Building a house

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost; 18 July 2021; Proper 11B (RCL); 2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56.

I know the designers of lectionaries have choices to make — we can’t conveniently fit the whole of a Gospel into a year. And poor Mar, in his year, we have to cram in a lot of John’s Gospel (Mark being the shortest). So, this year, we are going to be reading the sea crossing/feeding miracles from John’s Gospel. But Jeez Louise, we leave out the whole feeding of the 5000, and then the second sea crossing (with Jesus walking on the water) all in one fell swoop. Hardly fair to Mark.

At least a third of the material in Mark is arranged around the device of a sea crossing and a feeding miracle. In the first instance, Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat while a storm rages. When the boat arrives at shore, Jesus casts out the legion of demons (the Roman army). This should sound familiar: Moses crosses the sea and destroys the Egyptian army. Then there’s the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the flow of blood. After Jesus has raised Jairus’ daughter, he tells those around her to give her something to eat. There is then material about Jesus sending out the Twelve with authority and the beheading of John the Baptist. Jesus then invites the Twelve to come away to rest, but the crowd follows, and Jesus has compassion because they are like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus instructs the disciples to give the crowds something to eat, using exactly the same vocabulary as he used with those around Jairus’ daughter (making sure we get the connection between healing and eating). Again, we recognize this. Moses feeds the crowd in the wilderness.

Then he sends the disciples ahead of him in the boat, and during a storm comes walking to the across the water. Again, this will be followed by healings (including the Syrophoencian woman’s daughter) and teaching, and then a second feeding in the wilderness (this time 4000). Mark is organizing his material this way to show the connection between Passover (sea crossing and wilderness food) and baptism/eucharist. In the first instance, Jesus is in the boat — he personally ate with the unclean of Israel and thereby healed them.

In the second instance (which we omit this Sunday), he is not in the boat, and the disciples think they are seeing a ghost (post-resurrection appearance), and the Syrophoenician woman challenges Jesus about dogs eating crumbs that fall from the children’s table. The baptism/eucharist motif (or Red Sea/manna motif) has been expanded to include this Gentile woman. But, the lectionary lops off the feeding of the 5000 and the walking on the water. We’ll get John’s version, but John is making a different theological point. Sigh.

The other two readings both speak of building a Temple. David wants to build a house for the ark of God, but God prevents him, saying that the ark is a moveable shrine. In Ephesians, in this enconium to a benefactor, the rhetor suggests that the new Church, which now includes both Jew and Gentile is the Temple that God has build (for which God is being praised by this speech)

The speech includes an ironic reference to the dividing wall that had stood between the Court of the Jews and the Court of the Nations (or Gentiles (or women)) in the Jerusalem Temple. In his Body (Church), Jesus has broken down that dividing wall.

Both readings challenge our expectations for a shrine to the divine. David expects a physical shrine, tied inextricably to the monarchy: palace and temple go together. God suggests that God cannot be tied down to a given location (even though Solomon will accomplish that goal — but that’s when things begin to go terribly wrong for the kingdom). Instead, God will establish a dynastic line from David. God is connected to a people, not a place.

And Ephesians will in turn challenge that connection. If God is tied to a people, then God is distant from other peoples. Instead, the new shrine to God will consist of the Church, the Body of Christ, made up of those who were far off and those who were near. In Christ, God has destroyed the divisions in humanity, and replaced them with a single humanity disclosed in Christ. The household that God is building is expansive and inclusive. Any walls we erect will be torn down in this new humanity.

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