19 July 2015
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 11B (RCL)
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Gaaa! Sometimes lectionaries chop the Bible up in inexcusable ways. In the reading from Mark, we jump over the feeding of the five thousand and the second sea crossing (Jesus walking on the water). Mark has arranged the bulk of the material in his Gospel (outside the Passion Narrative) in two major blocks, each bookended by a sea crossing and a feeding in the wilderness. This pairing, of course, reminds us of Moses leading the people across the sea and feeding them with manna in the wilderness. Mark strengthens the association by having Jesus cast out the legion from the Garasene demoniac immediately after the first sea crossing, drowning a legion of the Roman army in the sea in a herd of pigs. The feeding of the five thousand wraps up this first block of material which has included the demoniac, Jairus’ daughter, the woman with the hemorrhage, the sending of the twelve and the death of John the Baptist.
Now, Jesus has compassion on the crowd because they are like sheep without a shepherd. This quotes Numbers 27:17, when Moses appoints Joshua (rendered into Greek as Iesus) to take his place. After raising Jairus’ daughter, Jesus commanded the people around her to “give her something to eat.” In the feeding, he will command his disciples to “give them something to eat,” making clear that the healings are accomplished by bringing the outcast to table, and that the new community formed by the water crossing (baptism) is the new people on the desert way.
Jesus invites his disciples to come away by themselves to a desert place, reinforcing the idea that the disciples are on the desert way, and when the crowds follow, he commands them to feed them. The disciples have taken the role of the seventy elders in the wilderness. But, we don’t get to read the feeding of the five thousand this week! We will read John’s version of it next week, and then the Bread of Life discourses for several weeks. Instead, we read this truncated passage in Mark.
However, both the Ephesians passage and the passage from 2 Samuel focus on the metaphor of a house for God. In the Samuel passage, David, who now lives in a house of cedar, desire to build a house for the ark, so that God’s presence will be fixed. God, however, through the mouth of Nathan the prophet, reminds David that all through the wilderness period and the period of the Judges, the ark of God has been “on the way.” God instead will make of David a house. While the words of Nathan fit well with the royalist theology expressed in the psalm, there is a hint of criticism here as well — God is know in relationship rather than in political institutions like a temple.
Ephesians was probably written as a preface to the collected works of Paul as they entered circulation in the early church. The author of the letter seeks to unpack the complexities of Paul’s rhetoric and give us, the readers, the hints we need to understand the rest of the corpus. Here, the author gives us the major theme. In his death, Christ has put to death the hostility and separation between Jew and Gentile, and made in place of two a single humanity. This new community has been built into the house where God dwells and is known. Again, God is known in a community (and the community known as “the way”), rather than in a temple with its associated priesthood.
In Mark’s understanding of the history and vocation of the new people of God, that people is formed by the healing of the outcast, bringing them to table through baptism. The author of Ephesians sees the death of Jesus as the price of that reconciliation. We have to be ready to accept that cost to achieve the formation of a new, single humanity where God can be known.