Insights with Seitz: Symphony of Scripture

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 27th, 2021

November 18, 2020

On the face of it the transition from the parable instruction of Jesus to the crowds, with private tutorials for the disciples, to the stilling of the sea in today’s reading seems abrupt. The address of Jesus as “teacher” offers some help but still makes for a very different classroom in a boat at sea. Nothing parabolic but indeed quite real in a squall. There may be a bit of transition, though subtly conveyed, in his announcement that they are leaving the crowds behind to go to the other side. If the implication of “to the other side of the sea” means where the gentile populations are prominent, then the reference to giving shelter to the birds of the air, as the previous mustard seed teaching described it, would be pertinent. In Ezekiel’s use of the phrase, recycled in Mark, the great cedar sheltered the nations, described as birds, and so too the amazing mustard plant with the same depiction of national safety.

But equally, we can see in both the instruction in parables and in the stormy sea God at work behind the scenes, as it were. Seed growing secretly. Surprising tiny seed growing to grandeur. Jesus asleep but fully in charge. A kind of anti-Jonah, obedient and all in, surprised at the fear but competent to make the seas obey him. The sea is that unruly force that seems to challenge God’s dominion, but over which he rules, from the moment of creation, through the great flood, and as the psalms describe it, a powerful voice over the waters day by day, sitting enthroned above the flood. As is Jesus arising from his sleep enthroned on the waters. “Peace, be still.”
Any number of Old Testament texts might be called upon to reinforce the point, but our selection from Job is a very good one. We find ourselves at the opening of the divine speech from the whirlwind, in God’s response to Job in chapter 38. For Job though the speech is a fearsome thing, it is also a response to him that silences his friends and moves past the subtle wisdom of Elihu, if that is the correct appraisal of the young man’s contribution. Job will be converted in this encounter and enabled to return to his famous intercessory prayer role, prior to being healed of his bodily afflictions. In this manner we see Satan defeated, who had said that no one would serve God for naught, for nothing but God’s own sake. Job does just that. “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear but now my eye sees you.” 

Or in our NT version, “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”

God speaks from inside the windstorm. Job is being girded up in his being addressed and being made privy to things God alone has seen. At the moment of creation where no man was, there Job is made to glimpse, through the eyes of God, to see as God sees, through God’s sharing of those memories to our persevering hero. As when he said to the waves of chaos, “Thus far you shall come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped.”

As God spoke and brought creation into orderly, obedient form, and as he shares that moment with Job who was not there anymore than anyone of us was, so in Jesus God acts in like manner. “Peace, be still.” Like Job, the disciples stand in awe. He who neither slumbers nor sleeps is sovereign over land and sea, over soil and over proud waves. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” I am here, and even in crashing storms, and taking my rest, I am in charge. He rebukes the waves and shows that it is so. Faith is that endowment hard to summon up that is assured of secret growth, or deep roots in good soil, of tiny seeds being enough when God in Christ is the Lord of the Kingdom.

The Psalm, 107, with its glimpse at life for sailors on the seas, brings in dramatic chords to accompany Job and Mark. The psalm gives eloquent testimony to palpable fear. The God who brings the terrifying storms is the same Lord to whom appeal can be made, with the power and authority to still those storms. 

Then he spoke, and a stormy wind arose, *
which tossed high the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths; *
their hearts melted because of their peril.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards *
and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper *
and quieted the waves of the sea.
Then were they glad because of the calm, *

What a perfect accompaniment to the Gospel reading and God’s divine word to Job provided for this Sunday.

Paul’s litany of hardships borne for the sake of the Corinthians also comes nicely alongside the hardships at sea. But for Paul these testify to what empowerment in Christ has enabled in him and in the way of his service. “…through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger. We are treated as dying – and see we are alive. Poor but having everything, as having nothing yet possessing all things.” What comes to mind is the promise of the parables of sure growth and deep roots. The disciples get a taste of the power of God in the midst of hardship, and of captaining their boat. Paul gives witness to just how strong this captaining is and what it allows in his ministry through all manner of hardship. And by this means he seeks to offer shelter to the birds of the air in Corinth. “Open wide your hearts also.” Join us in this rich soil with strong roots able to withstand storms and thorns and affliction. 

Finally then, Track One continues the walk through 1 Samuel, here offering two choices for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost. The well-known David and Goliath encounter. Talk about a battle for survival and a fearsome encounter with the world’s mightiest and most dedicated warrior! And what does David say, brushing off the warnings and armor of Saul. “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

The bravado and fearlessness come across as unthinkable and a bridge too far, but in many ways they find their absolute fulfillment and accordance in the posture of Jesus himself before a deadly storm. “Where is your faith? Peace. Be still.” “Goliath, you are through.” The young David’s victory is fully plausible—striking the giant with his sling—since it is simply not what the giant thought fighting entailed. So he is doomed with one stone hurled from out of hand-to-hand fighting range. “You never forsake those who fear you, O Lord,” our Psalm 9 reads. “The ungodly have fallen into the pit they dug. The wicked are trapped in the works of their own hands. Rise up O Lord, let them be judged before you.”

The alternative reading from later in the same chapter 17 is provided for this Sunday without any explanation. Is the Goliath story too well known? Too violent? Does Track One admit of choices and variations, given that it has too much good material to work with? 

Here we have a David accepting the vesture of Jonathan, Saul’s son, where Saul’s armor he left to the erstwhile King. David will not find in Jonathan an obvious rival, as claimant to the throne, but a comrade and ally. We begin to see the paranoia and mood swings of Saul as he realizes here is his replacement, and not his son Jonathan. Evil spirit, fear, envy, awe begin to invade by strokes our rejected and yet still king Saul. Now we will have to see how David chooses to react. His loyalty to Jonathan gives us a clue. It will not be his instinct to retaliate in kind but will call forth from him the challenge of patience and respect. How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity. And how very hard. It must come as a gift from God and responded to with psalms of thanksgiving. 

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