This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news
“He is like a shepherd to his people”- Pope Francis in Brazil
2 Samuel 3:6-21
New English Translation (NET)
Abner Defects to David’s Camp
6 As the war continued between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner was becoming more influential in the house of Saul. 7 Now Saul had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. Ish-bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you have sexual relations with my father’s concubine?”
8 These words of Ish-bosheth really angered Abner and he said, “Am I the head of a dog that belongs to Judah? This very day I am demonstrating loyalty to the house of Saul your father and to his relatives and his friends! I have not betrayed you into the hand of David. Yet you have accused me of sinning with this woman today! 9 God will severely judge Abner if I do not do for David exactly what the Lord has promised him, 10 namely, to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and to establish the throne of David over Israel and over Judah all the way from Dan to Beer Sheba!” 11 Ish-bosheth was unable to answer Abner with even a single word because he was afraid of him.
12 Then Abner sent messengers to David saying, “To whom does the land belong? Make an agreement with me, and I will do whatever I can to cause all Israel to turn to you.” 13 So David said, “Good! I will make an agreement with you. I ask only one thing from you. You will not see my face unless you bring Saul’s daughter Michal when you come to visit me.”
14 David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth son of Saul with this demand: “Give me my wife Michal whom I acquired for a hundred Philistine foreskins.” 15 So Ish-bosheth took her from her husband Paltiel son of Laish. 16 Her husband went along behind her, weeping all the way to Bahurim. Finally Abner said to him, “Go back!” So he returned home.
17 Abner advised the elders of Israel, “Previously you were wanting David to be your king. 18 Act now! For the Lord has said to David, ‘By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel from the Philistines and from all their enemies.’”
19 Then Abner spoke privately with the Benjaminites. Abner also went to Hebron to inform David privately of all that Israel and the entire house of Benjamin had agreed to. 20 When Abner, accompanied by twenty men, came to David in Hebron, David prepared a banquet for Abner and the men who were with him. 21 Abner said to David, “Let me leave so that I may go and gather all Israel to my lord the king so that they may make an agreement with you. Then you will rule over all that you desire.” So David sent Abner away, and he left in peace.
New English Translation (NET)
The Feeding of the Five Thousand
30 Then the apostles gathered around Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come with me privately to an isolated place and rest a while” (for many were coming and going, and there was no time to eat). 32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to some remote place. 33 But many saw them leaving and recognized them, and they hurried on foot from all the towns and arrived there ahead of them. 34 As Jesus came ashore he saw the large crowd and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he taught them many things.
35 When it was already late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is an isolated place and it is already very late. 36 Send them away so that they can go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said, “Should we go and buy bread for two hundred silver coins and give it to them to eat?” 38 He said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” 39 Then he directed them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they reclined in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. He gave them to his disciples to serve the people, and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and they picked up the broken pieces and fish that were left over, twelve baskets full. 44 Now there were five thousand men who ate the bread.
45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dispersed the crowd. 46 After saying goodbye to them, he went to the mountain to pray.
Again today both passages are art of a picture of true kingship, that of David, on the one hand, and of Jesus, on the other. Both writers are concerned to their hero displaying their author’s ideal of kingship; and although the Samuel author has a more secular ideal than Mark, there are similarities. Behind both presentations lies the image of the “shepherd king”. From the nomadic origins of Israel comes this habit of calling leaders, “shepherds.” David has refused to take the rule of Israel by force but has been content to wait until “the sheep know his voice.” In the passage above, he finds that things are going his way through Abner’s disaffection from the house of Saul. David encourages him but also demands a favour of him, the return of his wife Michal, whom Saul has married to another man. This is a clever move: it reminds Abner that his quarrel with Ish-bosheth over a woman is one that an honourable man may pursue and it puts him in credit with David which is always more persuasive than being in debt. It is David’s largeness of heart that allows him to see these things and to ease his way towards rule over Israel by renewing his marriage to Saul’s daughter.
In Mark’s story the five thousand are like “sheep without a shepherd”. The word Mark uses for “green grass” is also found in the Greek translation of the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd,” which is used by Mark as a kind of model for this narrative. The people are needy; Jesus the Lord feeds them with his teaching the with his “food from heaven,” which reminds the reader of the Manna and is given to them while they sit in “green pastures.” Given Mark’s reminder about the nature of Herod in the preceding passage, it’s easy to see that Jesus has “prepared a table for them in the presence of enemies.” And those readers who know the Psalm and Jesus as their Lord will know that they need not fear evil in the “valley of the shadow of death, for he will be with them”. The lavishness of Jesus’ gift means that there will be enough left to feed the twelve tribes of Israel. This cluster of biblical echoes is meant by Mark to say to the reader, “Jesus is the shepherd king, the successor of David, the Messiah.”
In the case of both David and Jesus we can see human beings whose greatness consists in being channels for the rule of God rather than obstacles. Through them God feeds the bodies and souls of people. We can say that the Samuel story is “political” in a way that Mark’s story is not. But we should be careful not to empty Mark’s gospel of its clear if very unexpected kind of politics. As his partner story, the feeding of the four thousand, shows, Jesus gift is enough also for the traditional “seven nations” of the Gentiles. In other words, Jesus is the shepherd king of all nations. He desires to rule over a world-wide community. But he will not rule by force. Like David in Israel he will wait for the recognition of his flock,
The creation of this “peaceable kingdom” is still the calling of Christian people today. The feeding of souls and bodies regardless of nationality, ethnicity, class or religion, is still a good way to do it.