By Barbara Klugh
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, David brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, Paul rejoices in the eternal purposes of God revealed in Jesus Christ, and the martyrdom of John the Baptist is remembered.
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19: In this week’s reading, we see how David strengthened Israel by making Jerusalem the center of worship for the tribes of Israel.
David went to Baale-judah with 30,000 troops to bring the Ark of God to Jerusalem. They placed the Ark on a new cart led by Uzzah and Ahio. This was accompanied by singing and playing of musical instruments.
In the verses omitted in the lectionary, the Ark began to totter on the cart, and Uzzah reached out to steady it. God struck him dead for touching the Ark. Even though Uzzah was only trying to help, the Ark was never to be touched by human hands. David became afraid to take the Ark to Jerusalem and left it in the care of Obed-edom.
Three months later, David learned that Obed-edom had been blessed, and apparently he believed it was a sign that the Ark could be moved, and so he resumed the task of bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. This time David was careful to see to it that the Ark was treated reverently with appropriate sacrifices along the way. “David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.” David’s wife Michal despised David for leaping and dancing before the Lord. Maybe she thought it was unseemly for a king to display such passion.
The Ark was brought in and set in its place, and David offered sacrifices, blessed the people, and gave everyone part of the sacrificial food. Sounds like communion, doesn’t it?
Psalm 24: The Interpreters Commentary describes this week’s psalm as a tripartite liturgy, consisting of “a hymn (vs. 1-2), an entrance liturgy for the people (vs. 3-6), and an entrance liturgy for the Lord’s coming to his temple as king.”
Attributed to David, it may have been written for the great occasion when the Ark was carried into Jerusalem. David describes the glorious King who dwells in his temple. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein….The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.”
Ephesians 1:3-14: We read this passage every year on the Second Sunday after Christmas. The letter is named for the Christian community in the City of Ephesus, now in western Turkey. It was an important center of Early Christianity from the AD 50s. Some, but not all, scholars doubt that Paul was the author of the letter. I’ll leave that debate to the scholars and consider the text, which was a circular letter to a group of churches around Ephesus.
Our reading begins with a blessing: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Every “spiritual blessing” had been preordained in heaven before the foundation of world, and God “destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.”
In the second part of our reading, Paul gives thanks to the Ephesians for their faith in Jesus and their love “toward all the saints.” Paul prays that God may give them “a spirit of wisdom” that “with the eyes of your heart enlightened,” they (and we) may fully know their heavenly calling, glorious inheritance, and the immeasurable greatness of his power.
Mark 6:14-29: Between last week’s reading of Jesus sending out the twelve, and next week’s reading about their return, this week we have a flashback about John the Baptist to tell what discipleship can cost.
As Jesus became more widely known, many people, including Herod Antipas, wondered who Jesus really was—maybe Elijah or another prophet. At first Herod superstitiously thought that Jesus was the reincarnation of John the Baptist: “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” Herod had had John arrested, bound, and imprisoned because John had denounced the marriage between Herod and Herodias, the wife of his half brother. But “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him.” Although he was perplexed by John, he was also intrigued by him and “liked to listen to him.”
Herod hosted a banquet for his courtiers and officials to celebrate his birthday. Salome, Herodias’ daughter, gave a dance that greatly pleased Herod. As a sign of his pleasure, Herod promised to grant any favor Salome desired. At the urging of her mother, Salome asked for John’s head on a platter. Herod was “deeply grieved,” but he was more concerned about saving face in front of his guests so he ordered the soldier on duty to bring John’s head anyway. This seems to parallel Jesus’ encounter with Pilate, who likewise had Jesus crucified because of pressure from others.
John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb (unlike Jesus’ disciples who deserted him).
As The Life with God Bible comments, “We are reminded here that following God and proclaiming God’s word to others is not always an easy road and may not be heard by everyone as ‘good news.’ God’s powerful word often threatens human power. Our spiritual formation requires strong conditioning and great courage in the face of real and fierce opposition.”