Who is in charge?

Signpost for Sunday June 21, 2105: 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49 or 17:57 –
18:5, 10-16), 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41.

There is a fundamental question, the answer to which will form a basis of a view of the world: it is: Who is in charge? I suggest that two of the three readings for this Sunday are related to this question.

First, the story of David and Goliath. Here we have the story of a young man who had the courage to ask who the man was who dared to defy the armies of the living God.

The man in question was large; according to the Hebrew scriptures he was just over three metres tall, and the other versions have him as just over two metres tall. He called himself a Philistine, though he was probably descended from the remnants of another group who had been defeated who then took refuge with the Philistines.

The Philistines were a dominant force in the land at the time: their name remains the basis for the name of the land today: Palestine. They were imposing a technological imperialism over Israel. (See 1 Samuel 13:19ff. The problem for the people of Israel seems to be that they had no method of toughening the edges of their tools. Pure iron is softer than bronze: it needs to have carbon diffused into it to make it hard enough to be useful.) So the Philistines felt confident as they faced a battle with Israel.

David, the beautiful young man anointed by Samuel, took the confrontation as a contest of gods, implicitly posing the question, Who is in charge here? He said, I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel. The Philistines seem to have the same view, because, as soon as Goliath was beheaded they ran away, acknowledging that the God of Israel was in charge.

I like to think of the origin of Mark’s gospel as a record of the apostle Peter‘s teaching in Rome. Paul was in prison, so he wrote letters to the churches. Peter was free to move around, so he could teach in person, and Mark was able both to be with Paul and to listen to Peter’s teaching. It is easy to imagine Peter developing a way of teaching new Christians with a discourse followed by discussion. Eventually Mark wrote down what he remembered of what Peter had said. (This is not my own idea, it comes from Alan Cole’s commentary on Mark’s gospel, in the Tyndale New Testament commentaries.)

If this idea is correct it would explain why the apparent chronology of Mark is different from the other gospels, since we might expect groupings by subject rather than time. It would also explain why this gospel is so useful in introducing the faith to new Christians. The story about the crossing of the sea and the calming of the storm would probably be the beginning of a new teaching session: the last one on parables, the new one on demonstrations that Jesus the Christ is both lord of creation as it is, and the agent of the new creation. Jesus, in saying to his disciples, Have you still no faith? is also implicitly asking Don’t you know who I am?

Perhaps their astonished question meant that they were beginning to comprehend the meaning of his action, and that the power of Jesus to save them, by stilling the storm, extended beyond the few in the boat with him but also to the people in the other boats. This was a different sort of answer to the basic question. It was also a very different way of demonstrating who was in charge.

George

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