This blog provides a meditation on the daily readings of the Episcopal Church along with a headline from world news
2 Samuel 3.22-39
22 Just then the servants of David arrived with Joab from a raid, bringing much spoil with them. But Abner was not with David at Hebron, for David* had dismissed him, and he had gone away in peace. 23When Joab and all the army that was with him came, it was told Joab, ‘Abner son of Ner came to the king, and he has dismissed him, and he has gone away in peace.’ 24Then Joab went to the king and said, ‘What have you done? Abner came to you; why did you dismiss him, so that he got away? 25You know that Abner son of Ner came to deceive you, and to learn your comings and goings and to learn all that you are doing.’
26 When Joab came out from David’s presence, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern of Sirah; but David did not know about it. 27When Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gateway to speak with him privately, and there he stabbed him in the stomach. So he died for shedding the blood of Asahel, Joab’s brother. 28Afterwards, when David heard of it, he said, ‘I and my kingdom are for ever guiltless before the Lord for the blood of Abner son of Ner. 29May the guilt fall on the head of Joab, and on all his father’s house; and may the house of Joab never be without one who has a discharge, or who is leprous, or who holds a spindle, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks food!’ 30So Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle at Gibeon.
31 Then David said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, ‘Tear your clothes, and put on sackcloth, and mourn over Abner.’ And King David followed the bier. 32They buried Abner at Hebron. The king lifted up his voice and wept at the grave of Abner, and all the people wept. 33The king lamented for Abner, saying,
‘Should Abner die as a fool dies?
34 Your hands were not bound,
your feet were not fettered;
as one falls before the wicked
you have fallen.’
And all the people wept over him again. 35Then all the people came to persuade David to eat something while it was still day; but David swore, saying, ‘So may God do to me, and more, if I taste bread or anything else before the sun goes down!’ 36All the people took notice of it, and it pleased them; just as everything the king did pleased all the people. 37So all the people and all Israel understood that day that the king had no part in the killing of Abner son of Ner. 38And the king said to his servants, ‘Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel? 39Today I am powerless, even though anointed king; these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too violent for me. The Lord pay back the one who does wickedly in accordance with his wickedness!’
Abner has been transferring his allegiance to David, although he’s been the protector of Saul’s family, but Joab cannot accept him because he killed his brother Asahel. Joab and his brothers are David’s enforcers on whom he is to some degree dependent. The murder of Abner looks set to kill off Israel’s rapprochement with Daivid, but he uses it with great care so that he cannot be accused of being party to the crime. David is no doubt sincere enough about his regret at the violence of Joab and the boys, but he has used it in the past and will use it again. The narrator doesn’t spare us his acute insights into the character of David and the nature of politics. If it is God’s will that David gain the crown of Israel, has he also willed the means by which he gains it?
47 When evening came, the boat was out on the lake, and he was alone on the land. 48When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the lake. He intended to pass them by. 49But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ 51Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Mark has depicted Jesus in the story of the feeding of 5000 people as the messianic king of a new Israel-indeed the hidden meaning of that story may be that Jesus feeds them with the only resource he has: himself. For Mark Jesus is always the crucified and risen Lord. His uncomprehending disciples do not understand how he can come to them across the water which is a symbol of death, but the reader, who knows the gospel, can do so. When disciples of Jesus are “on the lake and making no headway”, that is, when they are struggling against the powers of death, they need to welcome into their boat the one who has already been killed by these powers, but has overcome them. He is also therefore the one who acts like a magnet for the sick of the area. The strong emphasis Mark places on the physical presence of Jesus here (all who touched it were healed) suggests that just as Jesus feeds the 5000 with himself, so he heals the sick by means of his body.
David’s way to kingship is littered with the dead bodies of enemies; Jesus’ way is achieved by the offering of his own body in life and death.
The materiality of Mark’s picture of Jesus should challenge any Christianity which allows itself to by-pass the bodily needs of people. Sidney Carter the song writer had a depressing analysis of this sort of faith: “We are Christian men and women / always willing, never able.” Too often, faced with bodily need, Christian people in the developed world, look for a suitable agency to provide care. In a state where welfare provisions are being dismantled, a more direct kind of care may be urgently needed, and should be offered by the churches, even while they argue for such provision to be restored and augmented.
Apologies to regular readers for the absence of post yesterday.
My e-book “St Paul: An Unauthorised Autobiography” can be found on Amazon Kindle