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.
2nd Samuel 1: 17-27
17 And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son:
18 (Also he bade them teach the “Song of the Bow” to the children of Judah : it is written in the book of Jasher.)
19 Your beauty, Israel, is slain upon your mountains: how are the mighty fallen!
20 Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
21 You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, anointed, but not with oil.
22 From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, and the sword of Saul returned not empty.
23 Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
24 You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel.
25 How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, you were slain upon your own mountains.
26 I am grieved for you, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant have you been to me: your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
27 How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!
Gospel, Mk 3:20-21
20 Jesus went home again, and once more such a crowd collected that they could not even have a meal.
21 When his relations heard of this, they set out to take charge of him; they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’
From the long- lost book of Jashar, the Bible gives us this tender and savage soldier’s lament for lost comrades. It celebrates the soldierly virtues: courage, skill with weapons, loyalty, but it goes deeper and breaks the heart, with its acknowledgment of love: “Your love for me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”
The name of God is not mentioned, yet the reader feels a sense of the sacred, which comes from the passionate humanity of the lament. Words which are adequate for the death of warriors, also point to the divine presence, for which there are no adequate words. This is characteristic of the Jewish faith, in which the presence of God in no way diminishes the worth of human beings, amongst whom God chooses to dwell. This is nothing to do with approval: God detests war, but loves the humanity of the warriors. He even loves the crooked humanity of his servant David, whose poetry does justice to the dead, at the same time as establishing his own value in the eyes of the people. The one who is going to push the royal family from any hope of succession makes sure the public knows his reverence for the royal dead. The narrator does not comment on David’s character, but trusts that if his readers are pleased with him, they will understand why he is also a favourite of God. In this kind of theology, human experience is the means of revelation.
This is also true of the gospel of Mark, where a huge grief is shown in two verses. Jesus’ joy in God’s goodness attracts vast crowds, who believe that something wonderful is happening. Jesus’ family, however, thinking he’s mad and making a public display of himself, comes to escort him home, before he gets into trouble. We can only imagine the anger and grief which Jesus and his family experienced, but the fact of this misunderstanding tells us more about the nature of God, than many volumes of theology: God is here, in the ambiguous mess of human relationships, but with his own purposes.