18 Jan. Wednesday of Week Two
1 Samuel 17:32ff. Hand-to-hand David kills Goliath, and saves his people.
Mark 3:1ff. Yes, good work can be done on the Sabbath; Jesus heals the paralysed hand.
When is Conflict Just ?
Today’s readings raise the theme of conflict and justice. The fight to the death between David and Goliath is told in detail, and in the Gospel we have the conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus, about what is proper on the Sabbath. He is “deeply grieved” by their insistence that not even a work of healing should be allowed on the day of the Lord.
David responds with conviction to Saul’s fear about the outcome of the proposed single-handed conflict: “The Lord who delivered me from the jaws of the lion will keep me safe from the Philistine’s hands!” And in the debate about what is proper on the Sabbath, Jesus insists it is a day for life-giving activities above all. He stresses the contrast between “good” deeds that preserve life, and “evil” deeds, that destroy it. For God is Lord of life, not death; of peace, not violence; of justice, not oppression.
The question of whether or when warfare is legitimate is a thorny one, to which we cannot find a definitive answer in the Bible, since it offers such a variety of viewpoints on the matter. What it does say, unambiguously, is that we should live our lives responsibly, with justice and compassion. This can mean speaking out against evil and injustice, even at cost to ourselves. Jesus could have side-stepped the issue of how to keep the Sabbath, by healing the sick man in private, but he chose to confront the issue squarely and publicly, performing the cure in full view of all. Young David took the risk of fighting the giant, to save many Israelite lives. Even the normally peace-loving Abraham was drawn into action to rescue his relative from the marauding local warlords – and was blessed by Melchisedek on returning from this righteous intervention.
We need to remember our Lord’s warning that “those who take the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52) and his explicit ruling out of violence, even in self-defence (Matthew 5:39). These ideals make it very hard for us to justify militaristic adventures for the expansion of one’s kingdom or ideas, since the basic Christian call is not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45) and give one’s life in this service.
1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37, 40-51
David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”
Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.
The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in apparance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”
When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it.
When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.
Gospel: Mark 3:1-6
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.