17th January. Friday in the First Week
Saint Anthony, abbot.
Anthony of Egypt (ca. 251-356) was an ascetic, considered as the first of the Desert Fathers. He went into the Libyan desert about 270 and his renunciation of the world was followed by many. The Life of Anthony, written by Athanasius of Alexandria (c.360) helped to spread the ideal of monasticism to Western Europe.
1st Reading: 1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22
(When the people demand it, Samuel appoints a king, but points out the shadow side of monarchy. )
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
(A crowd gathers at Jesus’home in Capernaum; he heals a paralytic and forgives his sins.)
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!”
About monarchy and authority
Our texts today focus on the theme of authority. In Samuel’s days, Israel’s very existence was threatened by the Philistines. Since the traditional tribal structure inherited from Moses was unable to meet the united threat of the Philistines, the Israelites felt they could not survive as separated tribes, loosely united under prophet-priests at various religious sanctuaries. Ambiguously, God directs Samuel to name a king for Israel. Now as in the past God works through human means within imperfect situations. He had shaped Israel’s past in the land of the Pharaohs, then by the chastening years in the desert and in their drive to wrestle control of the Promised Land from the Canaanite kings. God is not bound to any single form of government; so Samuel is told to anoint their first king.
Any political system, not excepting Israel’s, was bound to lead to excesses in the wielding of power and prestige, and therefore to new forms of oppression. Yet in God’s providence the monarchy offered hope and promise in the beginning. It was an open invitation to enter into a phase of peace. The ideal monarchy would give an example to guide us and our society, whether the state or the church.
The Gospel episode shows both the authority of Jesus and a creative helpfulness and interdependency among the firends of the sick man. Without the paralytic the healthy friends would never have gotten so close to Jesus, and without his friends the paralytic was unable to get anywhere. The supreme moment comes when Jesus shows full authority as a healer of 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. 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.