Lectionary Commentary

Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary

Readings, Commentary, and Discussion Questions for June 10, 2018

Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5

THE READINGS

First Reading: 1 Samuel 8:4-11, [12-15], 16-20; [11:14-15] Alternative Genesis 3:8-15
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”
6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the LORD, 7 and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9 Now then, listen to their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
10 So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; [12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.] 16 He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, 20 so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
[11:14 Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the LORD, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.]

Worth Noting: Does a story that portrays humans replacing the rule of the LORD with an arbitrary, grasping tyrant ring true to you?

Psalm 138 Alternative Psalm 130
1 I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
2 I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness;
for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.
3 On the day I called, you answered me,
you increased my strength of soul.

4 All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O LORD,
for they have heard the words of your mouth.
5 They shall sing of the ways of the LORD,
for great is the glory of the LORD.
6 For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly;
but the haughty he perceives from far away.

7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;
you stretch out your hand,
and your right hand delivers me.
8 The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Worth Noting: Israel praises the LORD, the God of Israel, before the gods (verse 2) and kings (verse 4) of the nations, for the LORD has delivered Israel from danger.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
4:13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture – “I believed, and so I spoke” – we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. 5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Worth Noting: The Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 b.c.e.) described the material world as an impermanent shadow of what is reality, unchangeable forms that only the mind can apprehend. Our senses, he claimed, deceive us into believing that what we see is reality. Jewish thought, in contrast, affirmed the ultimate reality of the world God created (Genesis 1-2). Where is Paul falling on the continuum from Greek to Jewish?

Gospel: Mark 3:20-35
[Jesus came home] 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they [Jesus and his disciples] could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”
22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”
23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” –  30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”
33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Worth Noting: Careful readers of the Gospels cite the criterion of “embarrassment to the Church” as proof that an incident or saying can be traced to Jesus. The incident with the family fits into this category: The early Church would be hard-pressed to explain why Jesus’ own family thought he was insane. Does the incident ring true to you? Why wouldn’t Jesus’ family be all for his traveling and teaching and healing?

CONNECTING WITH THE SCRIPTURES

Introduction to 1and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings

During the summer, the Lectionary provides a history of the transition from the system of calling up Judges to lead the people in a time of crisis through the first three kings of the united kingdom, Saul, David, and Solomon, and concludes with the dedication of the first Temple by Solomon. Probably compiled and finally edited in the decades after the return from the Babylonian exile (527 b.c.e.), these texts represent part of the autobiography of the people of the LORD: Who they are in relationship to their God, first of all, and their neighbors next. More than anything, the soul searching that went into the writing meant to address the question “What went wrong? Why did the LORD permit our exile to Babylon?” To arrive at an answer, no institution and no individual was spared. The people rejected the LORD as their king. The LORD selected and then rejected Saul. The myriad sins of David and Solomon are carefully chronicled. Hence the answer: the people and their leaders bore responsibility for the destruction of the exile. Was this an early example of blaming the victim?

Entering into the Scriptures

When Paul arrived in Corinth, the entire city center proclaimed the glory and divinity of the Julian family (Julius Caesar [second founder of Corinth], Caesar Augustus his nephew and first emperor, and Tiberius, Augustus’ son, heir, and emperor). Roman religion, architecture, and literature/propaganda worked together seamlessly to portray Imperial Rome as not just invincible but also the savior of the world. Indeed, so Rome told the world, with the period of peace inaugurated by Caesar Augustus around 30 b.c.e., a new age of prosperity had begun and indeed it was an age of reduced warfare and increased prosperity. Of course, the principal beneficiaries of this pax Romana (“Roman peace”) were the international merchants linked, one way or another, to the emperor.
Jews, wishing to subvert this imperial propaganda, developed their own competing literature, restating the traditional faith that the LORD, the God of Israel, would restore Israel in its fullest glory and inaugurate a period of peace and justice dominated by the restored Israel. While the Romans proclaimed a new age had arrived, Jews pointed towards a future when all would be righteous. In this view, history has a goal and human endeavor can have meaning as it prepares creation for the Reign of God.
Paul followed a third path when he proclaimed that with the death and resurrection of Jesus, a new age had indeed dawned. Unlike the pax Romana, the benefits were available to everyone and all would be co-heirs in Christ’s riches. While the pax Romana proclaimed a new, perfected age, Paul recognized that there was an element of the unfinished about the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Unlike the Jewish vision of a future of justice and peace, Paul claimed that the new age had begun, though the world had not yet been truly transformed into that kingdom of which Jesus spoke. Paul’s “eschatology,” or understanding of the Last Days, therefore had a “now but not yet” element to it.
In the selection from 2 Corinthians above, Paul describes the resurrection of Jesus as our guarantee of eternal life. The current time, between the resurrection and the return of Jesus, is a time of work, struggle, and affliction. Like Plato, Paul looked to a better time when reality would be transformed. Like his Jewish contemporaries, Paul looked to his own efforts to hasten that time.

“We’ve Always Done It This Way!”

The readings from 1 Samuel and Mark illustrate how hard we find it to recognize the benefits of new ways of doing things. Israel wanted a king so that they “could be like the other nations” (1 Samuel 8:20). Jesus’ family, perhaps embarrassed by his vagabond life, wanted to corral him, to bring him back to a conventional career path – perhaps as a local healer, doing good but contained in a respectable profession. Neither Israel nor Jesus’ family acknowledges the magnitude of the inbreaking of God’s Spirit in the world.
Looking back, we wonder why humans seem to make choices contrary to their best interests. What is difficult to measure are the ways each of us prioritizes the values that we all share. At the moment at least, Jesus’ family prioritized good family reputation and the safety of staying below the radar of the occupying Romans over the possibility of immense changes in their world. The Israelites prioritized having a single “Big Chief” to represent them in war and international affairs over a messy but more democratic and God-centered political system. We can only sympathize. For us all, choosing the unusual, the unconventional, the new way of prioritizing and organizing things – in a word, choosing change – is hard!

Questions for Discussion

Do you, like the Jewish writers of the Old Testament, believe that actions have long term consequences? How has your community’s history impacted the life of the community today?

Would Jesus have been as effective if his family had joined his ministry? Do we need to break family and neighborhood bonds to reach our potentials?

Are their vagabonds in your community, those who ignore the stereotype of the successful life? Do you know someone who does? Is it the Church’s vocation to nurture these souls? If so, how?

For a PDF version of this week’s Journeying, click here.

 

Dennis Haugh has enjoyed working with adult seekers for over 20 years. He aims to engage academic and general audiences for the New Testament. To hone his skills and burnish his credentials, he earned his PhD in Biblical Studies in the University of Denver/Iliff School of Theology joint program.  He appreciates any correspondence: dennishaugh2011@gmail.com.

 

 

Unless expressly stated otherwise, all quotations from Scripture are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
Journeying through the Revised Common Lectionary © 2018 Dennis Haugh. Recent postings may be accessed at https://www.sttims.net/journeying-through-the-lectionary/.
 

 

 

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