Lectionary Reflection for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King

This excerpt comes from 2 Samuel (BTCB) by Robert Barron, commenting on 2 Samuel 23:1-7:

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The prophetic message itself now follows: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land” (2 Sam. 23:3–4). The trope of sun for king is a fairly common one throughout the ancient Near East—Hammurabi comes readily to mind—and the morning dew probably refers to the fruitfulness that comes from the meeting of just leadership and an obedient people.

To be sure, the classical philosophical tradition placed great emphasis on the indispensability of upright rule. One needs only to think of Plato’s philosopher-king or Aristotle’s just monarch who reigns for the sake of the common good. But what is most interesting in this context is how the line functions as a summary of the entire Davidic narrative, which has been a sustained meditation on kingship.

From the time of Adam, the human race has required good leadership. Without rightly ordered kingship, the garden devolves into a desert, and human beings become the victims of threatening powers. David’s emergence as a righteous king, ruling in accord with divine purposes, was the condition for the possibility of Israel’s flourishing as a prosperous empire. And his devolution into unrighteous leadership led by a short road to disaster both political and religious. When law, governance, and power become simply the means for the king’s aggrandizement or tools by which he can manipulate the people, the nation falls into deep dysfunction.

If Plato’s criterion for measuring right rule is the realm of the forms and Aristotle’s the intuition of virtue, the Bible’s criterion is none other than the lordship of God. Next, the singer makes another reference to the Nathan prophecy: “Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure” (2 Sam. 23:5). The tragedy, of course, is that the well-ordered kingdom began to fall apart in David’s own lifetime and definitively splintered during the reign of his son. The only house that fulfills the expectation expressed here is the house of Christ’s body, which proves across time that the God of Israel is eternally faithful to his promises.

©2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from 2 Samuel (BTCB) by Robert Barron, commenting on 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33:

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Absalom, we are told, happens to encounter some servants of David. Though this sounds a bit odd, the reader must remember that the fog of war had definitely descended on this particular wooded battlefield, and the rebel king probably was as disoriented as his troops. As would have been appropriate for a high-status figure, Absalom is mounted on a mule, and the animal, perhaps in a panic, scoots under a large oak. Before he can react, Absalom finds himself caught by the hair in the tangle of the tree’s branches.

The bizarre, almost comical, image of the young man suspended between heaven and earth is, as Robert Alter comments, a wonderfully apt summary of this entire section of 2 Samuel (Alter 1999: 304). Who could miss the irony in the fact that Absalom’s hair, which had been the very focus of his narcissistic pride, would become the means of his undoing?

On the biblical reading, happiness flows not from self-preoccupation but rather from a forgetting of self and a surrendering to the purposes of God. Also, the royal animal running off and leaving his rider suspended is a particularly apt symbol for the unseating, the dethroning, of Absalom. Like his former counselor Ahithophel, Absalom ends his life strung up, undone by his own errant machinations.

Of course, the church fathers cannot overlook the thematic rhyming of this episode with the Gospel accounts of the death of Judas, another betrayer from the inner circle of the king who ends in a bad way. Cassiodorus’s comment is typical: “When Absalom was cruelly attacking his father David, the speed of his mule caused him to collide with a thick oak tree, and the branches wound round his neck so that he was suspended high in the air. This was a prefiguration of the Lord’s betrayer. Just as Judas ended his life in the knot of a noose, so also David’s persecutor breathed his last through the pressure on his throat.”

©2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from 2 Samuel (BTCB) by Robert Barron, commenting on 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a:

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How could this man after God’s own heart, this paragon of Israel, have fallen so easily and so disastrously?

The Council of Trent teaches that original sin—the primal dysfunction that affects the whole of the human race like an inherited addiction—conduces toward a skewing and disordering of the person, a setting at war of those elements that comprise the self. Dissociated and disintegrated, none of the powers of body and soul operate properly or at their full capacity. Thus the fallen will does not choose properly, and the fallen mind does not see properly.

Bernard Lonergan, who as a Jesuit was exquisitely sensitive to the discernment of spirits and the reading of interior states, knew that the fallen mind stands in constant need of conversion. Hence he formulated four great epistemological imperatives: be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable, and be responsible. He knew that the mind, conditioned by sin, tends to fall into lazy and self-absorbed patterns of not seeing, not thinking, not deciding, and not changing.

Of course, any spiritual director or confessor could tell us that even very bright people can tumble into gross patterns of self-deceptive or self-serving thinking—seeing what they want to see, imagining escape routes that are not there, spinning out exculpating scenarios, and so on.

David, the sweet singer of Israel, the celebrator of Yahweh’s sovereignty over creation, seemed to imagine that his puny and deceptive moves could somehow conceal his sin from God. Surely David knew that even as he chose to take Bathsheba he was operating at cross-purposes with God’s law and his own good. But David’s mind and will were simply overwhelmed by an unruly sexual passion that had been allowed to break away from its center.

Thomas Merton comments that the passions for sex, food, and drink are something like little children, demanding what they want when they want it. Not wicked in themselves, they are nevertheless to be disciplined by intellect and will lest they come, in time, to dominate the soul. During this sad episode, David is a person compromised by the fall, or to use more explicitly Catholic language, a man in the grip of concupiscence, the warping of mind and desire, which is the enduring consequence of original sin.

©2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from 2 Samuel (BTCB) by Robert Barron, commenting on 2 Samuel 11:1-15:

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David’s view from the roof, gazing down in an all-seeing way on the whole of his capital city, is a confirmation of Samuel’s worst fears concerning kings: that they would be domineering, oppressive, superior, and self-absorbed. Strutting on top of his palace, David is a parody of God’s providential presidency over the whole of creation. This is David having seized, Adam-like, the prerogatives of divinity, and what follows shows vividly the havoc that is wreaked when human beings begin playing the role of God.

Surveying the whole of his city, seeing what delights his eye, ordering about his underlings, David is the precise opposite of the pious young king who guilelessly asked God whether to go up to Hebron. The “look” of David, the regard from on high, is the gaze of the master that objectifies what it sees. The look of the lover is one that invites an answering look while the regard of the master pins the object of that regard to the table for examination.

He sees a woman of great beauty. Especially given the numerous associations between David and Adam that I have already noted, it would be difficult to miss the link between Bathsheba and Eve and between Bathsheba and the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. On the one hand Bathsheba, comfortably naked in the garden of David’s city, is Eve, the occasion for the king’s sin; on the other hand, the very beauty of Bathsheba is like that Edenic fruit that was “good for food . . . and a delight to the eyes” (Gen. 3:6). Indeed, it would be naive in the extreme to construe Bathsheba as totally innocent—she just happens to be bathing nude within easy eyeshot of the king?

David’s first move is to send a messenger to find out about her. Once more buffers, indirection, and the use of others to do the dirty work is consistently characteristic of the king during this episode. The servant reports that she is “Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite” (2 Sam. 11:3). Since it was unusual to identify a woman by both her father and her husband, some suggest that both Eliam and Uriah were prominent members of David’s inner military circle.

Eliam will play a role later in the story, but the emphasis is clearly on Uriah, explicitly identified as a foreigner, though he bore a stately Hebrew name meaning “Yahweh is my light.” Likely, therefore, he was not so much a foreigner as a native or naturalized Israelite of Hittite extraction. The irony, obviously, is that this man of foreign origins shows far greater loyalty to the customs and traditions of Israel than the Israelite king who murders him.

©2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from 2 Samuel (BTCB) by Robert Barron, commenting on 2 Samuel 7:1-14a:

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When the first Christian preachers and evangelists tried to make sense of Jesus the Messiah kata ta grapha (according to the scriptures), it was only natural that they turned to these texts and ideas that cluster around the promise conveyed to David through Nathan.

Matthew commences his Gospel with a detailed genealogy of Jesus, “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1; Hahn 2012: 82). By referring to those two figures specifically, Matthew is implicitly identifying Jesus as the One through whom the mission of Israel to bring their God to all the nations would be accomplished.

He lays out three sets of fourteen generations: from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian captivity, and from the captivity to Jesus. According to the tradition of associating a number to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the consonants of David’s name, d-w-d, correspond to fourteen.

Therefore, what Matthew is communicating to those who have eyes to see is that Jesus is a treble David, David cubed, David perfected and intensified. The lengthy genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel surely mimics and is meant to call to mind the even longer genealogy with which the books of Chronicles commence (Hahn 2012: 42).

The first ten chapters of 1 Chronicles are essentially a list of the antecedents of King David, beginning with Adam himself and leading through hundreds of other figures and events to Saul and Jonathan and their tragic end on Mount Gilboa. What the Chronicler is not so subtly insinuating is that all of human history has in a very real sense been a preparation for David and his gathering of the tribes in Hebron and then in Jerusalem.

By inaugurating his Gospel with a genealogy conducing toward the new David, Matthew is indicating that the human story finds its truest fulfillment in Jesus. Furthermore, when the angel visits Joseph and urges him to take Mary as his wife, he refers to Joseph pointedly as “son of David” (Matt. 1:20), and when the magi from the east arrive in Jerusalem, inquiring as to the whereabouts of the newborn “king of the Jews,” they are told the word of the prophet that the Messiah would be born in “Bethlehem in the land of Judah,” David’s city.

The very fact of prominent foreign personages seeking the king of the Jews is, of course, an echo of David’s attraction not only to the tribes of Israel but also, as we will see, to the surrounding nations.

©2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from 2 Samuel (BTCB) by Robert Barron, commenting on 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19:

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The priesthood of David is unmistakably referenced in the garb that the king dons for the parade: he “was girded with a linen ephod” (2 Sam. 6:14; Alter 1999: 227).

In Exodus, in the description of the priestly vestments to be worn by Aaron and his sons, the ephod is mentioned a number of times (Exod. 28:15, 35; 29:5). And in Leviticus we hear that Moses “brought Aaron and his sons forward, and washed them in water. He put the tunic on him, fastened the sash around him, clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod on him” (Lev. 8:6–7).

Most tellingly for our purposes, Saul, having invaded the sanctuary of Nob in search of David, ordered Doeg the Edomite to kill the priests, and we are told that “on that day he killed eighty-five who wore the linen ephod” (1 Sam. 22:18).

In putting on the garment of the priesthood, David decides to assume the role and take up the task of those fallen victims of Saul. But he is also hearkening back to Samuel, Eli, and the Aaronic priesthood as well as to the priesthood of Adam, the first one to assume the stance of adoration.

Only in light of the connection to Adam can we fully understand the energetic dance of the king before the ark of Yahweh. Before the fall, Adam walked in easy fellowship with Yahweh, thinking his thoughts, feeling his feelings, moving as he moved. He danced in unison with Yahweh. Sin is nothing but a falling out of step with God, an insistence upon dancing to one’s own rhythm.The whole of the history of salvation might be characterized as Yahweh’s attempt to restore the sacred dance, to get his human creatures to move with him. Accordingly David, dancing with energy before the ark, is humanity dancing with Yahweh, recovering the effortless harmony of Eden.

Some argue that the gestures and movements of the priests in the Jerusalem temple were intended to mimic, in a stylized way, the exuberant dance of King David. And since the ritual moves of the Byzantine and Catholic Masses trace their origins to the temple, the conclusion could be made that the processions, gestures, and bows of Christian priests today participate in the priesthood of the king who wore the ephod as he danced before the ark.


©2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from 2 Samuel (BTCB) by Robert Barron, commenting on 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10:

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Having come to David, the elders of the tribes say, “Look, we are your bone and flesh” (2 Sam. 5:1). They cannot mean a physical, tribal connection, for these are not men of Judah, but they do indeed assert that David is the head under which a kind of mystical body can form.

No one familiar with the Bible can miss the connection between this language and the words used by Adam of Eve: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). What the elders of Israel are proposing is a sort of marriage between themselves and David, a joining together of what had become separated, a union that will result in fruitfulness. Most Christians will recognize the link between this description of David’s relationship to Israel and Paul’s description of Jesus’s relationship to the church: “He [Christ] is the head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18); and “now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).

David is more than a skilled political leader who protects and directs his people, and Jesus is more than a prophet or rabbi who inspires the nation; both are the agents by which a people finds its cohesiveness, sacraments that effect what they signify.

As N. T. Wright argues, one of the principal messianic tasks that Jesus, the Son of David, undertook was none other than the gathering of the scattered tribes. When Jesus used language about the coming of the kingdom of God, he was understood to mean that the tribes of Israel, exiled by the Assyrians and then by the Babylonians and divided by their own sinfulness, were coming back together. In fact, much of the ministry of Jesus—his open table fellowship; his outreach to sinners, the sick, and the marginalized; his conversations with the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, and Matthew the tax collector; his journeys into Samaria, the decapolis, and the region of Caesarea Philippi; and his consistent offer of forgiveness—can be construed as a mission to knit the unraveled nation back together.

Furthermore, the Israel united under Jesus was meant to become the vehicle for the unification of the world, which explains precisely what Paul was up to. Hurtling around his world as energetically as he could, Paul announced to the Gentiles that they had a new Lord; Iēsous Kyrios ( Jesus [is] Lord) is his gospel in a nutshell.

David becoming king in Hebron is both a new Adam coming to reign over a reconstituted Eden and a prototype of the Christ, destined to reign over a mystical body encompassing, in principle, all the world.

©2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Lectionary Reflection for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from 2 Samuel (BTCB) by Robert Barron, commenting on 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27:

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One should not overlook the importance of David’s intense friendship with the son of Saul. From Jonathan’s side, it signals the orientation of true love, which is directed toward the other. Jonathan willingly surrendered his status and position in favor of David, easily, even gratefully, acknowledging that David and not he would one day succeed Saul. And despite the enormous danger to himself, Jonathan consistently defended and protected David.

John Chrysostom comments that Jonathan ought to have been jealous of the upstart shepherd who was rivaling him for the throne, “but he [ Jonathan] favored David obtaining the sovereignty; and he didn’t spare his father for the sake of his friend. . . . Instead of envying, Jonathan joined in obtaining the kingdom for him.” This lovely surrender to the other is what led Aelred of Rievaulx and many others to see in Jonathan’s relationship to David the model of true friendship.

From David’s side, the relationship shows once more his intense tie with the house of Saul despite Saul’s murderous opposition. A number of times in the course of 2 Samuel David will endeavor to show kindness to members of Saul’s house “for the sake of Jonathan and Saul,” answering violence with favor. Chrysostom goes so far as to hint that David’s behavior is a model to all those who would show favor to both the living and the dead. Certainly one of the most powerful ways that David demonstrated his love for his friend slain on the slopes of Mount Gilboa was the composition of an elegy read and admired three thousand years after its composition.

©2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: June 5, 2015

Cover ArtPeter Leithart, author of Traces of the Trinity, wrote “How to Glimpse the Trinity” for Christianity Today.

When Jesus talks about mutual indwelling, he stresses the similarities—rather than the dissimilarities—between the relationship of the Father and the Son, the church’s relationship with him and the Father, and Christians’ relations with one another. All this helps us to understand not only the God we worship, but also who we are and what we experience on a day-to-day basis.

At The Englewood Review of Books, Andrew Stout reviewed Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory by Jerry Walls.

Walls’ imaginatively reasoned and defended account of these traditional doctrines will do much to persuade those with different visions of the faith. It also offers a thoughtful, appealing, and narratively coherent account of the Christian drama to those not of the faith.

Quick Hits:

Scot McKnight began a series on Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship.

Stuart Dunn reviewed 2 Samuel and Colossians in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible.


The Weekly Hit List: May 22, 2015

Jonathan Merritt interviewed J. Todd Billings, author of Rejoicing in Lament, for Religion News Service blog On Faith & Culture.

In a classroom in Holland, Michigan, a 39-year-old man in a bowtie stands to deliver a lecture. Peeking out from behind his glasses, he surveys the eager students who have come expecting a lecture on theology. Instead, he tells them that he has just been diagnosed with a rare and incurable cancer.

J. Todd Billings is the Gordon H. Girod research professor of Reformed theology at Western Theological Seminary and author of several award-winning books such as The Word of God for The People of God and Union With Christ. After being diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2012, Billings and his wife decided to be open with others about his condition. But they didn’t know what they would learn through the process.

The knowledge that he faces a “narrowed future” has raised fresh theological questions about life, death, and faith for Billings and taught him how to rejoice in the face of possible death. He has recorded his thoughts in a critically-acclaimed book, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling With Incurable Cancer and Life With Christ. Here we discuss what he has learned and hopes to teach others in the time he has left.

Read all of “Prominent theologian finds joy amid incurable cancer diagnosis” here.


Spiritual Friendship (Wesley Hill) Media:

Wesley Hill’s interview with Peter Smith for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was picked up by LaCrosse Tribune and by My San Antonio.

James Matichuk reviewed Spiritual Friendship and gave it five stars.


Quick Hits:

On Word on Fire, Robert Barron announced his 2 Samuel contribution to the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series, and he shared the entire introduction to his commentary.

Scot McKnight, author of Kingdom Conspiracy, appeared on White Horse Inn.

Rejoicing in Lament was recommended by Liberti Church: “This book on lament, hope, and prayer is both deeply personal and profoundly theological.”

Dennis Okholm, author of Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins, was interviewed on Jesus Creed blog.

Learning for the Love of God by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby was recommended by Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds Books.

Scot  McKnight began discussing Glittering Vices by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung on Jesus Creed.