This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news.
1 Samuel 13:5-18
5 The Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude; they came up and encamped at Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven. 6When the Israelites saw that they were in distress (for the troops were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns. 7Some Hebrews crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.
8 He waited for seven days, the time appointed by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people began to slip away from Saul. 9So Saul said, ‘Bring the burnt-offering here to me, and the offerings of well-being.’ And he offered the burnt-offering. 10As soon as he had finished offering the burnt-offering, Samuel arrived; and Saul went out to meet him and salute him. 11Samuel said, ‘What have you done?’ Saul replied, ‘When I saw that the people were slipping away from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines were mustering at Michmash, 12I said, “Now the Philistines will come down upon me at Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favour of the Lord”; so I forced myself, and offered the burnt-offering.’ 13Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you. The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel for ever, 14but now your kingdom will not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart; and the Lord has appointed him to be ruler over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.’ 15And Samuel left and went on his way from Gilgal.* The rest of the people followed Saul to join the army; they went up from Gilgal towards Gibeah of Benjamin.
Preparations for Battle
Saul counted the people who were present with him, about six hundred men. 16Saul, his son Jonathan, and the people who were present with them stayed in Geba of Benjamin; but the Philistines encamped at Michmash. 17And raiders came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies; one company turned towards Ophrah, to the land of Shual, 18another company turned towards Beth-horon, and another company turned towards the mountain that looks down upon the valley of Zeboim towards the wilderness.
The reader will be asking, “So, what’s the fault in Saul?” and in truth it’s hard to see from this account. In effect, the Biblical account seems to suggest that God remained resentful of Saul, the first man to be king of God’s people. Compared with the almost unlimited scope God gives to David we can see that Saul is on a beating to nothing. Of course we don’t know how much of this is any sort of history, how much a legend weighted with theology. Ultimately what remains is a record of a human tragedy and of unease at the monarchy itself and God’s dealings with his kings. Those who stand in the place where perhaps only God should stand are forever in danger.
Jesus Sentenced to Death
13 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16I will therefore have him flogged and release him.’
18 Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’ 19(This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ 22A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’ 23But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
Although the scene the gospel writers conjure up is historically imaginable, Pilate is exonerated for everything other than weakness. One can see reasons why writers in the time of the early churches would not wish to portray Jesus as politically dubious or to accuse the Roman’s of responsibility for his death. On the other hand the growing rift between churches and synagogues may have encouraged writers to put all the blame on the Jewish authorities. Doubtless we should heed the laconic statement of the Apostle’s Creed, “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Pilate was known as a thug and is unlikely to have cared too much what happened to a Jewish troublemaker.
Luke gives us a master-class in depicting real suffering, much of which is the fact that a human life is in the hands of others. Jesus is passed between centres of power and is the subject of a dispute between the governor and the people. He can do nothing to influence his fate. When Paul says that Jesus emptied himself, he is thinking of this sort of helplessness. Christian believers find the truth about power in the character of a person who is chewed up by power and spat out as rubbish.The victims of power find that Jesus knows their agony.