Proper 14, Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 12, 2012

Reading 1: Reading 2:Reading 3:Reading 4:
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33Psalm 130Ephesians 4:25-5:2John 6:35, 41-51

By Mary Ricketts

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

If you choose to reflect on the Hebrew scripture passage for your message, you might want to also look at the verses that not are suggested by the lectionary. The pericope does not include a number of essential details of the story of Absalom’s death.

In last week’s Hebrew scripture we read that Nathan’s pronounces that even though David repents of his behavior surrounding his seduction of Bathsheba, “Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and will take your wives before your own eyes and give them to your neighbors, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.” (2 Sam. 12:12) In the text that lies between last week’s and this week’s reading, this prophetic word has been fulfilled. It is David’s son, Absalom, who lies with David’s concubines (wives), after he takes possession of Jerusalem. (2 Sam. 16:22) Absalom has manipulated the people of Israel over four years and has planned to install himself as King.

In this week’s passage, King David’s armies have gone out to fight Absalom’s army. It is clear from the text that King David is told not to go out to the battle himself because he is too important to the people of Israel. Also, it means that he will not have to personally confront his rebel son. The battles take place in the forest and Absalom is caught in an oak tree hanging between heaven and earth. Scholars question if Absalom is caught by his massive hair mentioned in 2 Samuel 14:26. It is likely that this humiliating position is used as a commentary on his attempt to usurp the throne.

The lectionary passage does not include verse 14, where it is recorded that Joab kills Absalom with three spears to the heart. Soldiers have reported Absalom’s predicament to Joab, but they have been unwilling to harm him because he is the king’s son and there have been instructions to deal gently with him. Perhaps Joab is willing to kill Absalom because he burned down Joab’s fields to get his attention. (2 Samuel 14: 30-31)

Joab is the one who keeps a clear vision about Absalom’s betrayal and the needs of the country. Joab sends a Cushite warrior to tell King David of Absalom’s death. Later, in the beginning verses of chapter 19, Joab reprimands King David, saying that he might be personally grieving, but he needs to let the troops know that they have defended his throne and served their country.

I know that probably those who devised the lectionary thought it was good to point to a rebellious son and an ambivalent and then grieving father. Yet, King David strikes me as a Tom Cruise type of character, all passion and emotion, but never really thinking through what his personal decision will mean to the country he rules. It is clear that I find Joab the reasonable character here. One might even explore the interplay of these three very distinct characters.

Where is God in the midst of these three men: Absalom’s conniving and selfishness, King David’s distress at putting down a rebellion when his oldest son is the leader, and Joab who continues to follow King David’s order, but speaks and acts in the best interest of Israel?

Psalm 130

This Psalm is matched well with the story of Absalom’s betrayal and death in 2 Samuel. Certainly it is easy to hear King David’s crying these words as he grieves for his son.

You can look at the Psalm as a progression from the personal to the communal. Verses 1 and 2 are a personal cry for God attention, simply to be heard. This is the first promise we count on, that God will listen. Verses 3 and 4 continue to plead to God, but with a pronouncement and profession of God’s character: that no one could stand before God – no one that does not need healing. A second promise is that God will forgive – that even in the midst of all our brokenness, our relationship with God is not broken.

Verses 5 and 6 seem to look out towards the other. The psalmist is committed to wait and watch for God. It is God who brings hope and healing. Yet, often this healing comes through patience and a willingness to hope and wait, even if there seems to be no reason to hope, we watch for the morning.

Verses 7 and 8 is a profession and encouragement that the community should hope in God’s steadfast love. God’s presence has the power to redeem – to bring new thoughts, new concepts, new ways of imagining new solutions. It is immersing ourselves into God’s being where new life emerges from what was only death before.

King David’s prayer life is well recorded. It is David’s passionate relationship with God that enables him to continue to lead God’s people even with his all-too-personal trials recorded in the Hebrew scripture.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

The first two verses of Chapter 5 blend very well with the final verses of Chapter 4 as the letter articulates the challenges of living together as a community of faith and encourages them to place God’s love as the central influence of that community.

What I find interesting is not only the straightforwardness of the writer, but the diversity of the community he is addressing. I can’t think of a time that I have told anyone in my churches to stop lying or putting up a front to one another. And certainly I have not had any known thieves that I needed to tell them to stop stealing. I think too often we imagine the first generation of Christians as a homogeneous group who always got along together. However, reading this text puts an end to that illusion.

These people were both Jews and Gentiles as well as honest-working people and those who made their way by stealing. They also needed instructions about how to handle their anger and how to talk to one another. In short, they were human, just like us. They faced challenges of living in relationship with one another and the instructions in the letter are still helpful.

The writer acknowledges that people get angry, but that we can choose how to deal with our anger, particularly not to let it fuel revenge. Moreover, the words we say to one another are important. What we say, and how we treat others, makes a difference to God. We might think this is obvious since we believe that God is present in and a part of all of our relationships, but it is amazing how often we speak as though God is nowhere near us.

The source and power for healthy, caring, gentle relationships is found in God’s Spirit, that Spirit which is forgiving and extravagant and sacrificial. It is the lure of God’s presence: to live in God’s world, be open to God’s grace, and have that influence make a difference in how we live.

I find it odd how often faith communities want to argue about ‘what the Bible says,’ while ignoring these types of texts that encourage straight talk, forgiveness and extravagant love. Perhaps we should care more about the words we said and how we said them than whether we agreed with one another.

John 6:35, 41-51

The imagines of “Bread of Life” and “manna in the wilderness” from last week’s lectionary continue into this week’s passage. The grumbling that is heard from the people this week is focused on Jesus’ humanness and knowability. That is, how can Jesus be “bread from heaven” when we know his mom and dad? It is interesting that the same word used for ‘grumbling or complaining’ in verse 41 is the same word used when the Hebrew people complained in the wilderness. In fact, the Gospel writer intentionally links Jesus’ story with the faith story of the Hebrew people throughout this text. This is also heard in Verse 45, which echoes the words of Jeremiah 31:34.

So, to tell the Good News of God given through Jesus, the Gospel writer continues to use imagines and concepts that the people of faith already know and have deep meaning for them. The story of God’s sustaining manna in the wilderness becomes enfleshed and improved in the person of Jesus. Jesus has become the conduit to hearing and learning from God. So, the writer begins with something the people know: a truth they believe and now has the opportunity to move them to a new understanding of what God is doing through Jesus.

In this case it is better bread: living, breathing, dynamic bread that brings eternal life. I think this means that Jesus is offering a relationship that moves and grows with the people of faith, which will sustain them in an unknown future. The gospel writer uses the intimate image of eating of Jesus’ own flesh. This image has caused difficulty both then and now. Many scholars have weighted in on what this means, but perhaps it can be simply a way of talking about personal commitment and involvement in this new Jesus movement. That is, this new way of life is so radical and so dependant on understanding Jesus as the one who illuminates God’s way that one must consume his very being to be a part of the community.

The gospel reading gives a clear statement of how central Jesus is to learning about God. If you link it with the Epistle, you could give an image of what a community who lived on the ‘Bread of Life’ looked like in the first century.