Saturday, January 23, 2010

I Grieve For You, Jonathan My Brother! Most Dear Have You Been To Me.

Saturday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I                2 Samuel 1:1-4, 11-12, 19, 23-27
David returned from his defeat of the Amalekites
and spent two days in Ziklag.
On the third day a man came from Saul’s camp,
with his clothes torn and dirt on his head.
Going to David, he fell to the ground in homage.
David asked him, “Where do you come from?”
He replied, “I have escaped from the camp
of the children of Israel.”
“Tell me what happened,” David bade him.
He answered that many of the soldiers had fled the battle
and that many of them had fallen and were dead,
among them Saul and his son Jonathan.

David seized his garments and rent them,
and all the men who were with him did likewise.
They mourned and wept and fasted until evening
for Saul and his son Jonathan,
and for the soldiers of the LORD of the clans of Israel,
because they had fallen by the sword.

“Alas! the glory of Israel, Saul,
slain upon your heights;
how can the warriors have fallen!

“Saul and Jonathan, beloved and cherished,
separated neither in life nor in death,
swifter than eagles, stronger than lions!

Women of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you in scarlet and in finery,
who decked your attire with ornaments of gold.

“How can the warriors have fallen–
in the thick of the battle,
slain upon your heights!

“I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother!
most dear have you been to me;
more precious have I held love for you than love for women.

“How can the warriors have fallen,
the weapons of war have perished!”

Today we begin reading the Second Book of Samuel, which takes up immediately where the previous book finished. Originally, there was only one book. As it opens, in a passage full of deep emotion, we again see the extraordinary generosity and noble spirit of David. At the end of the previous chapter (the last in 1 Samuel), we are told that the Israelites under Saul had been badly defeated by the Philistines. Saul had been wounded in the abdomen by an arrow. Rather than be captured by “uncircumcised” enemies he asked his armour-bearer to put an end to his life. The armor-bearer was too afraid to do such a thing to his king, so Saul took his sword and fell on it. The armor-bearer then killed himself too. In addition, the three sons of Saul also perished.

As our reading opens, a man with his clothes in tatters says he has escaped from the Israelite camp. He has news that the army had fled Saul and his son Jonathan and both been killed in the battle.

However (and this is not contained in today’s reading), when asked how he knew about all this, the young man said he had come across the wounded Saul leaning on his spear. He begged the young man to kill him as he was in great pain. The young man, knowing that the king would not survive his wound, put an end to the king’s life. He brought back the king’s crown and armlet, expecting to get a reward from David, who, he expected, would be happy at the news.

Our reading continues by describing the effect of the news on David. He is overcome with grief and, in the way of the times, tears his garments as did all his followers. He mourned and wept and fasted from food because of the death of Saul, of Jonathan and so did many of the soldiers. Though Saul had tried so often to kill David, David remembers only the good things that Saul had done and his courage in battle.

Then (and it is omitted from our reading), the young man who brought the news was himself executed by David for having killed the Lord’s anointed. He was especially guilty because he was not a circumcised Israelite but an Amalekite, whose people had just been routed in battle by David.

The last part of our reading consists of part of a funeral elegy which David chanted for Saul and Jonathan. Following the tradition that David was a musician, he expresses his grief in a song. Saul is called “the glory of Israel”. For all his shortcomings, he had been chosen by God as leader of his people and had won many significant victories over Israel’s enemies. “How the mighty have fallen!” or, perhaps more accurately, “How could the mighty have fallen?” - a much-quoted phrase and which forms a kind of refrain for this song, repeated twice more in the elegy. David’s words contain no suggestion of bitterness towards Saul, who had tried more than once to be rid of him, but rather recall the good qualities and accomplishments of Saul and Jonathan.

There is genuine grief in his words: Saul and Jonathan, beloved and cherished, separated neither in life nor in death, swifter than eagles, stronger than lions!

Even though Jonathan opposed his father’s treatment of David and came to David’s defence more than once, he still gave his life beside his father in defense of Israel.
But it is particularly Jonathan’s death which pains David most deeply.

“I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother!
most dear have you been to me;
more precious have I held love for you than love for women."

In describing the intensity of his love for Jonathan, David is not suggesting that married love is inferior to that of friendship between two men, nor should any homosexual implications be read into his remarks. Such an interpretation would fly in the face of David’s very obvious interest in women and, given the biblical opposition to homosexual behaviour, would not be likely to appear in the context of such a paragon as David. David is simply calling attention to Jonathan’s commitment to his friend, a commitment arising from his conviction that it was David who would succeed to his father’s throne rather than himself (see 1 Sam 20:13-16). David is obviously deeply touched by such selflessness and the love which inspires it.

Today’s reading then is about love and friendship and the pain of loss when friends are taken away from us. Let us too remember those people who were part of our lives and have died. They include: those who have wanted to do us harm and those who have added a beautiful dimension to our lives. They both need our prayers - in one case, our love and, in the other, our forgiveness.

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Responsorial         Psalm 80
Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.
O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
O guide of the flock of Joseph!
From your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Rouse your power,
and come to save us.
Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.
O LORD of hosts, how long will you burn with anger
while your people pray?
You have fed them with the bread of tears
and given them tears to drink in ample measure.
You have left us to be fought over by our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us.
Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.
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Gospel                    Mark 3:20-21
Jesus came with his disciples into the house.
Again the crowd gathered,
making it impossible for them even to eat.
When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him,
for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Today we are told that “Jesus came home”. 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 where 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 one 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

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

Alas, the glory of Israel, Saul, slain upon your heights.

Saul died on Mount Gilboa; Jesus on Mount Calvary. Half-way through a war, the Lord's annointed died. The grief expressed here has similarities with the way the apostles must have felt on Good Friday. Also, in the Nunc dimittis, Simeon called the infant Jesus 'the Glory of Thy people Israel', like Saul in David's lament here.