This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news.
1 Samuel 11:1-15
11About a month later, Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, ‘Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.’ 2But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, ‘On this condition I will make a treaty with you, namely that I gouge out everyone’s right eye, and thus put disgrace upon all Israel.’ 3The elders of Jabesh said to him, ‘Give us seven days’ respite that we may send messengers through all the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you.’ 4When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the hearing of the people; and all the people wept aloud.
5 Now Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen; and Saul said, ‘What is the matter with the people, that they are weeping?’ So they told him the message from the inhabitants of Jabesh. 6And the spirit of God came upon Saul in power when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. 7He took a yoke of oxen, and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by messengers, saying, ‘Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!’ Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one. 8When he mustered them at Bezek, those from Israel were three hundred thousand, and those from Judah seventy thousand. 9They said to the messengers who had come, ‘Thus shall you say to the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead: “Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have deliverance.” ’ When the messengers came and told the inhabitants of Jabesh, they rejoiced. 10So the inhabitants of Jabesh said, ‘Tomorrow we will give ourselves up to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.’ 11The next day Saul put the people in three companies. At the morning watch they came into the camp and cut down the Ammonites until the heat of the day; and those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.
12 The people said to Samuel, ‘Who is it that said, “Shall Saul reign over us?” Give them to us so that we may put them to death.’ 13But Saul said, ‘No one shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has brought deliverance to Israel.’14 Samuel said to the people, ‘Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.’ 15So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the Lord, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.
Just another bloody story from a middle eastern conflict? Well, it’s worth noting the following:
- The crisis is provoked by an enemy who wishes to add humiliation to defeat. The people of Jabesh are willing to serve the Ammonites, but the latter want abject humiliation.
- The “spirit of God” is directly linked to the anger Saul feels against injustice and the reluctance of Israel to stop it.
- The people respond to Saul’s threat to their livelihood and honour (everybody would know the cowards whose oxen had been killed!).
- Saul refuses to allow his supporters to take vengeance on the opposition, because the victory belongs to God rather than himself.
Even in such an old story, the storyteller establishes human character and proclaims it to be, under God, the moving force of events. I’ve just been listening to Aung San Ssu Kyi, giving her Reith lecture on the BBC. A single person like her can transform the history of a nation. She said her party’s HQ is affectionately called the “cow-shed” noting that a vaster, world-shaking movement also began in a cow-shed.
63 Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; 64they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ 65They kept heaping many other insults on him.
66 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. 67They said, ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us.’ He replied, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; 68and if I question you, you will not answer. 69But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ 70All of them asked, ‘Are you, then, the Son of God?’ He said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ 71Then they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!’
Many of the usual techniques of dealing with dissidents are evident in the story of Jesus’ arrest and trial: mockery, sense deprivation, beating, insult. Jesus maintains courage and replies with dignity, refusing to claim the title of Messiah in circumstances where it will be misunderstood but holding to the title “son of man” which is his name for his own mission and community. Whatever is done to him, God will empower the Jesus-and-his-people. His answers are twisted to form a confession of guilt.
Aung San Ssu Kyi spoke movingly of how “passion” means willingness to suffer and of the courage and discipline shown by many in her movement. Perhaps Christians have forgotten the courage and discipline of Jesus’ passion and, in the comfy churches at least, the need for these qualities in his followers. St Irenaeus, (CE 125-202) whom the church remembers today, stepped willingly into the shoes of the martyred Bishop of Lyons, risking his own safety. He was a courageous disciple and theologian.