Episode 226

June 06, 2024


B226 Pentecost 4

B226 Pentecost 4
By the Well
B226 Pentecost 4

Jun 06 2024 | 00:26:39


Show Notes

Fran and Howard discuss 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20 (briefly!) and Mark 4:26-34

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Speaker A: You're listening to by the well, a lectionary based podcast, preachers recorded on the land of the Wurundjeri people. Hello, everyone. I'm Fran Barber. [00:00:18] Speaker B: And I'm Howard Wallace. [00:00:19] Speaker A: And this week, Howard and I are going to be focusing on one Samuel 1534 to chapter 16, verses 13. We might have a brief reference to psalm 20, and then spend time on the gospel mark 426 34. And it's the fourth week after Pentecost. Yes, I forgot to say that at the beginning. So, Howard, I think it would be good to have a little bit of background in the first book of Samuel for people who mightn't have come to it, you know, for a while. [00:00:56] Speaker B: Right. And that's important, I think, because this particular episode in today's readings really is important in David's movement towards becoming a king. So it's a significant chapter or section one. Samuel began by talking about the prophet. We might call him a prophet Samuel himself and his election to the role that he took. But it appears by the time we sort of move through a few chapters that Samuel is not going to have any succession. His sons are corrupt and aren't worthy of the high priesthood, and the Philistines have become a military threat to them. And so the whole question of military conquest by the Philistines is real. The corruption within the Israelites, call them that for the moment, is real, too. And so begins a debate over kingship and whether Israel should have a king. And it's often termed as a king, like the nations, which means something more than what they get in Saul, the first king. That debate goes on from chapters eight through to chapter twelve. And then we have Saul elected as the first king. He's not a king, really, like the nations. He's little more than a tribal leader who takes on from time to time the tasks that are the issues that confront the people. So it's a limited kingship, and his struggle against the Philistines in chapters 13 and 14 is ineffectual in the end. [00:02:38] Speaker A: Right? When you say like the nations, are you talking about inherited kingship there? [00:02:42] Speaker B: Well, partly inherited kingship, but with the whole sort of social structure that builds around that of a hierarchical sort of society where the king is head priest, head military leader, head administrator, and it flows down through that to mean more or less a feudal sort of system. [00:03:00] Speaker A: Right. [00:03:00] Speaker B: Okay, so that's the issue. That's what happens in the end with Solomon, not quite with David almost there, but certainly Saul was far from that sort of model. And it's in here, as I said, his kingship is ineffectual in the end, in a number of ways. But he also displeases the Lord in this process. [00:03:24] Speaker A: Yes, because he doesn't go far enough in the lord's mind, is that correct? In some of the more violent. [00:03:31] Speaker B: And one particular episode is that when Israel came into the land, or were about to come into the land, they were opposed by people called the Amalekites, who live on the other side of the Jordan Rift valley from the Philistines, in other words, over in the east. And they opposed Israel. And the lord seems to have always had it against them for that very reason. And Saul was told that he had to. [00:04:02] Speaker A: Annihilate them. [00:04:03] Speaker B: Yes, annihilate them. Well, he battled and he beat them. But the trouble is he kept some of the spoil for himself, and he made up this sort of story that he was keeping it in order to sacrifice the various animals. They were animals mostly for the Lord. This was his tale. And it's important, actually, for the story today as it comes back in. In the end, the Lord rejects Saul totally and sends Samuel on this mission to find a new king whom the Lord has obviously already chosen. But Samuel is somewhat in the dark in this process. He's also perplexed because he knows. Well, he's grieving for Saul. He really has an affection of some sort for Saul. But on the other hand, he knows that if Saul finds out what he's up to, what he's being sent to do, his own life would be in danger. So he's got this sort of. [00:05:05] Speaker A: There's a lot of political intrigue there is here. [00:05:08] Speaker B: And that's one thing I think we need to be aware of in this. This is a story that is created. We're not reading history here. And I think by saying it's a story, what I mean is we've really got to get into the skin of the characters in the narrative and to understand what's going on and what's happening. [00:05:27] Speaker A: And that would. I mean, if we may, that character, that one of those characters is Yahweh. [00:05:33] Speaker B: Yes. [00:05:33] Speaker A: Who, we're told in verse 35, regretted that he'd made Saul a king. And my understanding is that there's only one other occasion where Yahweh regrets something which is bringing the flood and the Noah story. So, I mean, that's significant. [00:05:54] Speaker B: So God can change his mind according to the text. [00:05:57] Speaker A: And maybe theologically we might say that in that sense, David, as the flood was, brought something new, a newness like that. So does David. And as we know and in the text, we'll find out that's not entirely a marvellous thing. [00:06:17] Speaker B: No. I mean, one of the other things we need to keep in mind is this is also a bit of propaganda literature. It really is a way of justifying David as king. And most kings in the ancient Near east and Egypt, elsewhere in that world, really were busy about justifying their own sort of ascendancy to the throne. [00:06:37] Speaker A: Yeah. I mean, in that point, you can even see in a word, count statistic that the name of David is mentioned over a thousand times in the hebrew scriptures and about 60 times in the New Testament. So, yeah, strong propaganda, given the abuses of power and failings. [00:07:00] Speaker B: Yes. We've got to remember his darker side at times, too, although he did well, he's recalled as having done a lot. [00:07:07] Speaker A: Of good and just. We will. Perhaps we will elaborate on this bit in the next reading. But the language of the theological, that kingship became sort of a theological vehicle. Yes. To talk about. [00:07:20] Speaker B: Yes. [00:07:21] Speaker A: I mean, God and God's son and the messiah, etcetera. [00:07:24] Speaker B: Yes. And even the way God acts towards kingship, I mean, in those chapters eight to twelve, I mean, God is reluctant, sort of ceding to the people's request or some of the people's request. [00:07:37] Speaker A: Yes. [00:07:37] Speaker B: Anyway, Samuel's off to task the new king, but because he's nervous about Saul, if Saul hears about it, what he might do, the Lord gives him sort of a ruse, and that is that he's going to. He's being sent to Jesse, David's father, and he will review the likely royal nature of all of Jesse's sons in due course. But in order to sort of disguise this activity from Saul, the Lord tells him that to tell others that he's going there to sacrifice, a special sacrifice with Jesse, which is the irony of the story, you see, because Saul himself has displeased God because he did not annihilate the Amalekites, but then had this, his own story about how he was going to sacrifice the land he kept for himself. So we've got a lie on the one hand by Saul and then this rus by the Lord through Samuel, which are playing off each other. They're both about sacrifice in this context. So you bring the two together. But it raises an interesting question. How do you distinguish the lie of the thief from the ruse of the Lord's servant, Samuel and his sacrifice when they're in the midst of a turmoil and Samuel himself at this stage, still doesn't know whom the Lord has chosen. So it's a difficult situation to. [00:09:17] Speaker A: It is. And like, how do you discern? I'm not going to respond to you providing a way one would discern. Surprisingly not. I will respond by saying what that tells me, that ambiguity placed before us in the text, is that we need to be quite humble in the face of our own assumptions about whether who we think is bad or good or telling the truth or not, and because we love to draw legal lines around who fits in and out and who's good enough and so on. So for me, in the story, that's the point. [00:09:51] Speaker B: Yes. And I think it's also inviting us to a sense of sometimes we just don't know the outcome of things. This will also come up, I think, in mark, to some extent. And, you know, we're just invited to proceed, I think, as faithfully as we, as we can without necessarily having the assurance that we're on the right track. [00:10:17] Speaker A: For me, the flip side of that, too, is God works God's ways, whether we have judges or kings. I mean, you know, God is displeased about our, I use our, as in humans desire for a king. And in a sense, that request from Israel is a rejection of what God had going for them in the first place, which God has patiently accepted by saying, yeah, you can have a king, but as we've alluded, it doesn't. None of it's all rosy after they have kings. And yet God, you know, far from it, and yet. But God works God's creative ways through these fallen people, individuals. [00:11:00] Speaker B: Yeah. I mean, there is an adaptability within God to the human sort of context. And God seems to be willing to bend a little if needed, say, all. [00:11:13] Speaker A: Right, I'll give you kings. It's not going to make a huge amount of difference, actually. It's not going to work that way. Yeah. And so, you know, then the question, too is, well, what, theologically, what is the best form of rule? I just. There's a question for your sermon. I'm not saying this is going to give you the answer, but. Except the answer is maybe it doesn't matter up to a point. [00:11:32] Speaker B: Yes, but there's always sort of. [00:11:35] Speaker A: Yeah, yeah. [00:11:36] Speaker B: You know, you're going to try and strike trouble no matter. [00:11:39] Speaker A: Well, no matter what. And humans ideas, our programs and our idea of what will get things to Utopia or right are fallible. [00:11:50] Speaker B: Yes. But I think that leads us on then to, of course, to the whole point of the story, and that is Samuel sees the, the lineup of Jesse's sons one after the other, none of whom the Lord sort of is excited about, even though they're working from the. [00:12:07] Speaker A: Eldest down, which is the normal course of inheritance of power or whatever, one. [00:12:13] Speaker B: Of them, the youngest out in the field, is still looking after the shepherd. [00:12:16] Speaker A: Who they forget about. So I find an interesting inconsistency in the story in the sense that God advises not to look on the surface for what God needs. But then when we are introduced to David, who's arrived from the field in verse twelve, we're told quite clearly how he was glowing in health and very. [00:12:36] Speaker B: Handsome, all the things that would recommend him as being a king. But I mean, there's lots of other factories out in the fields looking after the sheep. I mean, one of the titles of the kings, Mesopotamia especially, is the great shepherd of the sheep. This image was right across the ancient Near east. So there's a whole lot of symbolism in this story that point to David. [00:13:00] Speaker A: As God's choice, which obviously then becomes a paradigmatic thing way of talking about the Messiah and Jesus, the language used of Jesus. [00:13:10] Speaker B: Yet we're not to look on human standards and stuff. We've got to keep these things in balance. [00:13:15] Speaker A: Paradox again. So there's election, obviously there's election here. And the coming of the spirit, that's. [00:13:25] Speaker B: The other thing we need to note too. I mean, the very last verse in the reading, it's set, talks about the spirit coming on David, and the very first verse in the next bit, which probably might not hear, is now the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul. There's this swapping over going on. [00:13:46] Speaker A: And so in the. So as humans, we want to say, well, who's good enough to be elected and chosen? When actually, if we look at the texts in the Bible in general, but the hebrew scriptures in particular, it's about Yahweh's purpose. The focus is not the gifts of the person necessarily, but the purpose of God in calling them. And so, you know, even God choosing Israel because they were numerous and because he loved them, not anything in them as such, if you know what I mean. And the pattern of preferring younger sons over older ones through Genesis. [00:14:33] Speaker B: Yes. You know, which runs through. Into. Yeah, yeah, into this. [00:14:38] Speaker A: And then quite clearly, clearly, as we've been saying, it's spirit possession is the sign. I mean, it seems the spirit is not present. The coming of the spirit is the result of being chosen. Is the spirit present before you chosen? That's question in the text. It's not, no. And then when you're unchosen, it goes, yes. And the spirits only comes on Saul and David is my understanding. [00:15:07] Speaker B: Saul, yes. [00:15:09] Speaker A: And then after that, you don't hear about. You don't hear about it. [00:15:11] Speaker B: Solomon. [00:15:12] Speaker A: No. Why is that? Do you know? Have you got a comment to make about that? Not really. [00:15:17] Speaker B: Not really. I think it sort of is very erratic when we. Yeah, we talk about that and, you know, we're talking about the breath of God, really, in terms of the word itself. [00:15:29] Speaker A: Yeah. Ruah, the creative work. Now we've got psalm 20 set for today. You had one, just one clear comment. [00:15:40] Speaker B: On that when we read about. It's about David is requesting the help of God in some sort of military conflict, which doesn't sound very nice in this sort of context. But I think if we put that psalm in the context of the book of psalm, the context of the book of psalms, it sort of makes a bit of sense because if you go back to two psalms, to psalm 18, the heading on that psalm is about David praying for God's help when Saul is trying to kill him. Now, we haven't got quite to those episodes in the Book of Samuel yet, but they will come up. But then this psalm 20 begins sort of thing where psalm 18 ends off. And I think the one of the verses that could become a point of repetition within a service for Sunday is verse seven. Some take pride in chariots and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord, which I think is picking up the theme that in both Samuel's story and in Mark. [00:16:50] Speaker A: Which we'll go to now. Yes. So let's have a look now at mark 426 to 34. So the parable of the mustard seed and the growing seed in chapter four. I think these two little parables need to be seen in contrast or alongside the beginning of chapter four with the parable of the seed going onto various soils. It's a very seed laden chapter. [00:17:27] Speaker B: And also picking up on the use of growth within nature, too, which is quite a strong biblical theme in Jesus. [00:17:37] Speaker A: So Mark doesn't have heaps and heaps of parables like the other. [00:17:41] Speaker B: Quite a few of them come quite quickly at the beginning. [00:17:44] Speaker A: Yes, yes. So that early in chapter four, the various soils, that's quite different. I mean, in a sense, what it's saying is almost not opposite, but almost opposite what's happening here. So in that one, there's this cavalier approach to the seed going everywhere and that it's actually not going to grow in certain spots. And it's perhaps a comment in Mark, you might ask. Well, these disciples who don't understand anything, are throwing this seed all over the place where they don't, I don't know, they could play with themes like that, whereas here it's much more straightforward where a man is a scatter seed on the ground and it grows. And this is interesting, I just want to make a quick connection with the Samuel reading just now that whatever this man does, he goes to sleep, he gets up the seeds growing a bit like whether we have judges or kings or what we do, things are happening, things are happening without necessarily, without our effort, which much to our frustration and. [00:18:46] Speaker B: You know, the whole business of, I mean people would sort of say, oh, we do know about the germination of seeds these days, don't we? But the point is not so much in, I think, in the detail of what we know or what we can interfere with. [00:19:00] Speaker A: No. And I mean, I would, I would argue that the, the miraculousness of that is still with us. Well, when I say point of the parable. Yeah. You know that this innocuous looking thing, this dead looking thing. And we've, you know, when we were in primary school and we had those cotton wool on the windowsill and you'd put, I forget what the seeds were. [00:19:21] Speaker B: Wheat. [00:19:22] Speaker A: Wheat maybe initially. And you can, the next morning you go to bed and the next morning you get up and it's got a little green bit in it, you know, there's. I mean, even though we might understand the process, it's still remarkable. [00:19:33] Speaker B: It's magical. [00:19:34] Speaker A: Yeah, magical. [00:19:35] Speaker B: And even the same with the mustard seed, which then gets onto the parallel with Samuel about the smallest, supposedly. [00:19:45] Speaker A: So I think a comment around parables per se is important in a sermon here. And you know that the parable is putting two things alongside each other to draw out a different thing that's a bit general, comparing two things and providing a contrast or an analogy and creating a picture and upending our expectations and our values of how the world is ordered is what a parable is designed to do. And I've done this a couple of times in this podcast over the years, but pointed to Ben Myers, who's a theologian and scholar in general, who had wrote ten rules for preaching parables on his old website, faith and theology. They were quite funny and really important things like don't assume you're the goody and they're the baddies kind of thing, which is not so pertinent in this particular parable. But he's got another rule is if you don't mention the kingdom of God in preaching it, then you're doing it wrongly. What number six seems of his rule seems most pertinent here, where he says, if Jesus seems more like a headmaster giving orders than a comedian cracking jokes, you're probably doing it wrong when you're preaching from parable. And these are quite. I mean, these are not laugh out loud funny to us, but there's a certain level of satire in the play going on here around the mustard bush, which is an incredibly unimpressive shrub. I don't think it's called shrub in this translation of NRSV, though. But I understand that word is used in some translations. [00:21:34] Speaker B: It is called a shrub in Mark, but apparently it becomes a tree in Matthew and Luke. Interesting, I think. But the other thing about parables themselves and this sort of picking up on the last verse about when it talks about him talking in many parables and not. Not being understood except trying to explain it to his disciples, there's a sort of a mystery within the parable itself that is there within the two parables beforehand. You don't know what's happening with the seed under the ground and you don't know how the tintsiest little thing becomes this great big bush. The parables themselves sort of fit in with that sort of teaching. [00:22:16] Speaker A: They are what they do and they. [00:22:18] Speaker B: Work away at us, even if you don't quite understand. [00:22:22] Speaker A: And if I. That. So in earlier in chapter four, I think he says, I'm saying this so that those who see don't or those who don't perceive see, or something like that. You can look it up, folks. But like there is a few verses in earlier in chapter four where the conundrum of the parable is actually explicitly stated. [00:22:40] Speaker B: Verse ten and following. [00:22:41] Speaker A: Yeah, verse ten onwards. [00:22:43] Speaker B: Yes, but the other thing, I think that in about these parables, they're sort of biographical in terms of Jesus's own sort of life. He's going to die and rise again. So there's a sort of a hint of resurrection sort of theology through. And there are also paradigms for christian sort of living again, we may not always understand what's going on in the world, but being faithful in that sort of context is important. And we can be to some extent sort of assured or have an optimism about the world that is not sort of governed or depressed by the pessimism that sort of just. [00:23:37] Speaker A: Yeah, I think that's a really important, especially these days, um, in. I think that's a really vital message. And also, um, that the doing of the small thing, um, is part of the resistance or part of the living defiantly into that hope, you know, this mustard bush that's incredibly humble. [00:24:00] Speaker B: And. [00:24:01] Speaker A: And actually, I did read somewhere that that's a bit of a play on Ezekiel 1723, which talks about a noble cedar with birds under it. That imagery is coming here and doing a different thing. A really different thing. And that it's the other thing. It's a humble bush, but it's something like we would call ivy. It just gets into everything and quite hard to eradicate. And that's a fantastic, hopeful and subversive idea to play with around God's power in the world. That it's hard. He's actually hard to eradicate. It is there and unkillable, even though it doesn't look like it a lot of the time. [00:24:45] Speaker B: But also being aware that we're not responsible, we are not able to do all of this ourselves. We have to, I think, have faith that God is actually working there within the midst of all that. [00:25:00] Speaker A: Yeah. And that's the common theological message, really, through the Samuel and this one. So are there any last. There's a lot to be. We haven't gone close to the text so much here, really, have we? [00:25:15] Speaker B: There's not a lot of. [00:25:16] Speaker A: No, there's not a whole lot of it. I'm just having a quick re look to see if there's anything. So he didn't say anything to them without using a parable. How frustrating when you just want an answer. So I think that's. And then there's. There's the element. We touched on this, but the element. There's some sort of secret going on. But he then does explain everything to the disciples who still don't get it through the gospel of Mark. [00:25:41] Speaker B: But yes, because I think one of the things you got to be careful of is that the last verse is not talking about sort of privileged knowledge to the. The elect few over against the ignorance of the whole or the rest. And that because once we sort of move beyond these couple of parables to Jesus stilling the storm and healing and doing other things, we suddenly start to learn that these disciples don't understand what's going on. [00:26:09] Speaker A: No. [00:26:11] Speaker B: Even to the point where we get to the middle of the gospel and Peter's resisting Jesus is denying. Turn towards Jerusalem. [00:26:18] Speaker A: Yeah. Yeah. All right, well, I think that probably wraps us up for this week. Thanks, Howard. [00:26:22] Speaker B: Okay. You're welcome. [00:26:27] Speaker A: By the well is brought to you by Pilgrim Theological College and the Uniting church in Australia. It's produced by Adrian Jackson. Thanks for listening.

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