Friday, July 10, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Salome, by Aubrey Beardsley

Proper 15, Year B
12 July 2009,
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

The Collect

The opening of this Collect is founded on Augustine, Confessiones I.1: “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”

The First Reading: 2 Samuel 6.1-5, 12b-19
The Ark is brought to Jerusalem.
This reading continues the highlights of the story of David that are followed in Year B. When King David had captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and established it as his capital city, he brought there the Ark of the covenant to make it the religious centre of the nation.
The ark was a portable wooden chest which was kept at the heart of the tabernacle as the symbol of the presence of the Lord. In Exodus 25.10-22 are the orders for its construction. While Israel journeyed in the wilderness the Ark was carried ahead (Numbers 10.33-36). In this passage are preseved fragments of an ancient Song of the Ark;
And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, Arise, O LORD, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee.”And when it rested he said, “Return O LORD. to the ten thousands and thousands of Israel. (See Psalm 68.1)

The ark, then, was the most revered embled of the Hebrew religion. The box contained the ‘testimony’ [Ex 25.16, 21], apparently the stones of the law from Mt Sinai. According to the Letter to the Hebrews [9.4], it also held the urn containing manna and Aaron’s rod that budded (but see Exodus 16.31-34).
The Hebrews believed that the presence of the ark brought them victory in battle (particularly memorable is the fall of Jericho, Josh. 6.6-20). Nonethless, in the time of the Judges, the ark was captured by the Philistines. They returned it, for it seemed to bring them ill-luck, but after that they ark remained at Kiriath-Jearim, whence David brought it to Jerusalem.
In the temple of Solomon the ark was placed in the Holy of Holies. It was presumably lost at the fall of Jerusalem, and Jeremiah prophesied that it would no more be remembered or missed (Jeremiah 3.16-17).
6.2. Baale-judah is either an error or another name for Kiritah-jearim (1 Sam 7.1, 1 Chron 13.6)
6.3: a new cart. Rabbinic commentators noted that it was not right to move the ark this way: “He erred in a matter that even school children know: “Because the service of the holy things belonged unto them, they shall bear them upon their shoulders” (Num. 7:9).”
The next passage (6.6-12a). is omitted from the lectionary These verses tell that when he touched the ark to steady oit when the oxen stumbled, Uzzah the son of Abinadab was struck down by the Lord and died. In Numbers 4.15 it is laid down that none but priests should touch the ark. In verse 8, David is said to be angry about the death of Uzzah, but in verse 9 he is said to be afraid. These verses are apparently from different strands of tradition: the NOAB suggests that 8 is the work of a later editor, as suggested by “to this day”.
NOAB comments: “Uzzah was apparently trying to steady the ark as the oxen stumbled. At this point Uzzah died Most ancient peoples attributed disaster to the anger of a deity.
The ark was left at the home of Obed-edom the Gittite, where it brought prosperity. David thereupon decided to bring it into the city (verse 12)
6.13-15 describe the jubilant procession of the ark into the city.
6.16. On the marriage of David to Michal the daughter of Saul, see 1 Sam 18.20-27, 2 sam 3.15-16. Though promised to David, she had married a certain Paltiel, and when David became king he took her from her husband. This may be a reason she “despised” him: another is that she had no child by him. Or she may simply have thought the was behaving in an undignified way: see further, 6.20-23.
Note that Michal “looked out of the window, and compare the descriptions of Sisera’s mother (Judges 5.28-30) and Jezebel (2 Kings 9.30-32). The narrative force of the window in these passages was pointed out by Max Beerbohm in his essay “Fenestralia” (1944).
6.13, 17. Note that David offers sacrifice though he is not a priest, and compare 1 Sam 13.10-13.
6.18-19: The celebration concludes with a great feast. The meaning of verse 19 is a little unclear. The Judaica Press version gives: “And he distributed to all the people, to the whole multitude of Israel, both to men and women, to each individual a loaf of bread, and a portion of meat, and a barrel of wine. And all the people departed, every one to his home.”
Psalm 24
is described in NOAB as “a liturgy on entering the sanctuary, probably used in connection with a procession of the ark. Several commentaries apply verses 7-10 to the ark as symbolizing the presence ofthe3 God of Israel. There is a parody of this psalm in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King (Collins, 1958), pp. 128-9. White’s point is about the use of religion in the service of the state, especially in time of war. This is a question which would probably never entered the mind of David or the priests of his time, but creeps into one’s mind while it ponders the passages appointed this Sunday.

The Epistle: Ephesians 1.3-14
Since we will be reading from Ephesians for the rest of the summer, it would be helpful to provide briefly some general comments on this Epistle.
Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, which was the western part of what we now know as Turkey. For St Paul’s time at Ephesus see Acts 19.
The traditional belief that this Epistle was addressed to the Church at Ephesus it is more likely that it was a sort of circular letter to the churches in .Asia and Phrygia. The reasons for this are:
1. The earliest and best manuscripts lack the words “in Ephesus” in verse 1
2. It is a very impersonal letter for a place where St Paul had spent a number of years and had close personal attachments.
3. Some expressions in the Epistle which seem impossible to reconcile with the supposition that it was written to the Church at Ephesus [1.15; 3.2; 3.4; 4.21, 22].
If it was a circular or encyclycal letter, then it is easy to explain the ascription “to the Ephesians” and the addition of that name in verse 1. When the letters of St Paul were collected, because it was from Ephesus that the copies would reach the Christian workd generally . “Once accepted as addressed to the Ephesians, the analogy of other Epistles in which τοῖς οὖσιν is followed by the name of the place would naturally suggest the inertion of ἐν ᾿Εφέσῳ” [T. K. Abbott].
Contents and Outline.
The introductory note from the NOAB is worth summarizing:
The theme of this letter is God’s eternal purpose in establishing and completing the universal Church of Jesus Christ. The Ephesians were drawn from various backgrounds and nationalities but have all been called by God the Father, redeemed and forgiven through his Son, and incorporated into a fellowship that is sealed and directed by the indwelling Spirit of God. “This Trinitarian emphasis, in a lyrical mood, appears in 1.5, 12, 13; 2.18-20; 3.14, 16, 17; 44-6”. The author suggests both glorious privilege and destiny and the duties of the believers through developing such figures of the Church as the Body of Christ (1.23; 4.16), the building or temple of God (2.20-22) and the Bride of Christ (5.23-32).
Written while Paul was a prisoner (3.1; 4.1;6.20), probably at about the same time as Colossians, with which it shares many phrases and expressions.
The Epistle has two main sections:

I. A mainly doctrinal section; 1.1-2.31
1.1-2 Salutation:
1.3-2.22: On the Plan of Salvation
*1.3-14: Hymn of the divine purpose
1.15-23 Prayer for the Knowledge of the Power of Christ
2.1-10 God’s love in Christ
*2.11-22 Jew and Gentile
3.1-21: On the Apostle and the Church
3.1-13 Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles
*3.14-21 Prayer for the Church
II. Various Exhortations: 4.1-6.24
*4.1-6: To keep the Unity of the Spirit
*4.7-16 Of the gifts given for buildng up the Church
4.17-24 Of the Old and New Man
*4.25-5.2 The Duty to the Neighbour
*5.3-21 Once Darkness, but now light [5.15-20 is read]
5.22-6.9 The Christian Household
*6.10-20 Put on the Armour of God
6.21-22 Conclusion and Blessing

This week's reading, 1.3-14, is a prayer of thanksgiving. It was usual in ancient letter-writing to follow the opening salutation with a short thanksgiving or prayer on behalf of the person addressed. It was the Apostle’s practice to expand on this element in a distinctively Christian way. In his commentary, Abbott summarizes the passage thus:
1. 3-8: Praise to God for the blessings of salvation. The granting of this was no new thing in God’s purposes, but had been determined before the creation of the world. The object to be attained was the we shoold be holy and blameless, and with a view to this He has admitted us to the adoption of sons through Chriost, in whom we have received our redemption.
1. 9-11: God hath made known to us His purpose to sum up all things in Christ, whether they be things in heaven or on earth.
1.12-14. We Jews had even in former times the promise of the Christ., which has now been fulfilled ; but the same blessings are now extended to you the Gentiles, and as the earnest of your inheritance, ye have been sealed with the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Gospel: Mark 6.14-29
The Death of St John the Baptist
Last week’s Gospel ended with Jesus’ sending the Twelve on a mission of preaching and healing. Before their return to Jesus is reported, St Mark relates the death of St John Baptist at the hands of Herod Antipas.
6.14-16. Last week we read of the negative reaction of his fellow Nazarenes to Jesus. Now we hear the reaction of the official world. Herod has heard of the work of Jesus and wonders who he is. There are various ideas, but Herod is convinced that it is John the Baptist come again.
14. King Herod: This is not Herod the Great, but his son Herod Antipas, who was not a king but puppet ruler of Galilee and Petrea under the Romans. He is given his proper title of Tetrarch in Mt 14.1.
15-16. It is Elijah … It is a prophet: see also Mt 16.14, Mk 8.28, Lk 9.19.
17-29: The account of the beheading of John Baptist is also found in Mt 14.1-12. Luke reports that John was beheaded but does not tell the story (9.7-9).
17 According to Josephus [Jewish War, 18.5], John was imprisoned at Machaerus, a fort and prison 8 km (5 miles) east of the Dead Sea, on the Nabatean border. Josephus does not report the other events in this passage. The RCL notes “A little strangely, in this story, Herod appears not to have seen John as a political threat; however Josephus says John was imprisoned as one.”
The text of Josephus may be found at
21-26: On the similarity of this narrative to the Book of Esther, see the note in RCL
22. Where the NRSV has “His daughter Herodias”, another reading is “Herodias’ daughter”, agreeing with Mt 14.6. According to Josephus, the girl’s name was Salome. (Hence the play by Oscar Wilde and the opera by R. Strauss ).
On the place of this passage in the Sunday readings, it might be enough to quote the RCL page: “Mark inserts a flashback to the story of John the Baptist to tell what discipleship may cost; vv. 16-29 anticipate Jesus’ fate, and that of some disciples.”

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