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 24:3-21
3 Saul thereupon took three thousand men selected from all Israel and went in search of David and his men east of the Rocks of the Mountain Goats.
4 He came to the sheepfolds along the route, where there was a cave, and went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the recesses of the cave;
5 David’s men said to him, ‘Today is the day of which Yahweh said to you, “I shall deliver your enemy into your power; do what you like with him.” ‘ David got up and, unobserved, cut off the border of Saul’s cloak.
6 Afterwards David reproached himself for having cut off the border of Saul’s cloak.
7 He said to his men, ‘God preserve me from doing such a thing to my lord as to raise my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed.’
8 By these words David restrained his men and would not let them attack Saul.
9 Saul then left the cave and went on his way. After this, David too left the cave and called after Saul, ‘My lord king!’ Saul looked behind him and David, bowing to the ground, prostrated himself.
10 David then said to Saul, ‘Why do you listen to people who say, “David intends your ruin”?
11 This very day you have seen for yourself how the Lord put you in my power in the cave and how, refusing to kill you, I spared you saying, “I will not raise my hand against my lord, since he is the Lord’s anointed.”
12 Look, father, look at the border of your cloak in my hand. Since, although I cut the border off your cloak, I did not kill you, surely you realise that I intend neither mischief nor crime. I have not wronged you, and yet you hunt me down to take my life.
13 May the Lord be judge between me and you, and may the Lord avenge me on you; but I shall never lay a hand on you!
14 (As the old proverb says: Wickedness comes out of wicked people, but I shall never lay a hand on you!)
15 On whose trail is the king of Israel campaigning? Whom are you pursuing? On the trail of a dead dog, of a flea!
16 May the Lord be the judge and decide between me and you; may he examine and defend my cause and give judgement for me by rescuing me from your clutches!’
17 When David had finished saying this to Saul, Saul said, ‘Is that your voice, my son David?’ And Saul began to weep aloud.
18 ‘You are upright and I am not,’ he said to David, ‘since you have behaved well to me, whereas I have behaved badly to you.
19 And today you have shown how well you have behaved to me, since the Lord had put me in your power but you did not kill me.
20 When a man comes on his enemy, does he let him go unmolested? May God reward you for the good you have done me today!
21 Now I know that you will indeed reign and that the sovereignty in Israel will pass into your hands.
Gospel, Mark 3:13-19
13 Jesus now went up onto the mountain and summoned those he wanted. So they came to him
14 and he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions and to be sent out to proclaim the message,
15 with power to drive out devils.
16 And so he appointed the Twelve, Simon to whom he gave the name Peter,
17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom he gave the name Boanerges or ‘Sons of Thunder’;
18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot
19 and Judas Iscariot, the man who was to betray him.
These passages both concern themselves with the transfer of royalty. In the splendid story from Samuel, the writer gives us an image of the large-heartedness of David, which, as nearly always, is mixed with calculation. He has Saul at his mercy and will not take advantage by killing him. Instead he makes sure Saul knows what has happened and forces him to recognise his own superiority in guerrilla war, in morality, and crucially, in his blamelessness before God. Saul admits his wrongness and concedes that the monarchy will pass to David. The narrator is very shrewd at depicting the disintegration of Saul and the rise of David. In this case power is reluctantly surrendered to a rival.
In the gospel passage, Mark shows how the empowerment of disciples is integral to Jesus’ ministry: he plans it from the start. Like Moses with the twelve tribes, he summons them from a hill and appoints them as The Twelve, representing the new Israel. There is an element of affectionate humour in the nicknames mentioned. Peter is flaky so he is called the Rock. John and James are quick-tempered so they are called Thunderbirds. Simon is a hardman, so he is called, the terrorist. But there’s more than humour, there’s insight into character: Peter will become the immovable witness, James and John will preach a thunderous gospel of love; Simon will be zealous for the truth. These transformations will happen through the first of Jesus’ intentions, that they will be his companions. From him they will learn that they too are royal, and what their work will be. Jesus does not keep his royalty to himself, but eagerly transfers it to those who will, in turn, transfer it to others. Of course, transfer can lead to danger: Peter denies Jesus and Judas betrays him. Jesus has made himself vulnerable by his trust in his successors, whereas Saul is made vulnerable by chance and the skill of his opponent. Saul and David are traditional heroes, standing out from their followers; Jesus is sometimes hard to separate from his followers, because so much of his kingliness became theirs. That’s the way he wanted it. Can we think of ourselves as royalty?