bible blog 1119

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

EGYPT’S PM DEFENDS CRACKDOWN

what the PM defends

what the PM defends

2 Samuel 15:1-18

New English Translation (NET)

Absalom Leads an Insurrection against David

15 Some time later Absalom managed to acquire a chariot and horses, as well as fifty men to serve as his royal guard. Now Absalom used to get up early and stand beside the road that led to the city gate. Whenever anyone came by who had a complaint to bring to the king for arbitration, Absalom would call out to him, “What city are you from?” The person would answer, “I, your servant, am from one of the tribes of Israel.” Absalom would then say to him, “Look, your claims are legitimate and appropriate. But there is no representative of the king who will listen to you.” Absalom would then say, “If only they would make me a judge in the land! Then everyone who had a judicial complaint could come to me and I would make sure he receives a just settlement.”

When someone approached to bow before him, Absalom would extend his hand and embrace him and kiss him. Absalom acted this way toward everyone in Israel who came to the king for justice. In this way Absalom won the loyalty of the citizens of Israel.

After four years Absalom said to the king, “Let me go and repay my vow that I made to the Lord while I was in Hebron. For I made this vow when I was living in Geshur in Aram: ‘If the Lord really does allow me to return to Jerusalem, I will serve the Lord.’” The king replied to him, “Go in peace.” So Absalom got up and went to Hebron.

10 Then Absalom sent spies through all the tribes of Israel who said, “When you hear the sound of the horn, you may assume that Absalom rules in Hebron.” 11 Now two hundred men had gone with Absalom from Jerusalem. Since they were invited, they went naively and were unaware of what Absalom was planning. 12 While he was offering sacrifices, Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s adviser, to come from his city, Giloh. The conspiracy was gaining momentum, and the people were starting to side with Absalom.

David Flees from Jerusalem

13 Then a messenger came to David and reported, “The men of Israel are loyal to Absalom!” 14 So David said to all his servants who were with him in Jerusalem, “Come on! Let’s escape! Otherwise no one will be delivered from Absalom! Go immediately, or else he will quickly overtake us and bring disaster on us and kill the city’s residents with the sword.” 15 The king’s servants replied to the king, “We will do whatever our lord the king decides.”

16 So the king and all the members of his royal court set out on foot, though the king left behind ten concubines to attend to the palace. 17 The king and all the people set out on foot, pausing at a spot some distance away. 18 All his servants were leaving with him, along with all the Kerethites, all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites—some six hundred men who had come on foot from Gath. They were leaving with the king.

As I write the world is looking at the results of a successful coup in Egypt, where yesterday hundreds of protesters were murdered by the security forces of the new regime. All who seek power by violence should have these lines from Andrew Marvell printed boldly on their walls: 

THE SAME ARTS THAT DID GAIN

A POWER, MUST IT MAINTAIN.

Even when the cause is wholly just it may lead to repeated acts of savagery. In Absalom’s case, there is no justice at all. He has the excuse that David failed to avenge the rape of Tamar, his sister; leaving him to do so, at the cost of banishment from the court. But in fact he is simply acting decisively to secure his own succession rights before any of his half -brothers can act. The narrator would have viewed his actions as unjust and sacrilegious, a coup against God’s anointed king, but he patiently notes Absalom’s cunning preparations. Perhaps he also wants the reader to note David’s complacency. The defection of Ahitophel from David’s cause is particularly telling. A senior advisor sees that his bread will be better buttered by serving the coup than by protecting the status quo.

David's retreat from Jerusalem

David’s retreat from Jerusalem

As soon as the danger is evident, David becomes active, commanding an immediate flight from Jerusalem, to preserve the life of both the royal household and the citizens. David is not daft enough to imagine that a son prepared to rebel against his own father will have any respect or mercy if he wins. At this moment David engages with the fact of force: he knows what it can do and acts speedily. The author also shows his understanding of force as an ever-present factor in politics. Rulers possess a monopoly or at least a majority of force. If they lose the capacity to control the agents of force, they lose their power. Even substantial public support may not be enough in the face of force. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is discovering this truth, and it may regret the over-confidence with which it encouraged its supporters to endanger their lives. 

Of course, there have been and will be those who are truly prepared to stand for justice and peace at the peril of their own lives. But these are a small number compared with those motivated by hysterical hatred of their opponents. David makes a clear estimate that making Jerusalem his fortress against the rebellion will only lead to useless bloodshed. So, he retreats and bides his time.

Mark 10:32-45

New English Translation (NET)

Third Prediction of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

32 They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem. Jesus was going ahead of them, and they were amazed, but those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was going to happen to him. 33 “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and experts in the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles. 34 They will mock him, spit on him, flog him severely, and kill him. Yet after three days, he will rise again.”

The Request of James and John

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 He said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 They said to him, “Permit one of us to sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I experience?” 39 They said to him, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I experience, 40 but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give. It is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

41 Now when the other ten heard this, they became angry with James and John. 42 Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. 43 But it is not this way among you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

...their great men lord it over them...

…their great men lord it over them…

Jesus, like David, respected force. He knew what the religious powers would do to anyone who opposed their rule; and he recognised the overwhelming force that the Romans possessed. He foresaw that anyone who stood for the rule of God would be seen as a blasphemer and a rebel, and therefore killed. But unlike David, he had faith in God who raises the dead to inspire the patient building of a community not based on force. In such a community there are no great ones who lord it over others, but only those who are willing to share the sufferings of Jesus (his cup and baptism) not least in the ordinary tasks of caring for one another.

In Jesus, respect for the brute fact of force is accompanied by trust in countervailing facts: readiness for sacrifice and the growth of an informal common-wealth which includes all races.  For people caught in unjust societies the way of Jesus may seem to be unrealistic at best, weak at worst.  Mass non-violent demonstration and civil disobedience were not weapons Jesus chose to use, although they are certainly not foreign to his teaching; but even in this case, he might ask if a focus on the defeat of the enemy was not a deflection from building a community that would outlast them.

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