13 Jan. Friday of Week One
1 Samuel 8:4-7; 10-22. When the people demand it, Samuel gives them a king, but points out the shadow side of monarchy.
Mark 2:1ff. A crowd gathers at Jesus’home in Capernaum; he heals a paralytic and forgives his sins.
Entering God’s Peace
Several facets converge in today’s readings, balancing and correcting each another. We need such a multi-faceted view to achieve a harmonious spirituality.
Our texts (from the Book of Samuel, and the Gospel of Mark) focus more on the historical and tangible, less on theological insight. In the days of Samuel, the political scene shifted and Israel’s existence was seriously threatened by the Philistines. Since the older ways, inherited from Moses, were inadequate to meet the united threat of the Philistines, the Israelites felt they could not survive as separated and divided tribes, loosely united under religious sanctuaries and prophet-priests. Ambiguously, God directs Samuel to accept a king for Israel. Now as in the past God works through human means within human situations. He had shaped Israel’s past through people like the Hyksos and then the Egyptian dynasties in the land of the Pharaohs; by the chastening era in the desert; and by uniting the oppressed people in the drive to wrestle control of the Promised Land from the Canaanite kings. God is not tied to any single form of government for Israel; Samuel is told to seek and anoint a king.
Any political system, not excepting the monarchy in Israel, was bound to lead to excesses in power and prestige, and therefore to new forms of oppression. No human institution, even when sanctioned by God and functioning under religious blessing, is immune to human failure and sin. It must be constantly reformed, reinvigorated and even at times radically changed. Yet in God’s providence the monarchy offered hope and promise. It was an open invitation to enter into a phase of peace. Yet we need still be guided by obedient faith, not just in moments like choosing a king, but in many other points in life: obedient to the inspiration to forgive, to pray, to share, to encourage, all the impulses that can make marriage, neighbourhood and church into happy and holy places. These are the virtues to guide us and our society, whether the state or the church, so that we can make proper transitions, blessed and guided by God.
Jesus exemplifies at Capernaum how to cope with change and to stay in God’s peace. There is a large gathering at the home of Peter’s mother-in-law, presumably Jesus’ headquarters at Capernaum. We may see here a symbol of church unity, which is more than just a union among ourselves but enables all of us together to be in union with Jesus. Within the thronged setting of Peter’s home, God’s word came to them from Jesus. Then an unusual incident shows the ingenuity and persistence of some determined people. The four who brought the paralytic to Jesus and could not get through the crowd, proceeded to carry the man to the roof, make a hole and lower the man directly before Jesus. The incident not only shows tenacity but also a lovely creative helpfulness and interdependency. Without the paralytic the healthy friends would never have gotten this close to Jesus, and without his friends the paralytic was unable to get anywhere.
The supreme moment comes when Jesus re-creates paradise in healing in body and spirit: Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk again’? To enter into God’s own joy there must be forgiveness – not only from Jesus, but also from each of us to each other. We are all commanded to forgive our neighbour if we wish to be forgiven by God. Such is the prayer each day in the Our Father. With such forgiveness, we can be a united people, strong in our opposition to any “Philistine” – whether of sensuality or excessive materialism. We can cross the bridge of change and support one another in changing times, patient and forgiving, capable of rallying round, in a bond of love and hope.
1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your locks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.”
Gospel: Mark 2:1-12
When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”