pauline corpus many
times.  Then he returned to his earlier concern about serious communication
issues that had arisen within the church for which there was only one
solution: to speak in kind, gentle words with gracious forgiveness modeled
on God's forgiving grace in Jesus Christ.  That, of course, would require
considerable change of heart and perhaps some personal sacrifice of pride,
especially for those who had been hurt by harshly spoken words.  Could the
Corinthians with whom Paul had such difficulty have been in the author's
mind here?  As Frederick B. Craddock said in a sermon to one of Canada's
most prestigious congregations and a large radio audience, "Only those who
have been hurt can be forgiving because they have been wounded and
violated."  That is exactly what God did - and does - consistently.  We are
all among the forgiven. 


JOHN 6:35, 41-51   So different from the other gospels, John added this
discourse to the story of Jesus feeding of the five thousand as an
interpretation of something much more relevant to his own time and
audience.  It was filled with John's reflections on who Jesus really is and
the meaning of his being "the bread of life."

If as many scholars have concluded, John was writing for the church in
Ephesus in the last decade of the 1st century, what was he saying to them
in this metaphor and its elaboration in the discourse?  Within the decade
before John wrote, the final distinction between the Jewish and the
Christian faith traditions had become clear.  Christians no longer belonged
to a sect of Judaism.  Jews who believed that Jesus was the long promised
Messiah had been expelled from their synagogues and alienated from their
families.  Christian communities now had a majority of Gentiles in their
ranks.  The teaching of the apostles defined more and more the limits of
the tradition.  Christian communities radically transformed liturgies from
their Jewish antecedents to express their peculiar Christian beliefs.
Gospels recording Jesus' sayings and deeds, the story of his passion, death
and resurrection, and especially letters attributed to the apostle Paul,
circulated more and more widely among churches.  Into this milieu John's
Gospel introduced these reflections about the eucharistic celebration which
marked every Christian gathering for worship. 

In this passage, Jesus' claim to be the complete revelation of God greatly
puzzled his Jewish contemporaries.  They protested that they knew full well
who he was because they knew his parents.  Mistakenly, they had understood 
him in an entirely literal way.  Characteristically, Jesus had spoken in
metaphors. 

Bread had been particularly important in the Jewish religious tradition.
Not only was it the staff of life, it held the promise of life itself.  The
Deuteronomists regarded the gift of eating bread without scarcity in the
Promised Land as the promise of life in freedom and prosperity (Deut. 8:9).
The sacrificial system included an offering of cereal used in the making of
bread.  Tabernacle and temple both required a permanent display of bread
representing the presence of Yahweh (Exod. 25:30; 1 Chron. 28:16).  The
festival of unleavened bread formed the central religious rite in
remembrance of the Exodus.  Like the manna that fed the Israelites in the
wilderness, Jesus identified himself with this ancient tradition as the
"bread from heaven ."  In doing so, he at once acknowledged the
significance of this divine gift of bread and reinterpreted its meaning. 
He explained that he was not only the successor to the prophets, of whom
Moses was foremost, but actually represented God in every way.  He was the
one who makes perfectly plain all that can be known of God and gives God's
eternal, spiritual life to all who believe.

Thus John gave the early church its most profound understanding of what
Jesus really means to his own and to every generation.  Whenever we
participate in the breaking of bread, in the sacred Eucharist or in the
humblest meal, we have fellowship with him and with God whom he reveals to
us through the working of the Spirit.

                         
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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