Year B – Season after Pentecost – Proper 07 Ordinary 12

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE

1 SAMUEL 17:32‑49.   The story of David and Goliath reads as one of the great feats ofIsrael’s legendary hero-king. It comes from a cycle of early narratives aboutIsrael’s first king, Saul, and his more famous successor, David. Where Saul failed David succeeded in a continuing conflict with invading Philistines, a sea-going people who had settled along the Mediterranean coast.

As it presently exists, the story has been combined with a later source and still later edited into a long narrative that is at times inconsistent. The point of this passage, however, is to show that David triumphed because of his trust in God.

JOB 38:1-11 (Alternate).   The great drama dealing with the problem of innocent suffering comes to a crashing climax with God speaking directly to Job in a long series of unanswerable questions. God challenges Job to accept the reality that as Creator, God is more powerful than mere humans like himself. However, the fundamental question of why people suffer is never answered.

PSALM 9:9‑20.   This is an excerpt from a longer psalm originally consisting of Psalms 9 and 10. It is both a hymn of thanksgiving for God’s help (vss. 9-12), and an appeal for God’s favour (vss. 13-14) and for judgment against wicked enemies (vss. 15-20).

PSALM 107:1-3, 23-32. (Alternate).   This psalm celebrates the steadfast love of God toward the redeemed of Israel showing how God brought them through great trials.

2 CORINTHIANS 6:1-13.   This passage should be read in connection with the preceding passage beginning at 5:11. Paul had a continuing conflict with the Corinthians Christians. They did not always accept him and his preaching as he would have preferred. Despite extreme difficulties he reiterates his appeal that the Corinthians respond to the message of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ.

MARK 4:35‑41.   The question about who Jesus really is comes to the fore in this brief story. He calms a storm which had arisen suddenly as the disciples were taking him across theSea of Galilee in a boat. Not only did he rebuke the waves, he also rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. That is the whole point of the story: nothing could harm the disciples while he was with them.

Many people have found great comfort in sensing Jesus’ constant presence in the most difficult and dangerous crises. Mark’s audience in Romein the 60s AD surely felt that way as they faced persecution by Emperor Nero. It is probable that both Peter and Paul were martyred during this period.

A MORE COMPLEYTE ANALYSIS

1 SAMUEL 17:32‑49

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This is surely one of the best loved children’s stories in the Old Testament. It tells one of the great feats ofIsrael’s legendary hero-king. It comes from a cycle of early narratives aboutIsrael’s first king, Saul, and his more famous successor, David. Where Saul failed, David succeeded in a continuing conflict with invading Philistines, a sea-going people who had settled along the Mediterranean coast. But it is anything but a children’s story.

As it presently exists, the story has been combined with a later source and still later was edited into a long narrative that is at times inconsistent. The point of this passage, however, is to show that David triumphed over Goliath only because of his trust in God.

Archeologists and historians have all but failed to find any significant evidence that David actually existed. The best estimate of the Saul and David cycle of stories likens them to the English legends of King Arthur. Like those traditional patriotic romances, story-tellers used literary imagination to enhance the achievements of their hero for other purposes. Yet there may well have been real tribal chieftains, Saul and David, who like Arthur in times of transition or crisis achieved much on behalf of their people. Later generations embellished the legendary sagas of these heroes into meaningful and inspirational stories with a religious motif. In the case of Arthur, the stories amounted to a literary enrichment of genteel Victorian morality based on male dominant chivalry. In the case of David, the stories became part of Israel’s faith history based on the covenant relationship of Yahweh to Israel. A good historical-critical exegesis of the stories is found in Professor George Caird’s study in The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 2. Of particular value is the introductory article, Section VII, on the historical value of the sources from which the present canonical text developed.

Recently an archeological dig discovered a small fortified city, Qeiyafa, strategically located on a hilltop on the northern side of the ElahValley, on the main highway going east from Philistia and the coastal plain to Jerusalem. It was in the ElahValleythat David fought Goliath. The archeologist who made this discovery called it “a fortified checkpoint on the road to Jerusalem. … It was probably intended to defend Judahagainst the much larger Philistine city of Gath. Qeiyafa is less than 6 acres in area. The hostile Philistine city of Gath, just 6.5 miles away in the ElahValley, is about 75 acres. In this sense the Biblical story of David and Goliath, even if legendary, may be understood as a kind of Biblical metaphor, the little David of Qeiyafa versus the Philistine giant of Goliath/Gath.” (Biblical Archaeology Review. 35:1. January-February 2009. 38-43)

All that aside, this story of David slaying Goliath still can be used as lighter sermon fare for topical preaching in summertime. Here are some possible themes: “Little stones make holy weapons;” “How God can multiply the power of the weakest;” “The biggest isn’t always the most powerful;” “Trust in God but load your slingshot!” Note too that Jesus often used rebukes and confronts to get the point of his ministry across, especially in dealing with recalcitrant unbelievers and dangerous opponents. The parable of the wicked tenants in Mark 12:1-12 comes immediately to mind.

JOB 38:1-11

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(Alternate) The great drama dealing with the problem of innocent suffering comes to a crashing climax with God speaking directly to Job in a long series of unanswerable questions. God challenges Job to accept the reality that as Creator, God is more powerful than mere humans like himself. The fundamental question, however, is never answered.

Scholars debate whether to regard the Book of Job as a drama or a poem. In dealing with the problem of suffering, Job’s three friends and a fourth, younger participant, Elihu, have all said their set pieces.  None have satisfactorily answered the eternal question: Why do the innocent suffer? Job has responded, angrily at times, to each of the first three. Elihu gave a long speech proclaiming God’s justice, condemning Job’s self-righteousness and exalting God’s goodness and majesty. Now God enters the dialogue in response to Job’s hostility.

The soaring rhetoric majestically declares the works of divine creativity and providence. Yet it never answers the fundamental question. It merely humbles Job and illustrates the vast gulf between human and divine understanding. The problem remains a mystery.

PSALM 9:9‑20

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This is an excerpt from a longer psalm originally consisting of Psalms 9 and 10. It is both a hymn of thanksgiving for God’s help (vss. 9-12); and an appeal for God’s favour (vss. 13-14) and for judgment against wicked enemies (vss. 15-20).

We often forget that the praises of Israel arose out of life situations, most of which are now completely unknowable.  The context of this excerpt appears to reflect a time of great national distress, perhaps of imminent danger from foreign invasion. The image of Yahweh as a stronghold in vs. 9 suggests the need for something more than military defenses. In biblical times all cities and even small towns had a fortress into which the people retreated when invasions occurred. The preceding verses reflect a temporary victory ofIsraelover an unnamed enemy (vss. 3, 5- 6, 13-14). The victory was attributed to Yahweh who sits enthroned as an imperial potentate exercising judgment over the nations (vss. 4, 7, 8, 16).

The religious response to these events requires that the faithful put greater trust in Yahweh. The suffering poor, possibly those widows and orphans who lost husbands and fathers in battle, or those wounded and no longer able to provide for themselves, have special need for this assistance (vs. 12). Yet they are often forgotten and rejected (vs. 13, 18). Anyone who has visited a hospital where dismembered, disfigured or demented veterans of war must live out their days knows how these pitiful human sacrifices have been isolated from public view. For selfish political reasons, governments often try to hide these terrible costs of war from their public.

Ultimately, of course, the psalmist’s hope rests on his trust in Yahweh (vs. 20). At the same time, his narrow ethical viewpoint prevents him from recognizing “the nations” (i.e. other nations which are Israel’s enemies and lack Israel’s covenant faith) as being of any value to Yahweh. He also sees Israelas righteous people who draw superhuman strength from Yahweh. This attitude is reminiscent of the “evil empire” attitudes of many toward the Soviet Unionduring the Cold War of the late 20th century and of the earlier republican vs. loyalist conflicts of the American War of Independence.

PSALM 107:1-3, 23-32

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(Alternate)   This psalm celebrates the steadfast love of God toward the redeemed of Israel showing how God brought them through great trials. The whole of this beautiful litany of thanksgiving celebrates several instances when faith was tested and God’s redemptive grace relieved distressed souls.  After the opening summons to praise (vss. 1-3), the psalm is divided into a number of discreet segments with almost no relation.

There are several references to Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness. The one exception appears to be in this reading (vss. 23-32) referring to a sea voyage on stormy waters. Generally speaking, the Jews were not a sea-going people. Was this passage linked in some way to the parable of Jonah? But that story was only superficially about a sea voyage as an allegory of the exile. Some scholars regard it as an addition from the Hellenistic period (after 330 BCE) when sea-borne commerce had become common. Vs. 3 refers directly to the widespread Diaspora of Israel which also indicates a relatively late date for the composition of the psalm.

Structurally, the psalm may or may not have been a unity. The antiphonal responses of vss. 8, 15, 21 and 31 give evidence of it having been composed for congregational worship, possibly at the time when sacrifices were offered in the temple. Of particular significance is the prophetic sense of social justice that permeates the psalm recalling Isaiah 61:1-4.

2 CORINTHIANS 6:1‑13

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This passage should be read in connection with the preceding part of the letter beginning at 5:11. Paul had a continuing conflict with the Corinthians Christians. They did not always accept him and his preaching as he would have preferred. Despite extreme difficulties he reiterates his appeal that they respond to the message of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ.

Faced with their determined opposition to his ministry, Paul sought a cooperative rather than a confrontational relationship with the Corinthian community (vs. 1). He saw them “working together” in a common mission, to make God’s reconciling love in Christ known everywhere and to everyone. To him that was the only possible human response to what God had done in Christ. Any other response to this grace would be utterly in vain.

To emphasize his point that the time to respond is now, as they heard the gospel preached, Paul quoted from the Greek version of Isaiah 49:8. His urgency reflected his view that the end was near, i.e. Christ would soon return to judge the living and the dead. Then it would be too late for the recalcitrant to repent and turn to God.

At this point Paul launched into a defense of his ministry with particular emphasis on his diligence and how much it has cost him in personal suffering. He set this in the context of the general apostolic mission, as if his experiences had not been particularly unique. Hence the use of the phrase “as servants of God” and the first person plural in vs. 4. It makes quite a list of what the sincere evangelist in those times might well expect. Is he just boasting as he denied he was doing in 3:1 and 5:12? Is it still possible in our own time to face similar privations? Some newly ordained pastors and their spouses appointed to hinterland parishes far away from their urban roots might well wonder, as many can attest from their own experience.

Commentators have noted that this is the one place where Paul addressed the Corinthians by name (vs. 11). Thus the citation of general apostolic sufferings had a particular reference to this community. It was for them that he endured so much. Paul’s main purpose in listing these ordeals was to reassure the Corinthians that he truly did love them for Christ’s sake and to remind them that their problem was with their own attitudes (vs. 12). In other words, “It’s your problem, not mine!” The text conveys a not so gentle sense of rebuke.

William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible commentary on the Corinthians letters (p. 9) cites this passage as part of a reconciling letter Paul wrote after having written a much more severe letter now contained in (2 Cor. 10-13). While other scholars differ as to the exact divisions of Paul’s correspondence, the general consensus is that we now have a “scribal compilation” of at least three letters woven into a well-constructed whole. This would have been done as part of a general incorporation of the Corinthian correspondence into a Pauline corpus prepared for a wider circulation.

We, of course, have only the canonical version of this complex collection. Brevard Childs discusses the significance of the canonical text as it now stands in his The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction (Fortress Press, 1984). “The ministry about which the apostle is talking is not just a defense of his actions before the Corinthians, but relates to the gospel in the eternal purpose of God…. Far from being an idealization of the apostle, it explains why his suffering was not simply an unfortunate accident, but offered as the true evidence of his divinely commissioned apostolic office.”

In an age when secular culture concentrates on entirely different and selfish values, the spiritual insight of this passage may bring certain inspirational comfort (i.e. strength as well as compassion) to Christians striving to live by the sacrificial values God set before us in Christ Jesus.

MARK 4:35‑41

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The question about who Jesus really is comes to the fore in this brief story. He calms a storm which had suddenly arisen as the disciples were taking him across the Sea of Galilee in a boat. Not only did he rebuke the waves, he also rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith.

That is the whole point of the story: nothing could harm the disciples while he was with them because he exercised divine control over the forces of nature. Many people have found great comfort in sensing Jesus’ constant presence in the most difficult and dangerous crises. Mark’s audience inRomein the 60s CE surely felt that way as they had faced persecution by Emperor Nero. It is probable that both Peter and Paul were martyred during this period.

Two other aspects of this pericope bring to the fore different and perhaps more primitive interpretations about Jesus. He was at once a miracle worker and had dominion over both natural and demonic forces. Yet there is also a remarkable depth to the story offering many homiletic opportunities.

In The Complete Gospels (Robert J. Miller, ed.. Polebridge Press, 1992.) A note on this passage makes several significant points: This is one of several lake crossings in Mark’s Gospel, which he calls a sea (thalassa – a term usually referring to theMediterranean Sea). The term may be an exaggeration for emphasis. It “resonates powerfully” with “God’s creative and redemptive control of the waters (Gen. 1; Ex. 14; Pss. 69, 89, 93, 104-107; Isa. 43; 51:9-10).” It develops Mark’s theme of “faltering trust and faulty comprehension of Jesus’ band of followers.” The words the disciples used to waken Jesus were usually addressed to God (Ps. 44:23). Jesus stilled the storm as if exorcising a demon in much the same way as he did in many of Mark’s miracle stories.

Donald Spotto has an important comment on Jesus as a miracle worker in his The Hidden Jesus: A New Life. He notes that our understanding of the word “miracle” contains a notion that would be incomprehensible to the world of the Bible. “For the Jewish and Christian people of biblical times, God was trusted as the Lord of everything created; nothing was outside the range of his power.” In this instance, Mark was saying this about Jesus. The pericope is a metaphor for the early Christian confession, “Jesus is Lord.” If John had used this story in his gospel, he would have included it as one of the signs Jesus gave to declare openly who he is. Mark, on the other hand, keeps that truth hidden even from the disciples (vs. 41). Experienced boatmen though they may have been and knowing full well the dangers of a sudden squall sweeping down from theGolan Heights, they were simply awed and confused by what had happened to them.

Tourists who have taken the boat ride to Capernaum on Lake Galilee and have been caught in one of these squalls can attest to the sense of terror that the disciples must have felt. It takes a very few minutes for a storm to develop from dead calm to a raging torrent of rain, mighty waves and contrary winds. Galilean fishing boats of that era with oars and flimsy sails were much smaller vessels than the diesel-driven tourist boats now plying these waters. One tourist who had such an experience told me that it was a moment of revelation for her despite her reassuring trust in the skill of the helmsman and the size of the vessel. As the psalmist sang in Ps. 46:7 “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

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