People who use sacred texts have often found ways of selecting passages appropriate to their needs. Disciples of Confucius used a complex system of hexagrams, chosen by lot, to find images and comments suitable to their time, place and situation. In classical and medieval times, the writings of Virgil and Homer were used in a similar way. Sometimes the Bible was accessed by lot or dice or random procedures. The Church responded to the need to select appropriate wisdom from the Bible, by the daily lectionary, a selection of readings for every day in the year, which was originally used in monasteries, but has for some time been used in daily mass in the Catholic Church, and for private devotion in others. Obviously the choice of passages reflects a theology and the Christian calendar, but it also has an arbitrary element. It asks the reader, “Can this wisdom be applied to your soul, your community, your place, today?” This blog follows the daily readings and hopes to uncover some wisdom.
Reading 1, 1 Samuel 16:1-13
1 The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How much longer do you mean to go on mourning over Saul, now that I myself have rejected him as ruler of Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have found myself a king from among his sons.’
2 Samuel replied, ‘How can I go? When Saul hears of it he will kill me.’ Yahweh then said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.”
3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I shall reveal to you what you must do; and you will anoint for me the one I indicate to you.’
4 Samuel did what He ordered and went to Bethlehem. The elders of the town came trembling to meet him and asked, ‘Seer, is your coming favourable for us,’
5 ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Purify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.’ He purified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, he looked at Eliab and thought, ‘This must be the Lord’s anointed now before him,’
7 but the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Take no notice of his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him; God does not see as human beings see; they look at appearances but Yahweh looks at the heart.’
8 Jesse then called Abinadab and presented him to Samuel, who said, ‘The Lord has not chosen this one either.’
9 Jesse then presented Shammah, but Samuel said, ‘The Lord has not chosen this one either.’
10 Jesse thus presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen these.’
11 He then asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ Jesse replied, ‘There is still one left, the youngest; he is looking after the sheep.’ Samuel then said to Jesse, ‘Send for him, for we shall not sit down to eat until he arrives.’
12 Jesse had him sent for; he had ruddy cheeks, with fine eyes and an attractive appearance. The Lord said, ‘Get up and anoint him: he is the one!’
13 At this, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him, surrounded by his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord seized on David from that day onwards. Samuel, for his part, set off and went to Ramah.
Gospel, Mark 2:23-28
23 It happened that one Sabbath day he was taking a walk through the cornfields, and his disciples began to make a path by plucking ears of corn. 24 And the Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing something on the Sabbath day that is forbidden?’ 25 And he replied, ‘Have you never read what David did in his time of need when he and his followers were hungry-26 how he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the loaves of the offering which only the priests are allowed to eat, and how he also gave some to the men with him?’
27 And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath;
28 so the Son of man is master even of the Sabbath.’
The link between these passages is that Jesus is shown taking David as a precedent for a certain royal freedom with the Law. David of course, is depicted in the brilliant narratives of Samuel, as a headstrong and often evil man, who is nevertheless acceptable to God, because of his willingness to acknowledge wrong-doing and his large-hearted passion for life. The story tells us that God, who is able to see the heart, chose him for this latter quality. This tells the reader, not just that God looks beyond appearance, but also beyond conventional measures of good and bad. Indeed, this God may be more delighted with bold sinners than with timid law-keepers.
Although Christian believers don’t think of Jesus as a sinner, many of his contemporaries did, and especially those who belonged to the reform movement in the Judaism of Jesus’ time, the Pharisees. They taught that the provisions of the Torah as regards holiness, were the property of all Israel, and not just of the priestly caste. Naturally they found Jesus hard to understand (although perhaps not as hard as the gospel writers make out). Jesus makes it no easier by his blunt assertion of the purpose of God’s Law: it is for the good of humanity, not the good of God: the reason the Sabbath Law should be enforced is exactly the same as the reason it may sometimes be abrogated: the good of human beings. The link with King David tempts us to think that God is delighted with Jesus, just because he walks boldly with God, and can be feisty with the Pharisees. Jesus does not oppose the Torah; he clears the clutter away from it so that its purpose may be fulfilled.
It’s not easy to live a pious routine, but it’s easier than living, “by the spirit of the Lord.”