To the praise of God’s glory

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost; 11 July 2021; Proper 10B (RCL); 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29.

What a mish-mash of readings this week. The story of the beheading of John the Baptist has always puzzled me: what’s it doing in the Gospels in the first place? Why did Mark see the need to include it? It’s a rather lurid story, ending with a head on a platter. But we have the device of a drunken king and his court, watching his daughter dance as part of the entertainment at the party, and making an oath he regrets. It’s great drama in a short vignette.

And then there’s the story of David bringing the ark into Jerusalem. We leave out the bit in which the holiness of the Lord breaks out against Uzzah and incinerates him on the spot, when he reaches to steady the ark on its cart. That’s why David left the ark at the house of Obed-edom for three months. When he finally bring the ark to the City of David, he sacrifices an ox and a fatling for every six paces the ark moves, and then distributes the meat of this sacrifice, along with a cake of bread and a cake of raisins, to all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women.

And we wonder why Michal despised him in her heart. In sacrificing cultures, women only receive meat through their men; they eat at their fathers’ tables if unmarried, at their husbands’ tables if married, and at their sons’ tables if widowed. By distributing meat to the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, David essentially claims all the women of Israel as either daughter, wife, or mother. Michal accuses him of uncovering his nakedness before the eyes of all his servants’ maids, a euphemism for having sex with them. She clearly understand the import of his distribution of meat.

Two rather lurid stories. And then, the reading from Ephesians, which reads like an enconium of praise to God. It is not immediately clear to me what the writer is seeking to introduce, just what the point is of this passage. It seems to come in the middle of the paragraph, but apparently, the speaker is praising God for unveiling the plan, established beforehand and now revealed in Christ, to gather all things into the divine self (or into Christ?). And apparently, we (the church?) are the predestined instrument of the divine purpose.

Interestingly, Ephesians speaks of sins, rather than the power of sin (a good clue that it’s not written by Paul), and that we have the forgiveness of our sins through God’s grace. Given the story of Herod and John the Baptist, it would be easier to speak about the power of sin, and the corruption that power brings. If the church is the instrument of God’s purpose of gathering everything to God’s self, it would make more sense if we spoke of rescuing the world from the power of corruption, rather than just the forgiveness of our little peccadilloes.

It is the lifting up of our voices in the praise of God’s glory that restores creation to the state intended by God. And that perhaps is the divine purpose which is now revealed in Christ.

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