God’s promise to David in Sunday’s first reading ends with, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. This passageis central to understanding both Jewish and Christian faiths.
Note that the promise rests on David, the king. God and the writer emphasize the leader. David’s loyalty and his relationship with God determine what will happen to the people.
This passage defined Jewish hopes for a Davidic king. This promise became a source of hope for the future. It also confirmed the separateness of the Jews as distinct from the rest of the Gentile world. The Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says, “This is an extraordinary declaration. In one sweeping assurance…. David is made a vehicle and carrier of Yahweh’s unqualified grace in Israel…wherein this particular human agent (and his family) is made constitutive for Yahweh’s way with Israel.” It also underlined Israel’s distinction among the peoples of the world.
For Christians this passage became a key for interpreting the life of Jesus, as an offspring of David, and the promised one. A crucial difference is that the nature of his kingdom and its citizenship differs from the expectations held by the Jews.
The next two readings explore the distinctions.
The letter to the Ephesians, written about a millennium after the events described in 2 Samuel, says that Christ eliminated the differences between Jews and Gentiles and united all in himself through faith. His ‘kingdom’ is not a political one, but a rhelm of faith and the heart. For Paul, Christ fulfills the prophesy of Samuel but also eliminates the distinction between Jew and Gentile when it comes to eligibility for life with God.
Remember that at one time you … you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus, you … have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall… between us.
He has abolished the law … that he might create in himself one new humanity … making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
So he came and proclaimed peace … for through him we have access in one Spirit to the Father. You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
The gospel (Mark 6:30-34, 53-56) begins after the disciples have returned from their mission to preach and heal. They want to share their stories with Jesus and he wants to hear of their experiences. Instead, as they head for a place to rest, recount and reflect, people who need help surround them.
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him (Jesus) all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going …and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, … and he began to teach them many things. …
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret …. people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
As in the books of Samuel, Mark’s gospel focuses on the leader, in this case Christ. The blessings of God flow through both David and Christ to the people. In Mark, however, Christ changes his own agenda to accommodate the needs of the people. (The gap in the reading from 6:35-52 tells the story of how Jesus fed the 5,000 who had followed him into the deserted place…a story that will be the focus of the gospel for July 29.)
He had compassion for them defines the heart of Jesus’ ministry of self-giving love. It would be his life’s work up including in the garden of Gethsemane where he asked, Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done, and on the cross.
His compassion was such that all who touched even the fringe of his cloak were healed. As the Messiah promised to David in 2 Samuel, Christ’s mission was not to build a magnificent kingdom of awe-inspiring physical structures, political sophistication or artistic accomplishments. His kingdom was one of compassion, teaching, healing and bringing people to the glory of God’s love. His kingdom and monuments would be in the hearts of people.
· What defines a “golden age”? Was David or Solomon’s time the golden age of Israel? Was the time when Jesus walked on earth the golden age? Do the inventions, art and science of the Renaissance define that period as a golden age? Was the British Empire of the Victorian age the golden age of England? Was the time of Truth and Reconciliation of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu a golden age? Some other characteristics?
· Who do you think of as the great leaders of history… not necessarily the best characters? Alexander the Great? Napoleon? Winston Churchill? Nelson Mandela? The Dali Lama? Where does Jesus fit in your list and how does he compare to the others?
· Imagine you had been in the crowd that came to see and hear Jesus, and you saw that people who touched his clothing were healed. When you recalled these cures, would it seem strange to you that Jesus did not use the cures to draw attention to himself? Would it be, instead, his care for each person he met that struck you? How would you compare that to other contemporary or historic leaders?