Weekly Introduction to the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary (Proper 13b / Ordinary 18b)

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

In the wake of king David’s affair with Bathsheba and his cunning murder of Bathsheba’s husband the sinful king is visited by the prophet Nathan.  Nathan tells David a story of two men: one rich, the other poor.  The poor man cares for a single little ewe lamb, and treats it as if it were his own child.  The rich man has countless flocks.  One day a visitor comes to visit the rich man and by the customs of hospitality the rich man must kill one of his livestock to serve it to his guest.  The rich man does not want to do this, so instead he kills the poor man’s ewe lamb.  Kind David is outraged by the story and pronounces a sentence of fourfold replacement of the ewe lamb and death to the rich man.  Nathan then delivers the punch line to the king, “You are that man.”

The identification of David with the rich man is obvious.  David had received great gifts from God.  He was wealthy and famous and had a harem.  Yet he took the dutiful soldier Uriah’s wife and had Uriah killed.  Nathan tells David that because of his affair with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah that the sword would never leave David’s house.  David would suffer for his transgressions.  David admits his sinfulness, and God spares David’s life.

The tragic fall of David is a powerful reminder of the excesses of power.  Even the anointed of God can falter and sin.  We are better at seeing it in others (note David’s harsh reaction to the anonymous “rich man” before he realized that the prophet was speaking of him) then we are at seeing it in our ourselves.  It often takes a bold prophet of God to give us a mirror and help us see our privilege and our excesses at the expense of those who have so little.  In securing our happy futures we unwillingly bring into our homes the sword of tragedy that prevents us from experiencing the joy of life.

Psalm 51:1-12

Psalm 51 has a long history of being attributed to David after his affair with Bathsheba and pronouncement of guilt by Nathan.  This attribution is based on tradition.  The psalm itself is anonymous.  The words of the psalm do indeed fit with the events surrounding the David and Bathsheba affair, and the humility of the psalm is in line with David’s humility after his confrontation with Nathan.  Whatever the case the psalm is a powerful testimony to the pain and suffering brought on by human sinfulness, and the deep forgiveness of God.

Psalm 51 reminds us that ‘grace’ is not a New Testament concept.  Grace is part of the entire biblical story.  The psalmist is fully aware of God’s ability to “blot out…transgressions” and to “cleanse…from sin.”  The psalmist is also aware of God’s sanctifying grace.  The psalmist believes that God can not only remove his transgressions but that God can create a new heart within the psalmist in order to ensure greater fidelity in the future.

Ephesians 4:1-16

The unity of the church is the central theme of our passage from Ephesians.  The Ephesian writer reminds us that there is “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”  Because we are “one” we are to bear with each other in love, and we are to use the gifts God gives us (the spiritual gifts listed in the passage) to the benefit of all.  This is a common theme throughout much of Pauline literature.  Individual members of the church are gifted, but none are gifted for their own well-being.  Each gift does not belong solely to the person gifted, but rather the gifts are belong to all members of God’s community and are to be used for the benefit of all.  The use of a gift for selfish purposes is not in keeping with the unity Christ died for.

John 6:24-35

After Jesus had fed the five thousand he and the disciples slipped away from the crowd.  The crowd however was not inclined to the let them go.  The crowd followed them to Capernaum.  Jesus accused the crowd of following him and his disciples because they had been fed.  Jesus instructs them, “do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”  The crowd responds by asking how they can do the works of God.  Jesus answers that their work is to believe in the one that God sent.  The crowd counters by asking for a sign.  If Jesus is the one sent by God then he must do signs like Moses did (bringing manna from heaven).  Jesus tells the crowd that they have it all wrong.  Moses did not bring manna from heaven, God did.  Further God is once again sending manna.  In sending Jesus God has sent the “bread of life” to the people.  Jesus’ self identification with the bread of life (i.e. “I am the bread of life) constitutes one of the famous “I am” statements in the gospel of John, similar in construct to the “I am” statements of God to Moses at the time of the burning bush.  This contributes to John’s overall high christology (the close identification of Jesus with God).

Scholars have oft argued whether or not this section of John’s gospel is sacramental in nature (i.e. does it refer to the Eucharist–the body of Christ as bread).  John’s gospel, in comparison to the synoptics, puts less emphasis on baptism and the Eucharist.  However, the imagery found in John 6 provides a rich layer of meaning to our celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  In remembering Jesus in our communion we find the ‘new manna’ which sustains us in our time in the desert.

Celebration of Worship

As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider our time in the desert.  We are sinful people in need of God’s sanctifying grace.  We plot and scheme and thus bear the painful results of our trespasses.  God sends the prophets to warn us, and we recoil from their message.  In our hearts we write psalms about our need for God to blot out our transgressions.  When we come together we are healed by the presence of God in the gifts of those around us, and in the grace-filled presence of Christ in the bread of life that we partake of in our communion meal.

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