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Wrestling with the Word, episode 30: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (July 19, 2009) June 26, 2009

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

How can we understand or speak of God without metaphors? The reality of God is so far beyond our comprehension that we humans can only use metaphorical language to approximate who God is and how God acts. The biblical writers had no advantage over us. They were fortunate enough to be the inventors of language forms that described a unique and unfathomable God for their time. They, after all, wrote the Bible—the collection of books we use as our norm for understanding God and God’s work. We are both blessed and challenged by the metaphorical language they chose.

To many readers, the image of shepherd and sheep has little relevance to today’s audience. Happily, in many parts of the world the role of shepherding continues and provides some insights into the biblical image. When we recognize that in the ancient world, kings frequently called themselves “shepherds of the people, we are not much better off since many of us have no more familiarity with kings than with shepherds. Whether or not modern day readers have ever seen a shepherd or a king, however, the biblical metaphor — used in both testaments — convey some powerful messages about the work of God: the pasturing, the gathering, the protecting, and the guidance back to the fold. Several of our lessons use these images for announcing the relationship between God and God’s people, while Ephesians 2 manages to probe the depths of the flock’s oneness without resorting to “sheep” or to “kings” but to “the cornerstone” of the structure that holds originally separate parts of the church together as the dwelling of God. Ultimately, as is true throughout the New Testament, all the metaphors come together in Jesus Christ.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 30: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B.


Psalm 23
This powerful psalm of trust looks to the Lord as shepherd to guide the individual worshiper and as king to protect and nourish him/her in the temple. The confession of the Lord as a shepherd is indeed a divine title at Ezek. 34:15 and a royal one at verse 23 (see also Mic. 5:5). This Shepherd King gets up close and personal in this psalm. The Lord restores the petitioner’s spirit, leads, and guides the person in ways that reflect the saving action (righteousness) of God within the community. This guiding by the Lord is “for your name’s sake” (see Isa. 43:25; 48:9-11), that is, God lives up to the name YHWH by assuring faithfulness to past promises made, especially God’s presence to save the afflicted (Exod. 3:7-15; see also Ps. 25:11; 31:3; 106:8; 109:21; 148:5, 13). Even through the “valley of darkness,” the Lord will walk beside the psalmist, bringing comfort. This God has the reputation of protecting the poor from their foes (enemies, wicked, evildoers, godless, etc.), and this petitioner has experienced that protection personally. The mention of a meal might refer to the thanksgiving meal that follows God’s response to a lament in the face of such enemies (Ps. 22:26; 116:13, 17). Here the meal is even prepared and offered by the Lord in the temple as the enemies watch the party with envy. God’s “goodness and mercy” (chesed) will not simply be available to the psalmist but indeed pursue the person for a lifetime. The psalmist’s expression of dwelling “in the house of the Lord forever” does not mean entering the priesthood but taking this powerful experience of God’s presence into daily life.


Psalm 89:20-37
This psalm is an intriguing combination of several themes. Verses 5-18 praise the Lord as the incomparable God in the divine assembly, the one who established supremacy by conquering the forces of chaos (the sea, its waves, Rahab, the enemies). Verses 1-4, 19-37 take the form of a Davidic royal psalm, announcing that the Lord made an everlasting covenant with David to rule from Jerusalem’s throne over God’s people and to assert divine authority over the forces of chaos (sea and rivers). This royal power derives from the Father-son relationship God established with David and his descendants. Verses 38-51 become a powerful lament on the part of the people who in 597 B.C. have seen their Davidic king dragged off to exile in Babylon, calling into question the power and fidelity of God to the promises made long ago to David (2 Samuel 7:1-14).


2 Samuel 7:1-14a
In contrast to the trivial matter of a house for the Lord, God promises to David an enduring house (dynasty) through which God will rule over the chosen people in a new way.

David had been king over Judah for seven years before the people of Israel came to him at Hebron and asked him to be their king, too (2 Sam. 5:1-5). Once that transaction was accomplished, David established Jerusalem as his capital city because it was a site with connections neither to Judah nor to Israel (5:6-10). Having settled and made himself strong, David brought the ark of the covenant from the home of Obed into the city of Jerusalem and placed it in the tent of meeting on the slope that was called Jerusalem.

Key Words
V. 1.  waYHWH hēnîach-lô missābîb mikkol-’ōyebāyw = “and the Lord gave him rest from all his enemies round about”:  an expression typical of the Deuteronomistic history (see Deut. 3:20; 12:10; 25:19; Josh. 21:44; 23:1).

V. 8. ’anî leqachtîkā min-hannāweh mē’achar hatstsō’n lihyôt nāgîd ‘al-‘ammî ‘al-yisrā’ēl = “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be prince over my people Israel”: The expression ties together the imagery of kings and shepherds known from the Bible and elsewhere. Furthermore, the words appear at Amos 7:15 to describe the Lord’s snatching Amos from his job as a shepherd to the function of prophet.

V. 9.  we‘āsîtî lekā šēm gādōl = “and I will make for you a great name”:  cf. the similar expression wa’agaddelā šemekā = “I will make great your name” in God’s promise to Abraham at Gen.12:2.

V. 11.  wehiggîd lekā YHWH kî-bayit ya‘ase-llekā YHWH = “and the Lord declares that the Lord will build a house for you”:  the word play on “house” (Heb. bayit) first as a building which David wants to build for YHWH, then as a dynasty which the Lord will establish for David. Note the metaphorical use of building parts to describe Jesus as a “cornerstone” at Ephesians 2:20-21.


Jeremiah 23:1-6
In contrast to the shepherds who have scattered the flock, God will bring them home and provide good shepherds for their care.

At the time of Jeremiah’s call, Josiah was king of Judah (640-609 B.C.).  Josiah was succeeded by Jehoaz who ruled only a few months. Jehoiakim became king and ruled from 609-598. Jehoiakim’s successor, Jehoiachin (598-597 B.C.) was among the first exiles taken to Babylon. In order to maintain the appearance of a native ruler, Nebuchadnezzar picked Mattaniah, changed his name to Zedekiah (“Yah is my righteousness”), and the puppet king reigned until the second deportation in 587 B.C.

Key Words
V. 1.  mephitsîm ‘et-tsōn = “who scatter the flock”:  The same allusion occurs at Ezek. 34 (esp. vv.6, 7, 12) to speak of the failure of the appointed leaders of Judah.

V. 3.  wa’anî ’aqabbēts ’et-še’ērît tsōnî = “and I will gather the remnant of my flock”:  Note the contrast between the shepherds who scatter and the Lord who gathers at Ezek. 34.

V. 4. wahaqîmōtî ‘alêhem rô‘îm = “And I will appoint shepherds over them”: The following paragraph leads to the assumption that the shepherds will be Davidic kings who will fulfill the obligations of their office, especially hearing the needy when they cry out for help (Ps. 72:2, 4, 12-14). This connection of the appointed shepherd with a future Davidic king is much like the prophecy in Ezekiel 34. By contrast, according to Second Isaiah, the Lord designates as Cyrus, king of Persia, as “my shepherd” and “my anointed” (Isa. 44:28; 45:1), even though Cyrus does not know the Lord (45:5).

V. 5.  wahaqîmōtî ledāwid tsemach tsaddîq = “And I will raise up for David a righteous branch”:  The promise of the renewal of the covenant with David is stated here at a time when the dynastic succession has been broken. The image of the branch (tsemach) is used at Zech. 3:8 for Zerubbabel. The “branch” at Isa. 11:1 is a different Hebrew word: nētser.

V. 6.  YHWH tsidqēnû = “the Lord is our righteousness”:  One can only conjecture about whether the name of the truly chosen and legitimate Davidic ruler is a take-off on the name Zedekiah = “the Lord is my righteousness.”


Ephesians 2:11-22
Against social and religious issues that divide people, the cross of Christ makes peace between us and God and peace with one another in Christ’s body, the church.

Chapters 2 and 3 of the epistle focus on the central theological issue for the author, namely, the unity of the church. The first ten verses of this section explain how the resurrection of Christ had made the Christians alive, and on that basis, the author turns to the matter of reconciliation with God and with one another, especially in terms of the unity of Gentiles and Jews.

Key Words
Vv. 12-13.  tō_ kairō ekeinō … nuni de = “at that time … but now”:  The contrast defines the earlier time as the period when the Gentiles were separated from Christ, from the community of God’s people Israel, and from the covenant promise of God. “But now,” thanks to the sacrifice of Christ, the separation has disappeared.

V. 14.  Autos gar estin hē eirēnē hēmōn_ = “For he is our peace”:  Jesus is for the church “our peace, and “the church has “peace” in terms of the reconciliation of Gentile and Jew (v. 15), because he preached peace to all (v. 17).

V. 14.  kai to mesotoichon tou phragmou lysas = “and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility”: In light of the following words, the dividing wall appears to be that between God and humanity as well as the commandments and ordinances of Judaism (v. 15) which separated Israel from the Gentiles and which God has now “abolished” in order to create a new humanity.

V. 17.  “peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near”:  The thought is probably taken from Isaiah 57:19 (“Peace, peace, to the far and the near,” says the Lord, “and I will heal them”). The expressions here refer to the Gentiles (you who were far off) and to the Jews (those who were near).

V. 20. ontos akrogōniaiou autou Christou ‘Iēsou = “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone”: The metaphor is used only of Christ in the NT. The author of 1 Peter 2:6 quotes Isa. 28:16 (a message that God will write as a cornerstone for the salvation from judgment of those who believe in the Lord). Here the author describes Jesus as the one who binds together the whole community in/as the temple of the Lord in which the God will dwell (vss. 21-22).


Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Like a shepherd caring for his flock, Jesus had compassion on the restless crowds who interrupted his plans for rest and leisure.

The action follows the commissioning of the twelve to continue Jesus’ ministry (6:7-13) and the report about the beheading of John (vv. 14-29).

Key Words
Vv. 31, 32, 35.  erēmon topon = “a lonely/desert place”:  The expression recalls the wilderness experience of Israel. In Mark and Luke, a place (topos) often indicates a spot where people set the agenda by interrupting Jesus. His response to their interruptions indicates his hospitality and a model for discipleship. See Luke 4:42; 6:17; 9:12 and parallels; 11:1; 22:40: 23:33 and parallels.

V 34. kai esplagchnisthē ep’ autous = “and he had compassion on them”: See also1:41 (the leper); 8:2 (similar to the present text); 9:22 (a plea from the father of a boy with an unclean spirit).

V. 34.  hōs probata mē echonta poimena = “like sheep not having a shepherd”:  The quote comes from Num. 27:17 where God appoints Joshua to work with Moses so that the people do not wander aimlessly.

V. 56. kai hosoi an ēpsanto autou esōzonto = “and as many who touched it were healed”: For the healing touch in Jesus ministry, see Mark 1:41; 4:28-31. For the continuation of the healing touch into Paul’s ministry, see Acts 19:11.