27 Jan. Friday of Week Three
Also: St Angela Merici and Holocaust Memorial Day
2 Samuel 11:1ff. David’s sin of adultery and murder of Uriah.
Mark 4:26ff. The seed sprouts and grows mysteriously. The mustard seed becomes the largest of shrubs.
The seed of the future
The work of God is so full of promise, but comes to fulfillment only after much time, much patient waiting in the darkness of the earth. There is suffering as the seed breaks apart and loses itself for the new sprout to develop and appear on the surface of the earth. We should try linking Jesus’ parable about the seed sown within the dark earth with the two readings, Hebrews and the 2 Samuel .
While it is not standard parable interpretation to take an incidental detail of a story as a major element in its explanation, an occasional lapse from the rules may be allowed. The element of “earth” where the seed nestles, breaks apart and begins its new life is foreshadowed in the first readings of cycles I and II. Hebrews was probably written for converts from Judaism, some of them former priests (Acts 6:7, “many Jewish priests.. embraced the faith”). These could easily remember – with tears and regret – their former glorious moments of temple worship as they now shared in the house services, the eucharist in upper rooms, with little ritual and no grandeur (Acts 2:42). Their family ties had been disrupted and many of their own household now scorned and persecuted them (Luke 11:51-52; 21:12).
Hebrews faces up to the problem of discouragement over the long trek of following Jesus on our earthly journey to be with him behind the veil in the Holy of Holies. In today’s text we note the tone of persecution and delay; the readers have endured a great contest of suffering; were publicly exposed to insult and the confiscation of their goods. There is the call to persevere: do not surrender your confidence; just a brief moment, for “he will not delay” “the just person lives by faith;” be with those who have faith and life.
The dark, damp earth is also there in 2 Samuel, in the account of David’s adultery, where the king tried to make Uriah think that he was the child’s father by making him drunk so that he would go home and sleep with his wife, and then David’s treacherous plan to have Uriah killed in battle by the king’s enemies. How the word of God seems to break apart in the dark earth of human misery. This initial episode begins a long series of murders, sexual excesses, military adventures and revolts within the household of David. We ourselves are at a loss for an adequate explanation why God should accept such a dark and even intolerable way for the fulfillment of his promises about an everlasting dynasty. The ones through whom those promises would be immediately fulfilled turned out to be Bathsheba and her future son Solomon.
We cannot explain how the seed which falls into the ground becomes stalks of wheat to provide grain and bread or becomes “the largest of all shrubs with branches big enough for the birds of the sky to build nests in its shade.” Nor can we understand God’s ways in the history of David. Yet just as wheat provides bread and the mustard tree shade, so also the story of David consoles us secretly and says: God does not surrender confidence in us and does not abandon “patience” in us that the divine will be accomplished and we receive what he has promised. God practices what he preaches and preaches what he practices.
Salvation is a patient interaction between God and ourselves. And we must encourage the salvation of each other, by showing patience and confidence in members of our family, community and neighbourhood, through the long dark hours when the seed is in the earth, breaking apart and showing little or no sign of what it can, and eventually will, become.
2 Samuel 11:1-4a, 5-10, 13-17
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”
So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.
In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well. Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting; and he instructed the messenger, “When you have finished telling the king all the news about the fighting, then, if the king’s anger rises, and if he says to you, ‘Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who killed Abimelech son of Jerubbaal? Did not a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?’ then you shall say, ‘Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”
Gospel: Mark 4:26-34
He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.