Friday, June 12, 2009

Proper 7 Year B

Proper 7 Year B
(Revised Common Lectionary)

I Samuel 17:(1a,4-11,19-23),32-49; Psalm 9: 9-20
OR I Samuel 17:57-18:5,10-16; Psalm 133
Job 38:1-11; Psalm 107:1-3,23-32
II Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

The David narrative continues. Both these episodes from David's youth in chapter 17 from the First Book of Samuel are brilliant story-telling.

Just with a slingshot, David slays the huge, heavily-armed Goliath, who is vividly described as falling "face down on the earth." In another memorable image, the slim, youthful David is swamped in Saul's armor and he has to take it off before he goes up against Goliath. Still David is victorious "so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all the assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear...."

The psalmist contrasts the fate of nations which deny justice with those who "praise the Lord of Zion."

Impressed with David's victory over Goliath and the Philistines, Saul takes him into the royal household. His eldest son, Jonathan, is smitten with the "handsome" David. Saul's admiration turns to jealousy. Enraged, he tries to pin David against the wall with his spear. David nimbly gets out of the way "because the Lord was with him, but had departed from Saul." Saul was in awe and all of Judah and Israel fell in love with David.

The psalmist exults in the Lord's "ordained blessing," which can be seen in the harmonious relationship between brothers and is like an extravagant portion of precious oil poured over the head and even down on the beard or as life-restoring dew on the parched mountains.

After a long silence, the Lord finally responds in the midst of a violent storm to Job. The Lord asserts Self as the creator, the origin of all that is. The content as well as the tone of the Lord's monologue is, to use Walter Brueggemann's list of descriptors, "lordly, haughty, condescending, dismissive, reprimanding...." (Theology of the Old Testament, p. 390)

Recalling the return of captives (from Babylonian captivity?), this psalm shifts suddenly in vv 23-30 to the feelings of those rescued after some near-death crisis. Consider those who make their living on the water-- "those who go down to the sea in ships." Even they can lose their bearings and courage in a sudden, violent storm. "They reel and sway like a drunkard/all their wisdom is swallowed up." But after the Lord's rescue, it is time to sing the Lord's praises.

Paul is eager to restore his relationship with the Christians in Corinth following his earlier, severe letter to them. He pulls out all the stops in his own defense with a reminder of all he has endured for the gospel, including hardships, dangers and even imprisonment. Through it all Paul thrives. He has opened his heart to others. Now, "open wide your hearts also."

Mark is a master of the minimalist, heuristic narrative, as this episode illustrates. Jesus takes his newly recruited disciples on a boat ride from one side of the Lake of Galilee to the other to get away from the crowds. Suddenly a fierce storm comes up and their boat takes on so much water they could quickly drown. Jesus sleeps through the entire crisis until he is awakened by the disciples who are furious at him. Does he not care that they all could drown? Now awake, Jesus "rebukes" the violent wind and churning sea, which immediately become placid. "Why are you afraid" Have you still no faith?" They wonder among themsleves about this person whom they have recently begun to follow. "Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?"

The young David's battle with the mature, heavily armored Goliath and the panic of Jesus' followers caused by a sudden, life-threatening storm as well as the iconic verses of Psalm 107 (vv 23-30) bring up our own memories of times in our lives when the odds have seemed overwhelming. (Or perhaps they elicit feelings about some current crisis.) A financial setback, loss of security, dire health news or the ultimate crisis for every human being, death, of those we love the most and, eventually, our own death. At the moment of crisis we see no way forward. We feel overwhelmed as if we could "drown."

Jean-Luc Nancy has meditated on that moment in a crisis when we really do not know if we will survive or go under. He writes, "...It is a matter of holding oneself... in the place of the impossible, without making it possible but also without converting its necessity into a speculative or mystical resource. Holding oneself in the place of the impossible comes down to holding to where man [sic] is at his limit, that of his violence and his death. At this limit, he collapses or exposes himself and, in one way or another, necessarily loses his bearings. That is the place of vertigo or scandal, the place of the intolerable at the same time as that of the impossible. This violent paradox is not to be resolved: it remains the place of a gap that is as intimate as it is irreducible..." (
Noli me tangere, p. 52)

"At his limit," "loses his bearings," past security abandons her, he confronts his own"violence and his death." These are the times of panic and "vertigo," a time when we are "exposed." But it is also the time when we face the "impossible,' that is the impossible rescue! The earlier excerpt from Nancy is taken from his discussion of resurrection, Christ's resurrection. He modestly says that he would like to "simply insert this remark: the impossibility of Christian love could be of the same order as the impossibility of the 'resurrection.'" (Ibid.)

It is precisely in such times of helplessness when we are buffeted by storms more violent than we have ever known before and past coping is not adequate this time that this (dormant?) faith, which we politely profess (on Sunday mornings, at least) emerges viscerally as a potential life-saver. But it is a faith not in beliefs or even creedal certainties, it is closer to a very personal trust in the "impossible," a less-than-certain certainty, a peep of light in the dark that hints at bright light on the other side. Right at the moment of our greatest fear and uncertainty, the possibility of the "impossible" appears. "Why are you afraid," Jesus asks. Do you still not trust me when I persoanlly offer to you an alternative to the abyss, to oblivion, to nothing, to nothingness?