24th January. Friday in the Second Week
Saint Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church.
Francis (1567-1622) was the Catholic bishop of Geneva but resided in Annecy due to Geneva’s adherence to the Protestant Reformation. He was noted for his deep faith and his gentle approach to other faiths.
1st Reading: 1 Samuel 24:3-21
(David refrains from killing Saul, and gains the moral high ground.)
He came to the sheepfolds beside the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. The men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.”” Then David went and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. Afterward David was stricken to the heart because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to raise my hand against him; for he is the Lord’s anointed.” So David scolded his men severely and did not permit them to attack aul. Then Saul got up and left the cave, and went on his way.
Afterwards David also rose up and went out of the cave and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance. David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of those who say, ‘David seeks to do you harm’? This very day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you into my hand in the cave; and some urged me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not raise my hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ See, my father, see the corner of your cloak in my hand; for by the fact that I cut off the corner of your cloak, and did not kill you, you may know for certain that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you are hunting me to take my life. May the Lord judge between me and you! May the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you. As the ancient proverb says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness’; but my hand shall not be against you. Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom do you pursue? A dead dog? A single flea? May the Lord therefore be judge, and give sentence between me and you. May he see to it, and plead my cause, and vindicate me against you.”
When David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” Saul lifted up his voice and wept. He said to David, “You are more righteous than I; for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. Today you have explained how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. For who has ever found an enemy, and sent the enemy safely away? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. Now I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. Swear to me therefore by he Lord that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not wipe out my name from my father’s house.”
Gospel: Mark 3:13-19
(On a mountain, Jesus commissions the twelve to preach the good news.)
He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons. So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Taking the higher view
As Jesus goes up the mountain to summon the men he had chosen it evokes memories of Moses who went up Mount Sinai to receive God’s law (Ex 19). But Jesus’ message will go well beyond keeping the letter of the law. The deeper law is written in our hearts. This helps us interpret David’s clemency toward Saul. The letter of the law would allow David, in defense of his life, to attack Saul and even kill him. Self-defense, under oppression, is permitted in the Bible. The episode reveals David’s reverence for his king when he shouts out to Saul, “I will not raise a hand against my Lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.” Then Saul, realizing David’s magnanimity, “wept aloud.” There is a flavour of “nobless oblige” in this story.
Jesus goes up the mountain and summons those whom he had chosen. Throughout the Bible mountains are priveleged places for prayer and for building temples and sanctuaries. Here is an excellent example of combining the external symbol of strength with the interior spirit of love. In order to share the spirit of the new covenant of love, we need to ascend the mountain — to be often alone in prayer, to find our security in the Lord. So important is this attitude that Jesus spent the entire night in prayer before calling the twelve. The mountain scene calls us to be alone in prayer, alone with God’s sovereign majesty over our lives. This spirit raises our life to a new level, our old covenant new and vibrant with the presence of Jesus.