This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
1 Samuel 9:15-10:1
15 Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel: 16‘Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be ruler over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have seen the suffering of my people, because their outcry has come to me.’ 17When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, ‘Here is the man of whom I spoke to you. He it is who shall rule over my people.’ 18Then Saul approached Samuel inside the gate, and said, ‘Tell me, please, where is the house of the seer?’ 19Samuel answered Saul, ‘I am the seer; go up before me to the shrine, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind. 20As for your donkeys that were lost three days ago, give no further thought to them, for they have been found. And on whom is all Israel’s desire fixed, if not on you and on all your ancestral house?’ 21Saul answered, ‘I am only a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel, and my family is the humblest of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin. Why then have you spoken to me in this way?’
22 Then Samuel took Saul and his servant-boy and brought them into the hall, and gave them a place at the head of those who had been invited, of whom there were about thirty. 23And Samuel said to the cook, ‘Bring the portion I gave you, the one I asked you to put aside.’ 24The cook took up the thigh and what went with it and set them before Saul. Samuel said, ‘See, what was kept is set before you. Eat; for it is set before you at the appointed time, so that you might eat with the guests.’
So Saul ate with Samuel that day. 25When they came down from the shrine into the town, a bed was spread for Saul on the roof, and he lay down to sleep. 26Then at the break of dawn Samuel called to Saul upon the roof, ‘Get up, so that I may send you on your way.’ Saul got up, and both he and Samuel went out into the street.
27 As they were going down to the outskirts of the town, Samuel said to Saul, ‘Tell the boy to go on before us, and when he has passed on, stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God.’ 101Samuel took a phial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him; he said, ‘The Lord has anointed you ruler over his people Israel. You shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their enemies all around. Now this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you ruler over his heritage.
The interesting thing about this narrative is that although in fact events move very quickly –Saul goes from herdsman to king-elect within a couple of days-nevertheless there is a sense of space and grace in Samuel’s dealings. He hints at his purpose from the start, but takes time to be with the chosen leader, to honour him in a holy banquet, to let him sleep on his roof, before anointing him and announcing the word of God. Clearly this story comes from a different theology from that of the prophetic warnings about monarchy we looked at earlier this week. The custom that Israel should have a “charismatic leader” that is, one selected by the spirit of God, is continued into the new institution of monarchy. Yes, there is a darker side, of which those who already know the story of Saul are aware, but the evidence of this passage is that God will try to work his grace through whatever type of government people choose. My Spanish bible commentary describes the atmosphere of God’s goodness in this passage as “sencillez y viveza” (naturalness and vivacity). Yes, that’s right.
39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ 41Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ 43Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. 45When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46and he said to them, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’
47 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; 48but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?’ 49When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ 50Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.
Jesus stands in the tradition of Saul as the Lord’s anointed. Saul’s agony came from the unbearable darkness of his own soul, whereas Jesus’ agony is the shrinking of his flesh and spirit at the darkness which comes down upon him. Perhaps we can also speculate with reverence that if life tastes sweeter the more fruitful it is, the prospect of its end might be even more terrible for Jesus than for us. Saul is a good man destroyed by the suspicions and fears which are endemic in royal courts. Jesus is portrayed by Luke as the true ruler who takes into himself the political and personal evils around him, and bears them into annihilation. Those who want to share the royal ministry of Jesus must not only oppose evil but also carry its harm in their own lives, and it may be, deaths. Brian Haw, the ten-years- long anti-war occupier of Parliament Square, who died this week, was such a person. Although flawed like all of us, he shared the royal ministry of Jesus.