Archive for the ‘Forty-Second Bundle’ Category

MARK 6:14-29

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

The degeneration of King Herod as a human being, descending the way of ‘harmless’ fantasies, swelling impulses, a growing disregard for conscience, the fateful decision, maneuvers in self-justification, an attempted cover-up, and finally adding murder to infidelity, presents us with a negative image of our unique capacity among God’s creatures. The tree and the bird each unfolds in its development according to the design and potential of their distinct natures. Their beauty is what we could call an ‘instinctive’ beauty, flowing out through natural tendencies and inherited patterns.

Human beings, in addition to having an instinctive nature, are conspicuous among the animal kingdom for being morally free, which means that our destiny as a species has been given to a great extent into our own hands. We can feel the drive of impulse in our organs and blood, but we can also discern the voice of conscience calling us to acts of fidelity, love, and self-sacrifice.

At some point in the progression of Herod’s guilt – a point that would preferably h come early rather than too late – there was a pause, a hesitation, a second thought. At that precise moment he was free to weigh the moral virtue and predictable consequences of his impending choice. Had he successfully uprooted the fantasy of his attraction to Herodias, or repented of his wrongful act when inwardly or outwardly convicted, he could have elected for a different path altogether. Instead of conspiring in the assassination of one of God’s prophets, Herod could have become an inspiring example of integrity and godly character.

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MARK 6:14-29

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

King Herod suffered from the chronic pangs of a guilty conscience. He had played into an underhanded scheme to dispose of John the Baptist, consenting to the prophet’s unjust execution rather than humbly retracting a foolish promise made in the flush of excitement. John had been a tireless critic of Herod’s illicit relationship with his brother’s wife – reason enough to put John in chains, but not enough to take his head.

The progression of Herod’s guilt is instructive. His affair and unlawful marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias, was his second decision, following his willingness to entertain the fantasy of it in the first place. For a while after having committed the act, he could get away with it. But when John got wind of the deed and started confronting Herod on the legal and moral demerits of his behavior, the king shifted into a mode of self-justification. “Because I’m king, that’s how!” or “Philip doesn’t love her anyway” or “that law is so antiquated!” might have been declared in his own defense.

Finally, in putting John away Herod was attempting to remove the voice of moral judgment entirely. Locking the prophet away in prison is really a reflection in the outer world of what Herod had already achieved in his inner world, by throwing his own better judgment behind bars. His supposed ‘slip up’ in making such an outlandish promise to his daughter managed to further compound his existing guilt with yet another guilty act.

Behold, the tangled web.

EPHESIANS 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

When we finally see the truth of the equation between the glory of God and the fulfillment of creation, the gospel of Jesus takes on new dimension and power. Upon closer look, we begin to notice how focused he was on awakening the deepest potentialities of the human spirit. His concern was not for doctrinal orthodoxy or ritual purity, but for the full realization of our intended maturity as creatures made in the divine image.

The author of Ephesians believed that in Jesus the Christ, as the glorified New Man, we can see the intended destiny of every human being. We can see the grace of God in the way he lived and loved, laying the path of salvation through the redemptive power of forgiveness. In his willingness to put aside his individual impulse for self-preservation so as to release the creative energy of unconditional forgiveness into the violent and fear-based systems of our fallen world, Jesus revealed what the human being is capable of by God’s grace.

He did everything with a self-transcending reference to what he called ‘the kingdom of God’, which is simply a political metaphor for the depth, power, justice, and joy of genuine community. In following the path of the gospel, we enter more and more into the fullness of our divine potential as human beings. Through our love in community, God is glorified in the highest degree.

EPHESIANS 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

“That we … might live for the praise of his glory.” Here is the Bible’s answer to the question that every maturing human being has asked: What’s my purpose? What is the end for which I exist? While contemporary Western answers may offer such goals as individual happiness and prosperity, the Bible invites us to look farther out. It is necessary to see that personal meaning and human purpose, while certainly legitimate concerns in themselves, must be a function of reference to a still higher or larger or more enduring reality. Purpose is always a link to another level or dimension, and the quest for human purpose naturally opens us to the Something More that encompasses our existence, the reality we name God.

For its part, the Bible defines human purpose as giving glory to God. To understand what this means we need to imagine God as the transcendent ground and energy of being, manifested outwardly in the myriad forms of existence. The universe carries this deeper energy into material expression, and has evolved into the astonishing miracles of life, consciousness, and community. Each existing thing “declares the glory of God,” as the psalmist says (Ps 19), simply by virtue of being a visible expression of the invisible ground beneath and within all things. This helps us see that the glory of God and the fulfillment of creation are one and the same. In becoming all we were created to be and by actualizing our deepest potential as human beings, we glorify God.

PSALM 24

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
    the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
    and established it on the rivers.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
    And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
    who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
    and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the Lord,
    and vindication from the God of their salvation.
Such is the company of those who seek him,
    who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads, O gates!
    and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
    The Lord, strong and mighty,
    the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates!
    and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
    that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord of hosts,
    he is the King of glory.

David’s personal experience of God as the expansive mystery beneath and behind everything also had a deeply moral dimension, which must be true of all genuine religion as well. Since God is our name for that which energizes and supports existence itself, there is a recognition in all true religion that our human approach to that mystery requires a sufficient combination of mindfulness, reverence, and moral rectitude.

This is not to say that only perfect people qualify for an experience of God, for that would make the experience a reward for what is sometimes called a “works righteousness.” David is not suggesting that living right earns us a place in God’s favor and accumulates merit for ourselves. Those “who have clean hands and pure hearts” are the ones whose actions (hands) and intentions (hearts) are united in love for God and others.

The reason such persons “receive blessing from the Lord” has to do with the fact that they are the ones whose existence is grounded in a grateful awareness that opens them more fully to the overflowing generosity of reality. In truth, blessings are continuously pouring forth, and God/Love is that in which “we live and move and have our being,” as Paul says. But to see them we need an attention sufficiently liberated from foreground distractions and scattered urgencies. By the path of reverent awareness and wholesome lives we “ascend the hill of the Lord.”

2 SAMUEL 6:1-5, 12b-19

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; 13 and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14 David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. 18 When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, 19 and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

In his excitement David danced before the Ark of the Covenant “with all his might,” the text tells us. We are reminded of what Jesus said in response to the question about which commandment is the greatest of all (Mark 12:28). He replied that the greatest commandment is “to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all you strength.” There is no place for complacency in the religious life, where the full investment of one’s energy, attention, and devotion is the key that unlocks the door to life’s deepest meaning. In the words of the nineteenth-century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach: “Only was is an object of passion, really is.”

Such energetic demonstrations as David’s frequently invite the suspicion and disdain of what another nineteenth-century thinker called religion’s “cultured despisers.” They are the ones who, like David’s wife Michal, look with distaste upon the ecstasies of the spirit. Worship in their opinion is all about propriety, decorum, and structured liturgies. To dance is to be too much in the body, too wild and out of control. Surely God cannot be honored by such displays! But in fact, God is honored and blessed by acts of worship that engage the distinct yet interrelated dimensions of our total being. When the body is essentially uninvolved, our experience of God becomes disembodied and artificially sanitized. God is glorified in creation, and in our full praise as creatures.

2 SAMUEL 6:1-5, 12b-19

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; 13 and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14 David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. 18 When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, 19 and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

The Ark of the Covenant was about as close as ancient Israel was allowed to come in representing the deity named Yahweh, who had revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai through the burning bush. Graven images of the god (idols, reliefs, portraits) were prohibited, and even mental images (or concepts) of Yahweh were rejected by the more puritanical critics as sacrilegious attempts to reduce the transcendent mystery and holy otherness of Yahweh to visible and inferior form. While the Ark did not itself represent Yahweh, it was believed that the god resided in the sacred space between the outstretched wings of two golden cherubim positioned on either side.

As we might expect, and knowing the tendencies of human nature, there were some who made the Ark itself into an idol. A story from earlier in 1 Samuel tells of a terrible defeat suffered by the army of Israel at the hands of the Philistines, having advanced to the battle line in the belief that victory was guaranteed so long as the gold-plated war box was out in front. For his part, however, David appears to have kept the Ark in perspective, celebrating its history and presence with his people, but acknowledging all the while that the reality of God is beyond every symbol. Valid symbols and healthy ceremony relate us to the Divine without making absolute claims for themselves.