Manage episode 278337807 series 1950523
For the first 22 Sundays of the Christian Year–through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Pentecost and Trinity Sundays—we have followed a consistent lectionary pattern. Easter was an exception given the use of Acts as the first lesson and a roughly continuous reading through 1 John.
That pattern involves a first OT reading and Psalm which have been chosen to complement the Gospel reading for the day, and at times the Epistle as well. “In many and various ways” the OT, Psalm and Gospel selections display important relationships between God’s work in Israel and in Jesus Christ.
With this Sunday we enter a different terrain. The patterns referred to just now continue, but on a Track Two optional path. Track One corresponds to a different conception, one in which the OT readings are not chosen to correlate in a conscious way with the Gospel, but rather are provided to allow the church to follow the narrative line within an OT book. This is not really possible, however, given the size of the OT, so the readings are a sort of ‘greatest hits’ of a book. So for the next 11 Sundays, reaching into the month of August in the long Pentecost Season, or Ordinary Time, we hear portions of 1 and 2 Samuel for the first reading. Yet all told, there are 55 total chapters in the twin books of Samuel so Track 1 can do its job only in this piecemeal sense. (Compare the continuous reading of 2 Corinthians we are also pursuing at the same time, and how it is able to cover the letter given its much shorter length). What it seeks to do is depart from a selection-for-complementarity approach and allow the OT to ‘have its own voice,’ so to say.
Let me say a word further by way of commentary. Since Pentecost Season runs over several months and is the longest sustained lectionary period of the year—with as many as 30 Sundays—it offers the preacher, reader, church in general an opportunity to do some narrative style exposition. For the OT, if Track one is chosen, or of the Epistle. I am not going to pursue that tack here, but mention it just the same. The lectionary is a servant and not master and it offers flexible choices for setting forth the Christian Bible as a whole.
Track one introduces narratives about the prophet Samuel, beginning with his call as a boy in the Temple, and we will hear three episodes in which he plays a role in the run-up to the anointing of David, over the coming Sundays. This is the same reading which was used back at the very beginning of Year B, for Epiphany 2, where it was paired with the call of Nathanael in John’s Gospel. There it played a complementary role, in contrasting the ready obedience of Samuel with the incredulity of Nathanael, and the surprising persistence of God and Christ with them both. There we had Psalm 139, read for this Sunday, as well. “Lord you have searched me out and known me, like the boy Samuel, you know my sitting down in the temple and my rising up to run to Eli, you discern my thoughts from afar.”
The call of Samuel comes to set a new direction, away from the direction of the Book of Judges, and the wickedness of the sons of Eli. And who is this obedient and righteous Samuel but the surprising son of Hannah, whose aged giving birth to him launches the people of Israel onto a fresh new path. So the Books of Samuel open. Her song of joy is the model for the Magnificat sung centuries later at the surprising birth of another Savior, King David’s Greater Son. God is moving in mysterious ways, working past the obstacles on the human plane to bring into being his way. Eli demands to hear about this fresh new direction even if it means judgment over him and his own house. And from that sober request of the young boy spirals forth his important recognition: It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him. And so it will be.
Our Gospel reading for the day takes us back into the early chapters of Mark, where our journey in Year B first began. Chapter One’s “and immediately Jesus” punctuated narrative line hurtles us past the introduction to and baptism by John, wilderness temptation, Galilee preaching, calling of disciples, exorcism and healing in Capernaum, the cleansing of a leper, the healing of a paralytic and calling of the tax collector Levi. And with this last action a new theme emerges which will track right through to the end: earthly hostility and opposition, matching the spiritual opposition in Chapter One. The whirlwind honeymoon of Jesus stunning, “and immediately,” activity in chapter one has come to an end. The Book of Judges and the wicked sons of Eli enter in the form of Jesus’ opponents.
Jesus insists that the Sabbath was not created by God as a means of preventing acts of mercy – the details of which disputed within the Judaisms of the day, for which we here find one harsher Pharisaic version. David himself operated within the parameters of mercy and necessity, Jesus reminds them. The scriptures do not present the picture they are distorting so as to attack him. He then enters the synagogue for round two, this time concerning his response to a man with a withered hand. Their silence before his question shows he has got to the heart of the matter. And he rounds on them in anger. So the battle for the authority of God in the Kingdom Jesus has come to bring is on. His destruction is now a matter of conscious planning – a conspiracy of certain Pharisees with the political party of the Herodians.
The complementary OT reading chosen for the day is from the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy’s chapter version. Here we find the longer grounding logic than in Exodus. Those outside the community—resident aliens and slaves—are also to enjoy the Sabbath. The generosity of God extends to them. In this manner, they are to be put in mind that they were also once slaves and that God had shown compassion to them in delivering them. The Sabbath commandment is intended to teach compassion, by recalling the conditions under which it was given. As such it captures the inner nerve of Jesus response to the Pharisees who would condemn—and plot to destroy him. His actions as those of God himself, as Deuteronomy extrapolates it.
Psalm 81 helps forge the link, in case we miss it, between Deuteronomy and Jesus in Mark’s depiction on the Sabbath. The statute and the law for Israel, given by the God of Jacob, was a solemn charge laid upon the Israel coming out of Egypt, which in turn lifted off a burden: I eased his shoulder from the burden, his hands were set free from bearing the load. Jesus in the flesh does just this and acts in just this spirit. Deuteronomy reminds Israel that the law, and the Sabbath expressly, was given in order to remember this. I saved you. Listen to me, Jesus says to those Pharisees opposing him, I admonish you. I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt and said in my burden lifting statute: Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. To conclude our overview for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, we have the Epistle reading shared by tracks one and two. This is part of a semi-continuous reading of the second lesson, a pattern familiar throughout the lectionary year, here in Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians. What is weak and fallible in us—our earthen jar lives in Christ—is precisely so. We proclaim not ourselves nor our capacities, for they are clay, but Jesus Christ himself, the only source of strength and hope. Our weakness is not something to overcome so we might be better, but the way in which we come to understand the glory and power that come from God. We have this treasure in clay jars so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power, made manifest in acts of mercy in the synagogue on the Sabbath, comes from God.