Old Testament:1 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.
David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. 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. 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. 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, 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 Response: Psalm 24
1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, *
the world and all who dwell therein.
2 For it is he who founded it upon the seas *
and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
3 “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? *
and who can stand in his holy place?”
4 “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
5 They shall receive a blessing from the Lord *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation.”
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, *
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
8 “Who is this King of glory?” *
“The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.”
9 Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
10 “Who is he, this King of glory?” *
“The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.”
The Epistle: 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, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 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, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 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; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
The Gospel: Mark (6:14-29)
King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, 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.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 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. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 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. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 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.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 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.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Two kings, living a thousand years apart, each confronted with the presence of God. Two opposite responses.
In today’s first reading, David rejoices with total abandon as the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred object that the people of the time considered to be the throne of God on earth, is brought into the city of Jerusalem. That presence of God among the people was a cause for great joy.
In our gospel reading, Herod Antipas was likewise confronted with the presence of God, first in John the Baptist and then in this new teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. But with Herod, there was no rejoicing. He clearly saw the presence of God in these two prophets as a threat: a threat to his own sometimes tenuous hold on those within his power, a threat to his own ego, a threat to his insistence that everyone bow to his latest decree or decision, as ill-advised and capricious as it might be.
Two opposite responses. Which of the two kings really understood the implications of God’s presence among them? Actually, both of them did.
David obviously offers the more positive example. In the thinking of the time, God’s presence among the people offered some assurance of God’s protection over the king and the nation. But those who knew the stories of Israel and its lived experience of life with Israel’s God knew that God’s presence was often a challenge as well, sometimes even a threat. God’s presence could be a direct challenge to the king and to the nation to turn their values and actions around and to live in the way that they really did not want to live, to live in a way that was more faithful to their covenant with God.
It is not necessarily the case that some experiences of God evoke joy in everyone while other experiences evoke fear in everyone. More often than not, it seems, the same experience evokes joy in some people, but fear in others. That seems to have happened throughout human history, including biblical history, whenever people encounter the presence of God in others who seem to be different from them. It continues to happen today and is at the root of some of the most contentious issues in our nation and in the rest of the world in our time.
People have a natural tendency to focus on those who are closest to them: on their own families, on their friends, on those who seem to be like them, whether because they are part of the same nation or the same race or because they practice the same religion or because they speak the same language. We use a variety of criteria to determine who is part of “us,” on the on hand, and who is part of “them,” whoever “they” might be, on the other. And based on that often very subjective division, we assume that “we” belong here and can be trusted, while “they” do not belong here and should be feared.
Some prominent figures, especially but not only politicians, play on those fears. They reinforce those prejudices, telling half-truths or even outright lies about those who seem to be different in one way or another from their supporters. They do so to reinforce their own positions and build up their own egos. They take advantage of those who are gullible enough to believe their distortions, and they exploit their fears. Their manipulation of others is based on the assumption that “we” belong here and that those whom they identify as “strangers” do not. But the biblical tradition tells a very different story.
After the pre-history in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, the main story of the Bible begins with Abraham. And it is there that we first encounter the idea of someone being “a stranger and a temporary resident.” Abraham uses it, but not about other people. He uses it as a description of who he himself is (Gn 23:4): “I am a stranger and a temporary resident among you.”
But that fundamental statement of identity doesn’t stop with Abraham. When the people of Israel are about to take possession of the Promised Land, God emphasizes that the land is not really theirs and that they are not the permanent residents who belong, assuming that others do not. Instead God informs them (Lv 25:23): “The land is mine; you are strangers and temporary residents with me.” Later, David (1 Chr 29:14-15) prays: “All things come from you, and of your own have we given you. For we are aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors.”
In his powerful book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, sums up the biblical witness and its rationale for welcoming the God-given other. He writes (pp. 203-204): “The ethical imperative to emerge from [authentic biblical] faith is: search for the trace of God in the face of the Other. Never believe that God is defined by and confined to the people like you. God is larger than any nation, language, culture or creed. He lives within our group, but he also lives beyond.”
That same, fundamental biblical teaching was embraced by the one who reminded his disciples and us (Mt 8:20): “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Wherever Jesus traveled, he lived as a stranger and sojourner in the land. And while doing so, he consistently welcomed the stranger, the outcast, those who appeared that they did not belong, those whom others considered to be part of “them” and not of “us.”
Jesus’ response to the presence of God in the stranger, in the other, was one of joy. Unlike Herod Antipas and those who today follow his example, he did not react to them out of fear, fear of the unknown. Instead he set for us an example: an example of recognizing that we, along with those who seem to be different from us, are all fellow-travelers. We are all strangers, journeying together in God’s land. For Jesus recognized the face of the God in the face of the other. And Jesus called on us, his followers, to rejoice in each new way that God reveals the divine self to us in those whom we are privileged to meet and to welcome as sisters and brothers, fellow children of our one God and Father.