2Sam. 18: 5 - 9, 15, 31 - 33[or whatever]

In ancient Egypt, there were two nations, "Upper" and "Lower", which were occasionally "united" under one king or pharaoh. But we know that the "union" was not actual, for the king is depicted as wearing two crowns; he was head over two nations, not one. So it was in David's and Solomon's time. There never was a "united monarchy", but one king ruled two kingdoms: Israel and Judah. The story of Absolom's revolt (2Sam. 13 - 18) is a prime witness (among many others) to that fact.

You may want to pick your own verses from ch.18(1). King David is not the central character here; instead, this story features Joab and Ahimaaz. Two men from very different backgrounds, who exhibit a very similar trait.

Joab, a chief captain of David's army, is well known to us; or, at least, his name is. But I suspect that his character is less well known. It consists of three elements: absolute loyalty, murderous treachery and fearless guile. Joab is introduced to us as Abishai's brother (1Sam. 26: 6). That story, where Abishai (also a ruthless killer(2)) honors fugitive David's request not to harm King Saul, stands in brilliant contrast to this chapter, in which Joab deliberately disobeys King David's command. Joab's merciless torture of Absolom is a blazing signal to all Israel that he will not tolerate any opposition to the king. It is also a glaring sign to David, for Joab does not have the king's trust, but his utter dread. Joab knew his place in the scheme of things, and he knew how to stay there.

Ahimaaz, son of Zadok, David's priest, is another study of contrast in character. He wants to find favor in the king's sight by being the bearer of the good news of victory won. He desires this so intently that he argues against his commander's orders (!) and out-races the appointed messenger. But then see what he does when he gets there. His fear of telling the King that Absolom is dead makes him relate a very bland message, after which he quickly steps back into the crowd, hoping he will not be seen or remembered.

Two very different persons who share in very different ways the same primary goal: self-preservation. Like anyone you know?

Psalm 130

Every once in a while the Scripture holds up before us a brightly lit, crystal clear mirror, and we recognize ourselves for what we truly are: Joab or Ahimaaz. It does not matter whether we come from a family of virtuous priests or savage warriors; deep down inside we are all one. And at those moments of bleakest, blackest self-knowledge, God confronts us with the naked, painful truth: our indomitable, pervasive selfishness(3).

And we are devastated, lost, alone in the company of millions whose lot is no better; there is no-one to whom we can turn, for nobody has any real help to give. We are alike all sinking in the quagmire of our self-centered desire and fear. We struggle, grope and grasp, but find nothing solid to stand on, not a vine to cling to. There is not even a hope to hope for. What else can we do, but give up?

God invented the laws of physics for a purpose. For as we slide deeper and deeper, sucked relentlessly down by the gravity of our sin, there is nothing we can do but raise our heads to gasp for breath; nowhere to look but up, if we think to open our eyes.

You see, we need to open our eyes and remember the One Who created the muck(4) we are sinking down into. For God created dirt and water not to swallow and suffocate us, but to remind us that there is a firm vine we can grasp, there is a solid rock on which we can stand. There is a hope!

Rather than fearing death, fear God!

Does this say anything hopeful to you?

Eph. 4:25 - 5:2

As with verses 4 and 7 of the Psalm, the Apostle frequently appends a reason to his words. [S]peak the truth, ...for we are members one of another. (25) This reminds us of last week's lesson on union; circumlocution and falsehood destroy trust, which is the foundation of the frail latticework of unity.

The thief must... labor, ...so that he may have something to share with one in need. (28) Both respect for others' property and sharing our own do much to build unity. This understanding lends a certain coloring, or broadening, to the term "thief". Is Paul hinting that selfishness-- taking or keeping things for oneself-- is a form of thievery(5)?

[B]ut [speak] only such as is good... that it may impart grace to those who hear. (29) This can follow not only the topic of foul language(6), but also: Be angry but do not sin; (26) for anger often results in worse than foul language. Exercising control ("stifle yourself"(7)) over one's temper is an expression of grace(8).

[A]nd live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us (5: 2). A person may reside alone, as I do, but (almost) everyone lives among other people. And if there is to be any unity in the world, then "love your neighbor" and "love your enemy" become essential precepts. You and I are not the only (worthy) persons on earth; God did not create the universe solely for our sakes. We need to dismantle and abandon our egotistic pride and selfishness, for every one of the world's billions is an equal in the sight of the Lord.

John 6: 35, 41 - 51

[32 - 51 suggested]

In The Revised Common Lectionary(9), John 6: 36 - 40 is never included as a reading. Please consider these verses, for they have some good teaching points, notably about rejection of persons (37) and God's will (39-40).

V.41 offers another of John's potentially dangerous "the Jews" phrases. It seems to me that this does not refer to the crowds that followed Jesus across the lake (24), but to the "fundamentalists" of the day (John's, not Jesus'). Also consider their function in the narrative: they are "tools" which John uses to re-introduce and enlarge upon another teaching(10): Jesus' divinity.

But perhaps we ought-- or need-- to scrutinize these "fundamentalists" a little more closely, for we might just see ourselves in that mirror again. Note how they change the subject, from bread to: "Who is this guy?" (42) The same basic objection that the people of Nazareth had (Mk. 6: 3) is found in a more general sense in the world (at least the West) today: the denial of any non-physical, spiritual, aspect to the universe or life. Yes, in the Church too.

"[W]hoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these" (14: 12), Jesus prophesied. But where do we find the fulfillment of His words? Why do not church people-- the redeemed of the Lord-- go about healing the sick and bringing the dead-- especially children!-- back to life? Is it not because our "scientific" western mind-set teaches that it cannot be done? And so we-- who profess to believe in God and Christ-- choose to hold to this "worldly wisdom", deny the power of God and make Jesus into a false prophet.

Is anyone out there in this storm-tossed boat with me? For this is one of the sorest points in my faith journey. Too many times (I am ashamed to admit it) I have been in situations where I have wanted-- even felt led-- to say: "In the name of Jesus Christ, rise and walk." (Acts 3: 6) But instantly the doubt comes: "What if it doesn't work?" Which is the coward's (my) way of affirming: "It won't work. I don't believe God will do it."

Why cannot I trust God's will for good the way Jesus did? Why cannot I believe God's power will work through a mere mortal? How can we surmount this barrier of materialistic thinking? Lord, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" (Mk. 9: 24)

1. 1 No other verses are used by the Rev. Comm. Lectionary. See fn. 9.

2. 2 See 2Sam. 3: 30, 16: 9, 19: 21, 21: 17 and 23: 18.

3. 3 Note what the first letter of the three syllables spells.

4. 4 See Isa. 45: 7.

5. 5 Consider this relative to the forgiveness and reconciliation that you have received.

6. 6 I think Paul means much more than cursing by this.

7. 7 Archie Bunker to Edith, on the TV show, "All in the Family".

8. 8 It has to be, considering how difficult it is to do.

9. 9 Index II; Copyright (c) 1992 Consultation on Common Texts; Abingdon Press.

10. 10 See John 3: 31.

(comments to Phil at ENAPXH@aol.com )