Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Sabbath Was Made For God's People, Not People For The Sabbath.

Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Reading I 1 Samuel 16:1-13
The LORD said to Samuel:
“How long will you grieve for Saul,
whom I have rejected as king of Israel?
Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.
I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem,
for I have chosen my king from among his sons.”
But Samuel replied:
“How can I go?
Saul will hear of it and kill me.”
To this the LORD answered:
“Take a heifer along and say,
‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’
Invite Jesse to the sacrifice,
and I myself will tell you what to do;
you are to anoint for me the one I point out to you.”

Samuel did as the LORD had commanded him.
When he entered Bethlehem,
the elders of the city came trembling to meet him and inquired,
“Is your visit peaceful, O seer?”
He replied:
“Yes! I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.
So cleanse yourselves and join me today for the banquet.”
He also had Jesse and his sons cleanse themselves
and invited them to the sacrifice.
As they came, he looked at Eliab and thought,
“Surely the LORD’s anointed is here before him.”
But the LORD said to Samuel:
“Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature,
because I have rejected him.
Not as man sees does God see,
because he sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart.”
Then Jesse called Abinadab and presented him before Samuel,
who said, “The LORD has not chosen him.”
Next Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said,
“The LORD has not chosen this one either.”
In the same way Jesse presented seven sons before Samuel,
but Samuel said to Jesse,
“The LORD has not chosen any one of these.”
Then Samuel asked Jesse,
“Are these all the sons you have?”
Jesse replied,
“There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said to Jesse,
“Send for him;
we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.”
Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them.
He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold
and making a splendid appearance.
The LORD said,
“There – anoint him, for this is he!”
Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand,
anointed him in the midst of his brothers;
and from that day on,
the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.
When Samuel took his leave, he went to Ramah.


With Saul rejected by God as king, Samuel is now told to look for a successor, whom God has already chosen. The episode, as described here, seems to come from the prophetic tradition and is not related to the later narrative in which David is anointed as king at Hebron by the men of Judah (2 Sam 2:4) and again by the elders of Israel (2 Samuel 5:3) where there is no mention of the anointing described in today’s reading. In fact, in the next chapter (1 Samuel 17:28), Eliab, David’s eldest brother, speaks to him as if he was still just a shepherd boy who had no place being with the Israelite army.

The reading today opens with the Lord scolding Samuel for grieving over Saul’s rejection as king. Instead he is sent to Jesse, the father of a large family of sons in Bethlehem. At first, Samuel is afraid to go because Saul may hear of it and kill Samuel out of anger and jealousy. The road from Ramah, where Samuel was, to Bethlehem passed through Gibeah, the region of Saul. Saul already knew that the Lord had chosen someone to replace him as king and Samuel was afraid that jealousy would incite Saul to violence. Later incidents would confirm that Samuel’s fears were well-founded. So Samuel is told by God to tell Saul he is going to sacrifice a heifer to the Lord - which in fact he does. It was the truth but not the whole truth.

When Samuel arrived in Bethlehem, he was met by the elders who asked if the prophet’s visit was a peaceful. Samuel simply replied that he had come to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Again, the truth but not the whole truth about the real purpose of his visit. He orders them to make themselves ceremonially clean for the sacrifice by washing and putting on clean clothes, as required by the law.

Jesse and his family are also invited to the sacrifice during which Samuel is to choose the one who is to be anointed king. Samuel at first presumes that Eliab, the eldest son, is the obvious candidate because his appearance and height seem to indicate he is the one. These were the qualities which had been a factor in Saul being chosen earlier. But the Lord tells Samuel he is not to judge by external appearances. The Lord is concerned more with a person’s inner disposition and character. “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Eliab, then, is not the one.

The second son, Abinadab, and then the third, Shammah, come forward but are also turned down. After seven sons had been presented and passed over, Samuel asks if there are any others.

Jesse says there is still one more, who was not present. He was away in the fields taking care of sheep. This was David. As we saw earlier, his role as one taking care of sheep is contrasted with Saul who was earlier pictured running after wandering and disobedient donkeys. And, of course, the image of the shepherd is one that belongs to God. It is fitting that the king of his people will also be a shepherd. (And we still call those who serve the community of the church "pastors", shepherds.)

Samuel says that the sacrificial meal cannot proceed until the boy is brought in from the fields. He “was ruddy, had beautiful eyes and was handsome”. He is the one that God has chosen and “Samuel took the horn of oil [which he had brought from Ramah] and anointed David in the presence of his brothers.” This small circle of witnesses to David’s anointing assured its confidentiality but also would provide ample testimony for the future that David had been anointed by Samuel and that he was not merely a usurper of Saul’s office.

From that day on, the spirit of God “seized on” David. The spirit of God possesses David without any external manifestation and in close association with the anointing: this is the grace bestowed on one consecrated. The name ‘David’ is an ancient semitic word for ‘commander’, ‘military leader’.

David will become one of the outstanding and most human characters of the Old Testament, as both sinner and saint. In a very special way, he will be the ancestor, through Joseph, of Jesus. Jesus is the “root of Jesse” who comes from Bethlehem, the “city of David”, and it is in the royal city of his ancestor that he will be born.

A reading like this is an opportunity for us to reflect on our own vocation, our being chosen by God for a special task. And we may well wonder, why God has chosen us rather than others whom we might regard as far more qualified to do the work he has given us to do. And within the vocation or way of life in which we already find ourselves, we can still ask to what, in our present circumstances, God is further calling us or whether he may even be calling us to serve him in a different direction altogether.

Let us listen to his call and ask him for the strength and courage to say ‘Yes’.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Responsorial Psalm 89
I have found David, my servant.
Once you spoke in a vision,
and to your faithful ones you said:
“On a champion I have placed a crown;
over the people I have set a youth.”
I have found David, my servant.
“I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him,
That my hand may be always with him,
and that my arm may make him strong.”
I have found David, my servant.
“He shall say of me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock, my savior.’
And I will make him the first-born,
highest of the kings of the earth.”
I have found David, my servant.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Gospel Mark 2:23-38
As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. At this the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?”

He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry? How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest
and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat, and shared it with his companions?”

Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”


Today we have a third confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees on the place of the Law in people’s lives. His disciples are accused of violating the sabbath by picking ears of corn as they walked through a cornfield. Stealing was not involved as such “gleaning”, especially by the hungry poor, was tolerated. But the Law forbade reaping on the sabbath. One could hardly call what the disciples were doing as ‘reaping’ but with the casuistic mind of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law the bias was on the side of safety. The perfect observer of the Law would not do anything that could even be regarded in the slightest as a violation.

Jesus solves the issue by appealing to the Hebrew Testament, which, of course, the Pharisees recognised as the word of God. He reminded them how King David and his followers, because they were hungry, went into the house of God and took the loaves of offering, even though only the priests were allowed to eat them.

Jesus then enunciates the principle that “the sabbath was made for people and not people for the sabbath” and that Jesus is master of the sabbath.

The first principle is a very important one, namely, that all laws are for people and not vice versa. They are not ends in themselves and moral perfection is not in their literal observance. The hunger of David and his men transcended a religious regulation (that only the priests could eat the bread of offering). For the Jews of Jesus’ time, virtue was in perfect observance of the Law. For Jesus, observance of the Law was only perfect when it was for the good of others and oneself.

The second principle was that Jesus, as the Son of God, was not bound by human laws, however lofty their motive. We would do well to remember those principles in the living out of our Christian faith. It is possible to lead rule-centered lives rather than love- and people-centered lives. But that is the way of the Pharisees, not the Way of Jesus.

When asked which is the greatest commandment in the Torah, the Law of Moses, Jesus said: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and might; and Love your neighbor as yourself." Before he left this world to return to the Father, he said to his disciples: "Love one another as I have loved you. Even God will not violate that law because God IS love. Any law which, in a particular situation, does not serve this primary law can be set aside and should be set aside. Positive laws are necessary for smooth functioning in society but they are never absolute. For the disciples of Jesus, the children of the Father, there is only one law, as the troubabours sang: All you really need is LOVE.

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