2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
[addressed to the children] How many of you have read the book Lord of the Rings? How many of you have seen the movies? Well, I don’t know if you remember in that story how Aragorn sings songs as he travels with the hobbits and the others. He sings songs about kingdoms from long, long ago, how magnificent and powerful they were. Why do you suppose Aragorn sang those songs about old kings and their kingdoms?
I think Aragorn sang those songs to remind himself and others how good things had been. It was sad to remember, since things were so different now in the present. But it also might have given him hope – to think how things could be again, if there would be a great king once more.
The people of Israel also had a story of a great king from long, long ago, which gave them hope in hard times. That king’s name was David. The story we read earlier today about God pledging his commitment to David and his sons after him is the high point of David’s rise to greatness. Ever since Samuel the prophet anointed David as king, the story has been gathering momentum: at last Saul died, David brought the ark of God’s presence to Jerusalem, and, in the chapter before the one we read, we are given an exquisite scene: David blessing the gathered people of Israel in the name of the Lord, and feeding them by giving each family bread and meat and a raisin cake. This is such a lush and golden moment – there are few like it in all the Old Testament.
In years to come, Israel would look back with longing at this memory. The prophets would preach that God would bring times like it once again at the end of history. In a way, it was an implicit promise in itself: if God had made things this good and prosperous and peaceful once – he could do it again. Of course, the chapter we read is more explicitly all about promise: God swears to give David a great name and to maintain his steadfast love to David’s descendants.
I want especially to draw your attention to verses 10 + 11, where God makes a promise about the people of Israel, that he will give them a place of their own and rest from all affliction. God had been speaking about David and his past, and will go on to talk about David’s successors. But this verse shows that there is a deep mutuality between the king and God’s people. Blessing on the king means blessing on the people. The lot of the king and the people rise and fall together.
We see these same themes of promise and mutuality at work in Psalm 89 that we read. The psalm remembers back to the covenant that God made with David. If the scene in 2 Samuel of God speaking to David through Nathan shows us the content of the promise at its beginning, Psalm 89 shows how this promise played out in the life of Israel. The second half of the psalm that we didn’t read goes on to plead on the basis of the promise that God would act to maintain David’s dynasty – because it sure looked in the psalmist’s day as if this were not happening! So the psalmist leans into this promise, waits and prays for it. We see also in Psalm 89 the mutuality of the king and the people – indeed of the whole world. The part before we read celebrates God’s fidelity to all creation – right before God’s fidelity to David in the part we read. God’s faithfulness to David is part and parcel of his larger faithfulness to the creation. And, inversely, when God’s promise about David’s kingship falls through, the people are threatened: perhaps even also the world. The lot of the king and the lot of the people go together.
By giving us the 2 Samuel passage and the Mark passage together, the lectionary invites us to draw connections.
What does Jesus do in the passages we read? He teaches and he feeds and he heals the people.
In what ways might Jesus here in Mark look like David of old?
He feeds the people! Like David did. This is a kingly act. Of course also as we think back to Jesus’ baptism, where God says, you are my Son – as God promised would be said of David’s descendent. Jesus picks twelve disciples like the twelve tribes of Israel over which David ruled. Plus, too, if you look at the stories right before the bits we read this morning, you see that Mark sandwiches a story of Jesus sending his disciples out to preach and cast out demons with a story of Herod sending his men out to capture and kill John the Baptist: we’re meant to see Jesus as a life-giving king in contrast to Herod the death-dealing ruler.
So then Jesus is the king in answer to the promise of God made to David. He blesses and feeds and heals the people of God.
At the same time as Jesus is this fulfilment of promise, we find ourselves somewhat in the predicament of the psalmist in Psalm 89: looking back on God’s grand deeds and promises, and waiting and hoping and praying for God to bring them about anew. Jesus like David stands not only as the ruler God has established over us– but also the promise. I don’t want to underestimate how Jesus is at work now to heal us – he is! But we do not now always or consistently experience this healing like we read about. But we will. Jesus feeds us, but there is no way we can mistake what we experience now as the supper of the Lamb, that is yet to come. So Jesus also shares with David the promissory character of his reign. We wait for Jesus to feed and heal us again and completely.
Another thing – a deep thing – that Jesus shares with David is the mutuality of his own fate and that of the people over whom he reigns. These readings, especially 2 Samuel and Psalm 89, remind us of that deep Christian logic that we are caught up in Jesus’ own destiny. The OT awareness that the lot of the king is the lot of the people is the soil out of which the rich Christian teaching about our participation in Christ grows. God’s judgment on Jesus Christ is also our judgment. And God’s blessing on him, as on David, also means our thriving. This is what goes into Paul’s saying in Romans 6 that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death; therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”