31st January. Friday in Week 3
Saint John Bosco, priest.
Giovanni Bosco (1815-1888) was an Italian priest and educator devoted to the care and education of street children, juvenile delinquents, and the disadvantaged youth in Turin. He developed teaching methods based on loving care rather than punishment and founded the teaching order of the Salesians.
1st Reading: 2 Samuel 11:1-4a, 5-10, 13-17
(David’s adultery and his “executive murder” of Uriah.)
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, the 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
(The seed grows mysteriously and becomes the largest of shrubs.)
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.
Sowing the seed of the future
The work of God is full of promise, but comes to fulfillment only after much time, like a seed patiently 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 could try linking this parable about the seed (sown within the dark earth) with the reading from 2 Samuel which reveal’s David’s murky past.
The dark, inert “earth” where the seed nestles, breaks apart and begins its new life is foreshadowed in the account of David’s adultery with Bathsheba, where the king first tried to make his dedicated soldier, Uriah, go home and sleep with his wife, to conceal the source of her pregnancy; and then, when Uriah refuses the offer of ease and pleasure, David treacherously has him killed in battle. How the word of God seems to dissolve in the dark earth of human misery.
David’s act of marital treachery is just the first of a long series of murders, sexual excesses and revolts within the Davidic family. We are at a loss for an adequate explanation why God should use such a darkly complex and tangled family to fulfil of his promises about an everlasting dynasty. The very ones through whom the promises were passed on turn out to be Bathsheba and her future son Solomon.
We cannot explain how the seed which falls into the ground becomes stalks of wheat providing grain and bread or the largest of all shrubs so that the birds build nests in its shade, any more that 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 give up on us or lose patience with us. We can be restored as David was, and God will do what he has promised to us. The seed of the future is in us right now.
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.