Saturday, January 16, 2010

I Did Not Come To Call The Righteous But Sinners.

Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

Reading I 1 Samuel 9:1-4, 17-19; 10:1
There was a stalwart man from Benjamin named Kish,
who was the son of Abiel, son of Zeror,
son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite.
He had a son named Saul, who was a handsome young man.
There was no other child of Israel more handsome than Saul;
he stood head and shoulders above the people.

Now the asses of Saul’s father, Kish, had wandered off.
Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you
and go out and hunt for the asses.”
Accordingly they went through the hill country of Ephraim,
and through the land of Shalishah.
Not finding them there,
they continued through the land of Shaalim without success.
They also went through the land of Benjamin,
but they failed to find the animals.

When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the LORD assured him,
“This is the man of whom I told you; he is to govern my people.”
Saul met Samuel in the gateway and said,
“Please tell me where the seer lives.”
Samuel answered Saul: “I am the seer.
Go up ahead of me to the high place and eat with me today.
In the morning, before dismissing you,
I will tell you whatever you wish.”

Then, from a flask he had with him, Samuel poured oil on Saul’s head;
he also kissed him, saying:
“The LORD anoints you commander over his heritage.
You are to govern the LORD’s people Israel,
and to save them from the grasp of their enemies roundabout.
“This will be the sign for you
that the LORD has anointed you commander over his heritage.”


Today we hear about the choice of Saul as Israel's first king. Here, in contrast to yesterday, the attitude towards monarchy is much more positive. It represents the royalist view. Today’s narrative has really nothing to do with yesterday’s where we saw a negative view of monarchy. Saul, the king-to-be, is the central figure. Samuel is presented as a prophet whom Saul meets apparently by chance. Here, the monarchy is seen as something willed by God and Saul is clearly God’s choice as the first king.

We are introduced to Saul as the son of Kish and belonging to the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest of the tribes and named after Jacob's youngest son. His name means “asked for [from God]”. He is presented as having qualities suitable to his future role: young, handsome and a commanding figure, well above average in height.

The hand of God is now seen as events unfold. The donkeys of Saul’s father, Kish, had wandered off somewhere and Saul was sent by his father to bring them back. It is perhaps symbolic that Saul is presented as a handler of donkeys, which tended to stray far from home. He is, after all, going to be the king of a rebellious people. On the other hand, David will be introduced as a shepherd, taking care of his father’s flock and will later, as king, be pictured as the shepherd of the Lord’s flock. As such, too, he will be a prototype of Jesus.

Saul’s search brought him a long distance and finally, not having found the donkeys, he suggested to his servants that they turn back. But one servant says there is a “seer of God” in the city and that perhaps he can help them find the lost animals. “Good idea!” says Saul and, with the help of some girls drawing water at a well, they are pointed in the right direction. (These details are omitted from our reading.)

The apparently accidental encounter between Saul and Samuel is clearly presented (in the full text) as something clearly planned by God. When they first meet, Saul does not recognize the prophet. Samuel, for his part, has already been told by God that this Benjaminite has been specially chosen to lead God's people and save them from the hands of the Philistines.
On the morning of the following day, at a designated rendezvous, they meet and go to a place outside the city. Then, having dismissed Saul’s servants, Samuel pours oil on Saul’s head and kisses him. At the same time he gives Saul his mandate: “The Lord anoints you commander over his heritage. You are to govern the Lord’s people Israel, and to save them from the grasp of their enemies roundabout.” The Lord’s “heritage” includes both the people and the land. After departing from Samuel, Saul will receive three signs (in the passage immediately following the end of today’s reading) to authenticate the prophet’s words and to assure him that the Lord has indeed chosen him to be king.

In our lives, too, we can see apparently chance events leading us into certain, sometimes very unexpected, situations. While we should not see God as simply manipulating events in an arbitrary way, we can say that in every experience we have, in every person we meet, God is communicating something to us. Let us recall some of those events today and how we responded (or failed to respond) to them.

It is for us to discern what God is saying and where he wants us to go and what choices he wants us to make arising out of every experience. It calls for a pro-active and not simply a re-active response.

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Responsorial Psalm 21
Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
O LORD, in your strength the king is glad;
in your victory how greatly he rejoices!
You have granted him his heart’s desire;
you refused not the wish of his lips.
Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
For you welcomed him with goodly blessings,
you placed on his head a crown of pure gold.
He asked life of you: you gave him
length of days forever and ever.
Lord, in your strength the king is glad.
Great is his glory in your victory;
majesty and splendor you conferred upon him.
For you made him a blessing forever;
you gladdened him with the joy of your face.
Lord, in your strength the king is glad.

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Gospel Mark 2:13-17
Jesus went out along the sea.
All the crowd came to him and he taught them.
As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus,
sitting at the customs post.
Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed Jesus.

While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples;
for there were many who followed him.
Some scribes who were Pharisees saw
that Jesus was eating with sinners
and tax collectors and said to his disciples,
“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus heard this and said to them,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”


Today we are told that many tax collectors and sinners sat with Jesus and his disciples while he was at table in his own house.” Yet, at another time he will say that he has "nowhere to lay his head." One, of course, can say that anywhere can be the home of Jesus or that home is wherever Jesus is. We have seen references already to the “house” or the “home” indicating any house where Jesus is gathered with his disciples, with those who listen attentively to what he says.

At the same time, so many people came looking for him that he did not even have time to eat. This is in strong contrast with what is going to follow. One might think such popularity would be welcomed especially by his family; a kind of reflected glory. On the contrary, he is an embarrassment to them. They think he is mad. He must be mad because he is in conflict with the religious leaders, with the Pharisees and the Scribes. (It reminds us of the parents of the man born blind who did not want to have anything to do with their son because of his relationships with his healer, Jesus.) He must be mad because a genuine rabbi would never be seen happily in the company of sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers and outcasts.

Similarly, teachers of the Law who had come all the way from Jerusalem (news of Jesus must now be reaching that far) were saying that he must be possessed by the prince of demons and that it was by the power of the prince of demons that he drove out other demons.

From the experience that Jesus had, any of his followers must not expect, simply because he bases his life on truth and brotherly love, that he will be admired, respected and loved in return. From Jesus down, every true follower of Christ has faced misunderstanding, opposition and even verbal and physical violence --and this sometimes from within his own community.

Living Space
The Irish Jesuits


Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I am so glad He came for sinners; otherwise, I would be out in the cold!

Thanks, as always, for your insights. I often cannot tell what is chance and what is God's hand.

Sarah in the tent said...

Saul: Reading on from today's extract, the signs which God gives to Saul (three kids, three loaves of bread and a skin of wine, followed by an ecstasy of the Holy Spirit) are like the signs Christ gives to us, but in reverse order: the descent of the Holy Spirit during the baptism of Our Lord and the experiences in the desert, followed by wine at Cana, followed by multiplications of bread, followed by Christ's sacrifice as the paschal lamb.

Calling sinners: Sometimes on tv I have seen major sinners whose hearts have been converted to Christ. It is so obviously true that the one who has been forgiven more, loves more, that in a strange way I find myself envying them. It is a bit like the revolutionary movement within the Magnificat: 'He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich He has sent empty away.' After a little while, the rich man becomes hungry too and is ready to be filled with good things.