and said to him, “Now that you are old,
and your sons do not follow your example,
appoint a king over us, as other nations have, to judge us.”
It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king.”
"The rights of the king who will rule you will be as follows:
He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses,
The people, however, refused to listen to Samuel’s warning
We begin reading today about Samuel and his involvement with Saul and the institution of the monarchy in Israel.
The institution of the monarchy was a major turning point of Israel's political and religious history. The sanctuary of the ark of Shiloh had been destroyed and unity was in danger as the Philistine threat increased. A section of the people began asking for a king “such as other nations have'” but others held the opposite view that Yahweh, Israel's only lord, should be left to provide leaders as circumstances required, as he had done in the days of the Judges.
There were two reactions to this innovation of having a king – one against and one in favor. Some would say they were forgetting that they were not like other nations. By their desire to appoint a human king they were, in a way, setting aside their real Lord. Israel had always been a theocracy where only God was its King and Lord and the idea of a human king seemed almost blasphemous. On the other hand, there were those who, for political reasons and even for the people’s survival, emphasized the need for a single, strong ruler.
In today's reading we see the anti-royalist view, while tomorrow the royalist arguments will be put forward. The misgivings of the anti-royalists are seen in Samuel's displeasure at the people asking for a king. God, too, is not happy but tells Samuel to let the people have their way: "It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king." The sin of Israel in requesting a king did not rest in any evil inherent in kingship itself, but rather in the kind of kingship the people envisioned and their reasons for requesting it.
Their desire was for a form of kingship that denied their covenant relationship with the Lord, who himself was pledged to be their saviour and deliverer. In requesting a king "like all other nations" they broke the covenant, rejected the Lord, who was their King and forgot his constant provision for their protection in the past.
Samuel warns them that having a king will reduce them to virtual slavery:
They will become ‘war fodder’ to fight his battles for him.
and give them out to his favorite eunuchs and slaves.
For now, the people will not listen to Samuel's arguments. They are determined to have a king like their neighbors who will lead them to war and fight their battles. And God said: "Let them have their way." Samuel is told to appoint someone as king and he tells the people to go back to their own cities and towns.
We, too, can be very insistent in asking God to give us something we feel we really need. Yet, when it comes we may bitterly regret the consequences. Sometimes what we take to be the answer to a prayer may only be the fruit of our own persistence. But, whatever happens, wherever our choices have led us, God is always there and it is always in our present situation, in the here-and-now, that we must learn to respond to his call. Even our mistakes can become moments of grace and enlightenment.
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Responsorial Psalm 89
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Gospel Mark 2:1-12
When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days,
They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
and glorified God, saying,
Seeing no way in, they went up by the outside staircase on to the flat roof, removed a few tiles and let the man down right at the feet of Jesus.
Jesus is touched by their faith, trust and confidence in him. It is one of the essential conditions for healing. Jesus says to the paralyzed man, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” This must have come as a surprising statement to the paralytic. He had come for healing, not forgiveness. Some scribes who were also present were not only surprised they were deeply shocked. “Why does this man [note the level of contempt] speak that way? Only God can forgive sins." They are perfectly right but their eyes are closed to drawing the obvious conclusion. They don’t see because they do not want to see, because – even worse – they think they can see. (We meet Christians like that too, who are convinced they and they alone are in sole possession of the ‘truth’.)
Jesus then challenges them. “Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up, pick up your bed and walk’?” Then he tells the sick man, “Rise, pick up your mat and go home.” Of course, telling a person their sins are forgiven is certainly easier but does the fact that Jesus could heal the paralytic instantly also mean that his sins were forgiven?
We need to realize the close links the Jews of the time made between sin and sickness. Many kinds of sickness were seen as punishment for personal sin or even the sins of parents. (See the story of the man born blind in John’s gospel, chap. 9.) This man then was understood to be paralyzed because of some sin in his life. If Jesus could clearly remove the illness, then the cause of the illness was also being taken away. In so doing, Jesus makes it clear that in forgiving the man's sin he was not blaspheming. He was what he claimed to be.
In these times, we are beginning to realize that there can be a link between our sicknesses and the way we act and relate with people. We know that there is a mutual influence between our thinking and our attitudes, feelings and behavior. Many sicknesses are known to be psychosomatic, the result of stress or an imbalance in our relationships with others, our work, our environment. The words holiness, wholeness, health and healing all have a common root. The whole person, one in whom all parts are in perfect harmony, is the truly holy person.
That wholeness is something we need to pray and work for. The paralyzed man represents all those who are paralyzed in other ways, who are not able to behave with the freedom that a well-integrated person has. And that integration and wholeness concerns our relations with others, with ourselves, with our environment and, of course, with God.
The Irish Jesuits