Engaging the Word: Readings for 8/9/15 (11th Sunday after Pentecost)

By Barbara Klugh

 2 Samuel 18:5-9,15,31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35,41-51. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, David mourns the death of his son Absalom, Paul gives us rules for living in Christian Community, and Jesus proclaims, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

Death of Absalom Tapestry 1817. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Death of Absalom Tapestry 1817. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

2 Samuel 18:5-9,15,31-33: This week’s reading is the seventh and last in our series about David, Israel’s most celebrated king. David’s son Absalom had been planning a coup d’état  against his father, and raised an army to take the throne. In the civil war that followed, David was forced to leave Jerusalem, but begins a military comeback.  The decisive battle is about to begin.

Our reading opens with David telling his generals to “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” In the forest of Ephraim, David’s experienced army overpowered Absalom’s militia and twenty thousand men were killed. Absalom was forced to flee from battle on a mule. While escaping, Absalom’s  head (or long hair, depending on the translation) became caught in an oak tree, and he was left hanging “between heaven and earth.”  When Joab finds Absalom , he ordered  him killed, disregarding David’ instructions.

David was heartbroken when the news of Absalom’s death reached him. Full of anguish and grief, David cried, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” As a parent I cannot help but empathize with David 3,000 years later—no matter how difficult the relationship, it’s always a terrible tragedy when the child dies before the parent.

Psalm 130:  We prayed this psalm in the first week in our series about David, when he called all of Israel to mourn the loss of King Saul and his son Jonathan. Now we pray it in connection to the loss of David’s son, Absalom.

Known as De profundis (Out of the depths), this is one of the seven penitential psalms. The psalmist calls upon the Lord to hear his supplication. He waits with hope and trust for God’s forgiveness. In the final two verses, the psalmist calls upon Israel to join him in penitence  and in waiting for God’s saving grace, “With him there is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.”

St. Paul Fresco by Angelica Kauffman, 1757. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
St. Paul Fresco by Angelica Kauffman, 1757. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2: In this week’s reading, Paul gives us a list of rules for practicing the values of God’s kingdom as we live in community with one another. To grow into life in Christ, we need to change our thinking and change our behavior. Paul advises:

  • Put away falsehood; speak truth to our neighbors.
  • Be angry, but don’t hold on to it—that’s what gives the devil a point of entry.
  • If you’re stealing, stop. Get a job so you can share with those in need.
  • Speak in ways that build up the community.
  • Do not grieve the Holy Spirit—an offense against another is an offense against the Holy Spirit.
  • Cast aside all the usual vices—bitterness, wrath, anger, malice, and slander. Instead be kind and tenderhearted. Be ready to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Paul sums it up with an amazing recommendation: “Therefore be imitators of God.” As Christ has loved us sacrificially, we are to do the same to others.

But how?  I like the encouraging comment in the Life with God Bible: “When we pretend to be what we are not naturally, Jesus Christ mysteriously ‘injects’ his kind of life into ours. And here is the most unthinkable of all—we can imitate God.” In other words, we should invite Christ have his way with us—and then follow him in love.

I AM the bread of life window St. Joseph’s Church Central City, Kentucky. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
I AM the bread of life window St. Joseph’s Church Central City, Kentucky. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

John 6:35, 41-51: In this week’s reading, we continue with the Bread of Life Discourse beginning with the same message from Jesus with which we concluded last week’s. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus often spoke metaphorically. We know that there are two kinds of food—physical and spiritual. Jesus is speaking spiritually, but the people are taking his words literally.

Jesus’ statement started some of his listeners grumbling, especially those who knew Jesus before he began his ministry, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I have come down from heaven’?”  Jesus goes on to explain that it is only those whom God draws (we might say “calls”) that can come to him; they will be raised up on the last day. Jesus reminds the people of the writing of prophets, and says the way people are “taught by God” is fulfilled through him because he has seen the Father, and  “Whoever believes has eternal life.” God provided manna in the wilderness that enabled their ancestors to survive, but eventually they died.

Jesus proclaims, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” I interpreted “my flesh” to foreshadow the Eucharist, but some commentators say Jesus is referring to his death. John’s Gospel is so rich, both interpretations can be themes for meditation.

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