Pentecost 5B (1 July 2012)



  • 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 and Psalm 130
  • 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
  • Mark 5:21-43

First Reading: 2 Samuel 1 – David laments the death of Saul and Jonathan

The RCL continues with its series of selection from the narratives of David’s rise to power and then the struggle over the succession.

In this case we have the formal transition of power from Saul to David, following the death of Saul in battle with the Philistines at Mt Gilboa:

Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and many fell on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul. The battle pressed hard upon Saul; the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by them. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised may not come and thrust me through, and make sport of me.”€ But his armor-bearer was unwilling; for he was terrified. So Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together on the same day. When the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook their towns and fled; and the Philistines came and occupied them.
The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. They cut off his head, stripped off his armor, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to the houses of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Astarte; and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men set out, traveled all night long, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan. They came to Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
(1Sam 31:1-13 NRSV)

In the passage set for this Sunday we read selections from the continuing narrative as David hears about the death of Saul and, of more significance to David, his special friend, Jonathan. As often happens, the lectionary omits a section of the narrative – in this case those verses which tell of the killing of the messenger who brings the news of Saul’s death:

After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. On the third day, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground and did obeisance. David said to him, “€œWhere have you come from?” He said to him, “€œI have escaped from the camp of Israel.”€ David said to him, “€œHow did things go? Tell me!” He answered, “€œThe army fled from the battle, but also many of the army fell and died; and Saul and his son Jonathan also died.”€ Then David asked the young man who was reporting to him, “€œHow do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan died?”€ The young man reporting to him said, “€œI happened to be on Mount Gilboa; and there was Saul leaning on his spear, while the chariots and the horsemen drew close to him. When he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. I answered, “€˜Here sir.” And he said to me, ‘Who are you?’ I answered him, ‘€˜I am an Amalekite.’€™ He said to me, ‘€˜Come, stand over me and kill me; for convulsions have seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’€™ So I stood over him, and killed him, for I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.”€
Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them; and all the men who were with him did the same. They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening for Saul and for his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. David said to the young man who had reported to him, “€œWhere do you come from?”€ He answered, “€œI am the son of a resident alien, an Amalekite.'” David said to him, “€œWere you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the LORD’€™S anointed?” Then David called one of the young men and said, “€œCome here and strike him down.”€ So he struck him down and he died. David said to him, “Your blood be on your head; for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘€˜I have killed the LORD’€™S anointed.'”€™
(2Sam 1:2-16 NRSV)

A story such as this is offensive to contemporary sensitivities, and yet it is hardly an isolated incident in the biblical narratives. Other examples of such “texts of terror” (to use the phrase coined by Phyllis Tribble) are:

  • Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac as a human sacrifice
  • massacre of the men of Shechem by the sons of Jacob (Gen 34)
  • innocent civilian victims of the various plagues unleashed on Egypt (Exod 7-12), culminating in the death of the firstborn male of every family (including animals)
  • slaughter of the Egyptian army – with all the horses (Exod 14-15)
  • holy war against Amalekites for all time (Exodus 17:8-16)
  • massacre of several thousand people by extremist clergy (Exod 32)
  • destruction of the entire generation who escaped Egypt because they complained
  • various plagues occasioning death when God was displeased by the people
  • massacre of the people of Jericho (Joshua 6)
  • sacrifice of the daughter of Jephthah (Judges 11)
  • innocent deaths at the violent hands of Samson (Judges 13-16)
  • murder and dismemberment of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19)
  • ritual murder of the Amalekite king by Samuel (1Sam 15)
  • Elijah’s gratuitous killing of several groups of people (2Kings 1)

While we can appreciate the decision to omit 2Sam 1:2-16 from this week’s readings in communities gathered for worship, failure to confront such “texts of terror” within our sacred writings constitutes a significant blind spot within the Christian community. We need to acknowledge, address and reject the unworthy attitudes and actions attributed to God, or to various human agents on God’s behalf. Christians have often been critical of other religions for violence and yet our own tradition has sacred violence deeply embedded within it.
Deep questions of historicity surround all the biblical narratives involving David and other similar figures. For our purposes, it may suffice to note that the debate between so-called “maximalists” and “minimalists” continues, although neither side is now suggesting that there was a davidic empire of the proportions suggested by the biblical narrative:

Finally, there are questions concerning the nature of the intimate friendship between David and Jonathan. This relationship is elaborated in the second half of 1Samuel, but receives a poignant expression in the praise for Jonathan now found on the lips of David:

I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women. (2Sam 1:26)

For some recent discussion of the relationship between David and Jonathan for insights into same-sex relationships see:

  • Peter F. Carnley, “€œFriendship” (Review) [1]
  • Tom Horner, “Jonathan Loved David. Homosexuality in Biblical Times” [2]
  • Peter Abelard (1079-1142): poem on David’s love for Jonathan [3]

See also:

(Alternative First Reading: The excerpt from the Wisdom of Solomon affirms the positive intention of God in creation. Death and disease are not the driving forces in our existence. As Marcus Borg notes in a passage cited below, holiness is not a fragile state that needs to be protected and preserved, but a positive reality that transforms and heals.)

Second Reading: 2Corinthians 8:7-15 – A Question of Fair Balance

For the second reading we have an example of Paul’s approach to Christian communities supporting one another in difficult times: a First-Century fund-raising brochure!

This is one of the few places where Paul appeals to the personal practice and example of Jesus. Mostly Paul appeals to the risen Lord, rather than to the words and actions of Jesus before Easter. Here we have Paul not only citing a tradition about Jesus, and one that represents Jesus rather differently than we might expect:

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2Cor 8:9)

In what sense was Jesus “rich”? What historical content can we suggest for the generosity that Paul attributes to Jesus?

Historical research suggests that Jesus is best located in the artisan class, and was hardly someone who could be described as rich or powerful. The appeal to some generosity on the part of Jesus may reflect an alternative tradition in which Jesus enjoyed a more privileged social location but freely surrendered that for the sake of others. Kathleen Corley (Women and the Historical Jesus) has argued that Jesus may have come from a well-connected family, and perhaps even one that owned (and could therefore support) slaves. There are also some traditions in the GJohn that could suggest Jesus had some influential family connections. For example, the presence of large stone jars at the wedding of Cana (John 2) suggests a wealthy context.

However, it is more likely that Paul is not citing the generous example of the historical Jesus (about whom he presumably knew almost nothing), but the mythic generosity of the pre-existent Christ whose voluntrary self-emptying (Gk: kenosis) is celebrated in the early Christian hymn quoted by Paul in Philippians:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Phil 2:5-11 NRSV)

The assumptions about shared resources within the Kingdom communities that underlie Paul’s appeal for the Corinthians to support the Christians in Jerusalem may well be derived from Jesus’ own practice.

The statement of principle found towards the end of the passsage is especially important for a Christian ethic of distributive justice:

I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
“The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.” (2Cor 8:13-15 NRSV)

The following article may be of interest:

Gospel: Mark 5:21-43 – Jesus heals two women

As noted during the Epiphany season, when there were several healing episodes, Jesus was most likely considered a healer during his lifetime. From today’s perspective, Jesus’ cures are related to psychosomatic maladies. Jesus usually healed by the use of words alone; his cures were sometimes effected instantaneously. The Jewish scriptures provided generative models for constructing healing stories about Jesus as physician. Greco-Roman tales also served as models for the way that early Christians told their stories about Jesus as a healer.

In addition to the 6 reports of exorcisms attributed to Jesus – all outside John’s Gospel – 19 cures or resuscitations are attributed to Jesus in the earliest gospel traditions.

Crossan (Birth of Christianity, 293–304) discusses the distinction between diseases that require curing, and illnesses that require healing. Not all illness manifests itself in disease(s), but without attention to the illness patients will not consider themselves to have been healed, even if the physical and/or psychological malfunction of the disease is ameliorated.

In Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus, Borg cites the story of the healing of the woman with the vaginal bleeding in his discussion of holiness as transforming power:

… in the teachings of Jesus, holiness, not uncleanness, was understood to be contagious. Holiness—the power of the holy, of the sacred—was understood as a transforming power, not as a power that needed protection through rigorous separation. (p. 147)

[as with Jesus touching the leper] … the same transformation of the understanding of holiness underlies the account of the healing of the woman with a discharge in Mark 5:25-34. Her condition rendered her and all that she touched unclean (Lev. 15:25-30). Yet when she touched Jesus’ garment, it was not uncleanness that was transferred but rather “power went forth” from Jesus (5:30) and she was healed. (p. 148)

Such a positive view of holiness as a transforming power, something that cleanses and make whole any impurity or disease in us, challenges our present attitudes towards those living with HIV/AIDS.

Rather than seeing holiness as a fragile state easily threatened by contact with the unholy, this suggests a view of holiness as something so powerful and rubust that it transforms any unholiness with which it comes into contact. The parables of 035 The Mustard Seed and 104 The Leaven seem to be consistent with such a positive view of holiness (or, wholeness).

In Gospel of Mark (Scholars Bible), Daryl D. Schmidt reminds us that the terms “heal” and “save” are simply different tenses of the same Greek verb (a feature also observable in the English words “salve” and “salvage”).

The following articles may be of interest:

Jesus Database

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:

Music Suggestions

See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre:

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