The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8), 1 July 2018

July 1, 2018 | by Nichole Torbitzky

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 [Psalm 130] 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Mark 5:21-43

2 Sam 1:1, 17-27
This passage begins with David in his home-base city, Ziklag in the Negev (modern day Southern Israel).  He has just returned from polishing off the Amalekites and learns of Saul’s death. David has been in the Negev on the run from Saul, but after he gets the news, he grieves his enemy Saul, and his dear friend Jonathan, recorded in verses 17-27.  These verses are a poem called the, “Song of the Bow” and they are recorded in the Book of Jashar. As a side note, the Book of Jashar still exists today, but it was not then and is not now, considered canonical Scripture. Many scholars today are dubious of the authenticity of many of the passages as they appear in extant copies of the Book of Jashar.

The Song of the Bow is something of a prayer and something of a eulogy, but it is not addressed to God.  Instead, Israel is invoked. David begins by cautioning silence about the death of the King so that Israel’s enemies cannot take advantage of the situation. He curses the mountains of Gilboa, the site of Saul’s death.  He goes on to praise Saul and Jonathan’s bravery in battle. He calls them beloved and lovely and notes that father and son were not separated in life or death. He reminds Israel, through her women, of Saul’s material success as a King.  He particularly grieves Jonathan, whom he loved more than he loved anyone else. It is from this song that the phrase, “how the mighty have fallen” comes into American colloquial usage.

Preachers working on this week’s text would not be amiss to use this as an opportunity to address the reality of grief.  It also lends itself to a discussion of the importance of friendship and relationship. Process preachers will be keenly aware that in some important ways, we are our relationships.  Whitehead says, “The individual is formative of the society and the society is formative of the individual” (Whitehead, Religion in the Making, 87). While we privately make our own choice about how to become in any given moment, that private decision can only be made in the context of our relationships. Harmony and intensity, beauty and novelty, the goods of existence are only found in relationship.  A wide variety of relationships are necessary for these goods to be realized.

For many men, especially men nearing or in retirement, friendships and connections outside of one’s immediate family often dwindle.  A Boston Globe article by Billy Baker runs down the reasons and hazards of isolation quoting two psychologists who study men and isolation:

“Beginning in the 1980s, Schwartz says, study after study started showing that those who were more socially isolated were much more likely to die during a given period than their socially connected neighbors, even after you corrected for age, gender, and lifestyle choices like exercising and eating right. Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the progression of Alzheimer’s. One study found that it can be as much of a long-term risk factor as smoking.”

David and Jonathon, and even Saul, can be held up for the importance of relationship (and vulnerability), especially for men, but for everyone in our congregations.  

2 Cor 8:7-15
What appears in our Bibles as “Second Corinthians” may in fact be Paul’s fourth letter to the Corinthians.  (See the Harper Collins Study Bible for a concise summary of the theories surrounding 2 Corinthians.) Much water has passed under the bridge between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, and much of it was painful for Paul.  Even so, Paul has a duty and a mission and he cannot neglect them. In the verses for Proper 8, Paul touches on a subject that is often still difficult for preachers today: finances. He advises, but does not command, sufficiency for those who have enough, and sharing any excess to benefit those who do not.  He gives this advice on the Christological foundation that Christ was rich, but for our sakes, he became poor. This has rarely been a popular proposition in most of our churches and considering the current political climate in America and around the globe, might be met with hostility and charges of “socialist” or “communist.”  Tread lightly, dear preacher, and speak the truth in love as Paul did here. Paul does not advocate for any particular economic system in this passage, instead he advocates for a living out of the generosity that God has shown to us in Jesus Christ.

The quote from Whitehead in the previous section is relevant here as well, “The individual is formative of the society and the society is formative of the individual” (Whitehead, Religion in the Making, 87).  In this passage on generosity, Paul is encouraging the church at Corinth to donate to the collection that he is taking up for the church in Jerusalem. The collection is for the economic need of the church in Jerusalem.  It also functions as an act of solidarity and unity and connection with the church that sprang up in Jesus’ wake. In our acts of economic generosity, we support the very society that supports us. The deep and inviolable bonds of existence dictate that an individual’s wellbeing is inextricably bound to the wellbeing of one’s relational setting.  Economics do not stand outside of the purview of God and are just as integral to the wellbeing of the one and the all. Put simply, Paul reminds us that investing in society is investing in ourselves. He invites us still today to contribute, as we are able.

Mark 5:21-43
This pericope tells two stories of healing.  One is the resurrection story of Jairus’ daughter which bookends the second story of healing the hemorrhaging woman. These stories are part of the first cycle of miracles in the Markan narrative. In this narrative cycle, Jesus has crossed the Sea of Galilee, one can pretty safely to assume, back over to the west side. There he is met by a leader of a local synagogue named Jairus. The leader begs Jesus to come to his home to heal his daughter, who is on the verge of death.

It may be worthwhile to note that contrary to some modern beliefs about the place of girls in ancient life as unwanted, unloved, burdens on their families, needed only as breeders and tools for family alliances, this story shows the deep love and anxiety a father has for his daughter.  This is not to say that the abuses of patriarchy were not real. It is to say that those abuses were not the lone relationship between parents and their daughters. It might also be interesting to note that the text clearly says, and by way of inclusion appears to emphasize, that Jesus took not just the father, but the girl’s mother as well into the room where the girl lay.  Add to this, the actions of the hemorrhaging woman, and women are conspicuously present in this pericope. More than simply conspicuously present, they are important, worthy of healing, capable of inclusion, able to act for one’s self and have those actions deemed acceptable.

One common feature of these interwoven stories, outside of the positive inclusion of women, is the importance of agency.  Both Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman exercise their agency to accomplish much needed healing. These stories reflect the power and importance of individual agency.   Actively requesting and seeking aid are important components of each story. In the stories, this agency is handsomely rewarded. Action and change come, in process theological terms, when comparison of the possibilities with the reality of a situation lead to choosing a possibility that differs from the givenness of the current situation.  Jesus offers the comparative possibilities. In him, with him, by him, things can be different, not just different, but better than they are. But, Jesus does not force those possibilities on anyone. These stories demonstrate that individual action is required for attaining the best possible.

This is a word of gospel for our times when so many followers of Jesus feel overwhelmed and helpless.  One of the many truths of Jesus Christ is that those who follow him are not helplessly at the mercy of forces of the world.  These stories illustrate the importance of actively reaching for the possibilities offered by Jesus.

Nichole Torbitzky received a doctorate from Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA and her Master of Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Her current research investigates Whiteheadian notions of subjective form and the internal relations subjective form has on the ordering of eternal objects in the primordial nature of God. Torbitzky is an assistant professor of religion at Lindenwood University and teaches courses on World Religions, Islam, Indian Religions, History of Christianity, and Women and Religion.