Kingdom building

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
22 July 2012
Proper 11B (RCL)
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89:20-37
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-36

One of these days, I’m going to write my own lectionary. Why would the editors of the RCL leave out Mark 6:35-52? The omitted verses included the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus’ walking on the water. Two weeks from now, we will read the parallel passage in John’s Gospel, but John is not Mark, and uses those stories for different purposes.

In the Marcan account, Jesus has just sent out the twelve, who cast out demons and heal the sick. Herod hears of it, and is distressed, because the implication is that the Kingdom is out there with the followers of Jesus, rather than with him in the palace. The twelve return to Jesus and are surrounded by a multitude on whom Jesus has compassion “because they are like sheep without a shepherd.” He then commands his disciples to give them something to eat.

The “sheep without a shepherd” remark is a reference to Numbers 27:17, in which Moses pleads with God to set over the people a leader, so they will not be like sheep without a shepherd — here Mark makes it refer to the kingship of Jesus versus Herod. And the very next thing Jesus does is feed the crowd in the wilderness, just like Moses! Important claims are being made here, and we leave them out, because we’re going to read John next time. Oh, well.

In the reading from 2 Samuel, David promises to build God a house (temple), but God refuses and promises instead to build David a house (dynasty). Here we see the substitution of a royal theology for the older tribal theology. In the tribal confederacy, God promises to be with the group if they keep God’s word. Here, there is no such “if.” But still, the passage warns, don’t get too smug. God doesn’t need any house you could build (even though Solomon will be allowed to build a house). We can’t domesticate (literally) God, enclose God in our house. We have to be ready to strike camp at any moment, and go where God is going.

In Mark, Jesus doesn’t sit around after feeding the 5000. He has his disciples climb in the boat and sends them on ahead of him. Just because important things happened here, doesn’t mean we’re staying here. This time, he comes to them walking on the water, implying that he wasn’t with the church when it moved this time, and they lost their nerve. Between this passage, and the next feeding of the 4000, Jesus will find himself in the decapolis (Gentile territory), and reluctantly heal the Syro-phoenician woman’s daughter. God is out there ahead, even of Jesus.

Ephesisans is saying the same thing. God is bringing Jew and Gentile together: you who were once far off have now been brought near.

God does eventually allow Solomon to build a temple, but with the reminder that God never asked for such a thing. Church buildings are important to us, but maybe not so important to God. How can we remember that? Where is God off to next? What stormy sea should we be crossing?