A prophet’s honor

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; 4 July 2021; Proper 9B (RCL); 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13.

This week’s lessons present an interesting contrast between David on the one hand, and Jesus and Paul on the other. The reading from 2 Samuel narrates Israel’s choice of David to be their king. He has already been the king of Judah for some time, and now Israel chooses to unite with Judah in the person of David. The stories of the Old Testament hold David up as the archetype of the righteous king, despite (or perhaps because of) his many flaws. We are told he is ruddy, and has beautiful eyes. He has a certain charisma that attracts people to him. Despite his many moral failings, the biblical story looks back to the united kingdom under David as the definitive moment of history.

Jesus and Paul, on the other hand, are without honor, weak and persecuted, even ridiculed (in Paul’s case). In both 2 Corinthians and in the story related in our Gospel story, Paul and Jesus are familiar: Is not this Jesus, the carpenter, the son of Mary? Ouch. That’s quite an insult. To call someone the son of his mother implied you didn’t know who the father was. In Corinth, the “super apostles” have come through and ridiculed Paul for his appearance, for his weakness, for his lack of smooth speech.

Paul decides he could boast if he wanted to of a vision he has received (is this the vision on the road to Damascus, related by Luke?). But he won’t boast of these things. He will only boast of his weakness, so that the message of the Gospel takes center stage, rather than his credentials.

The early Christians had to explain to the rest of the world how it was that Jesus, who was crucified, could be the Messiah. Wasn’t the king supposed to set things up so that Israel would take it’s rightful place at the pinnacle of empire, judging the world with righteousness? That’s was the genius of Paul, was to write a theology in which God’s incarnate Son suffered to heal the world, which now waited for the revelation of the adoption of the children of God for its full restoration.

Mark would use this insight of Paul to show how Jesus, in his suffering, displayed in fact the power of God. But, the familiarity prevented that display. We’re not use to the people we know being able to show us who God is, and what God is doing in the world. And particularly not someone we call the son of his mother. To see God at work in such a one requires a complete shift in our understanding of the kinds of things God is likely to do.

To see God at work in David takes little imagination. We’re in charge, we’re on the top of the world — we can look past his moral failings, because clearly in David, God is showing his favor to us. To see God at work in someone we find unattractive for whatever reason means that God may be paying more attention to others than to us. That’s always a little hard to swallow.

But that is always the prophet’s message, isn’t it?

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