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 18:6-9; 19:1-7
6 On their return, when David was coming back from killing the Philistine, the women came out of all the towns of Israel singing and dancing to meet King Saul, with tambourines, sistrums and cries of joy;
7 and as they danced the women sang: Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.
8 Saul was very angry; the incident displeased him. ‘They have given David the tens of thousands,’ he said, ‘but me only the thousands; what more can he have, except the throne?’
9 And Saul watched David jealously from that day onwards.
1 Saul let his son Jonathan and all his servants know of his intention to kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, held David in great affection;
2 and Jonathan warned David, ‘My father Saul is looking for a way to kill you, so be on your guard tomorrow morning; go into hiding, stay out of sight.
3 I shall go out and keep my father company in the countryside where you will be, and shall talk to my father about you; I shall see what the situation is and then tell you.’
4 Jonathan spoke highly of David to Saul his father and said, ‘The king should not harm his servant David; far from harming you, what he has done has been greatly to your advantage.
5 He took his life in his hands, he killed the Philistine, and Yahweh brought about a great victory for all Israel. You saw for yourself. How pleased you were! Why then sin against innocent blood by killing David for no reason?’
6 Saul was impressed by Jonathan’s words. Saul swore, ‘As Yahweh lives, I will not kill him.’
7 Jonathan called David and told him all this. Jonathan then brought him to Saul, and David remained in attendance as before.
Mark 3: 7-12
Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lakeside, and great crowds from Galilee followed him. From Judaea,
8 and from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea and Transjordan and the region of Tyre and Sidon, great numbers who had heard of all he was doing came to him.
9 And he asked his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, to keep him from being crushed.
10 For he had cured so many that all who were afflicted in any way were crowding forward to touch him.
11 And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw him, would fall down before him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’
12 But he warned them strongly not to make him known.
Both stories use a very ancient story-telling motif: the one chosen by God’s Spirit (the hero, the saint) is recognised both by ordinary people and by evil spirits, who will cause trouble. In the case of David, the evil spirit is thought to be in Saul, who is tempted to murder “the young pretender.” In the case of Jesus, the evil spirits he casts out, identify him publicly as God’s Son, thereby arousing the enmity of the religious leaders to this “pretender.”(It’s good to remember that any eyewitnesses would simply have seen the “patients” shouting the words attributed to the spirits.)
Both stories are traditional interpretations of peoples’ behaviour and may enshrine a age-old wisdom about those who are thought to be blessed by God: they will arouse irrational hatred from the powers that rule human beings.
We should therefore be very careful when someone arouses fury and hatred, from political or religious powers. That person may be chosen by God.
In the story from Samuel we should also pay attention to the great story of love between Jonathan and David, a true love that leads Jonathan to oppose his father, with whom, however, he eventually dies in battle, leaving the way clear for David to become king. His love for David is faithful, “passing the love of women.” The love of the crowd for Jesus, on the other hand, is not faithful, and turns into hate when Jesus refuses to be the kind of “Messiah” they want.
We should therefore be very careful when a religious leader has a huge popular following: he/she may be saying and doing whatever the people want.
These stories can help us, both in our response to leaders, and in our own exercise of leadership.