A reflection on Proper 9B:2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Ps. 48; Mark 6:1-13 by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt
From the snippet of reading we get today from the Second Book of Samuel, David had it easy all the way to the top: no bruising primaries, no devastating poll results, no skyrocketing unemployment rate, no dog strapped to the roof of his car while he took his family on vacation.
What is left out of the snippet is in fact how bloody and tough it was for David to make it to be the King of Israel. It was in fact a struggle to occupy that stronghold of the city he would name after himself, and it was only in looking back, as the people of Israel reflected on David’s long reign, on how David got greater and greater, that they realized that indeed, the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.
The people of Israel understood their history as God’s history – indeed, their story was only a story, because God chose them and directed them, God blessed them, and God punished them, and no matter what, God always loved them as God’s own. Often, in the midst of unpleasant things – like David’s bloody war to take control of Israel – it was only in looking back that the people could see God’s hand at work in the world around them – it was only in looking back that their story made sense.
Similarly the Gospel of Mark – as an immediate account of the life and ministry of Jesus that we will get – is also told from the point of view of the ending. Looking back, after the resurrection, what people remembered about what Jesus said and did made sense. They could discern patterns, meanings, could see how this story was connected, intimately, with that older story of God’s dealings with the people – they could see the connection between that older shepherd-king of Israel, David, and this one, this Good Shepherd, bringing about a reign of God’s justice and peace.
If we were in, say, Nazareth – an established town – with our own routines, where things maybe could be better but were not so bad, at least tolerable – where we lived in houses, with families, where we could make ends meet – if life was ok for us, we would not be so interested in this itinerant preacher and healer coming in and telling us that things were about to change, staring with him, starting right now. It is likely that the people of Nazareth heard those stories that we read last week, about the healing of the older woman and the little girl, about Jesus sailing back and forth across the Sea of Galilee, visiting those dangerous strangers on the other side, and who could possibly believe that he made the storm to cease and the seas to calm? The passage says the people of Nazareth knew Jesus, knew his family – they certainly knew where he came from – and not even all that familiarity caused them to trust him.
What Jesus was doing made no sense to them, those townspeople who kind of had it together. It is harder for people who have options to weigh to decide to follow Jesus – harder for people who have things to lose, who are doing OK. When your little boat is about to go under, when you have been bleeding for decades, when your daughter’s life is slipping through your fingers, and then Jesus comes and does something, then you have no problem believing. Then you get it. When we are really comfortable – or think we are comfortable, or are comfortable enough – in our lives, then we are less trusting of those whose message of salvation and Good News seems only to challenge us enough to make us uncomfortable.
Jesus seems really surprised by the people’s negative reaction – “amazed at their unbelief,” the Gospel says. His response to this setback is to double his efforts – to send his disciples out two by two. Their charge? To attack demons and to heal. To act on the Good News that God is calling for change. The disciples aren’t just about getting people “to come to church.” They are sent out as agents of transformation, sent to be part of how God is changing the world – agents that show that there are parts of the world’s status quo that God is not interested in, that God does not bless.
Like the disciples, our community here is rooted in Jesus. Like for the disciples, this community should be a launching pad – not just to invite people to join our club, but to join us in this marvelous adventure of being God’s agents in the world, of taking up God’s impatience with the way things are, of telling the Good News that things COULD be different, that more abundant life is available to all.