The setting of the writing that we know as 1 Samuel depicts a different Israel, one in the midst of a sweeping change from what could be considered a small, if dysfunctional familial tribal society to an out and out monarchy. This probably began to occur around the 10th century, BCE. Up until this time, there had been various tribes who would from time to time come sort of loosely and haphazardly together to combat threats from neighboring nations. And to lead them, God would call out one person that would in essence “rise to the top of the heap” to lead them in the crisis. But now voices are calling for a more stable and permanent government, a monarchy. And conflicts began to arise between those who called for monarchy and those who wanted to stay as a tribal society with God calling leaders to the front. This was a time of immense political struggle and by the time we come to the end of 2 Samuel, the center of what will become an empire, will have moved to Jerusalem.
The voices are raging, calling for change. They tell Samuel that the system is broken. They want a king, someone to lead them out of this mess. It is probably that for many, a monarchy held a sort of stability, a more reliable government. But it’s also possible that putting one person (or party!) in charge would benefit a select group of individuals. By having different people over the years rise to the top, the leadership was always changing and those that benefitted, too, would change. It probably provided for a more equitable society and, yet, no one really came out on top for any length of time. But putting one leader in place would mean that the society would shift and those who benefitted from the current leadership would remain in that situation.
Samuel did not agree with this new idea and he prayed to God. God consoles Samuel, reminding him that the people have rejected God over and over in the past. So Samuel goes to great lengths to convince the people that a monarchy would not solve all their problems. In fact, it would create a whole new set of problems that were only beginning. Samuel takes it all very personally (which implies that even Samuel was not just siding with the “best interest” of the people). But God tells Samuel to go ahead and give them a king. Maybe God is punishing the people, giving them enough rope to hang themselves with their newfound government. Or maybe, this is God’s way of opening the door to a new potential and a new way of being.
We can identify with the people in this passage. They wanted security. I mean, who doesn’t? Who doesn’t want a guarantee that someone will be in charge, will “fix things”, will pull us out of this quagmire in which we find ourselves? But did the people truly want a change, truly want to move forward, or did they just want something that made life easier? We could ask ourselves the same question. Do we want change that moves us forward or change that makes us feel good for the time being? Does it seem here like God is giving up or is God calling the people to grow into a new people? And in our own political climate, rampant with competing voices calling for stability, calling for someone to “fix things”, where is the voice of God? Are we being called to repair what is wrong, to a more stable government, or to a new way of being?
- What meaning does this passage hold for you?
- Do you read this as if God was only pacifying the voices or calling them to something new?
- How does this passage relate to us today?
- If we are really honest with ourselves, where is God calling us in our society to go today?
- Is what is “best” for us today the same as that which is “best” for our society?
- NEW TESTAMENT: 2 Corinthians 4: 13-5:1
- This passage is not meant to be Paul’s way of demeaning our physical or earthly selves. Our bodies, frail and broken though they may be, are not bad. Rather, this is a message of transformation. It is a promise that who we are, what we have, is not the final outcome. God has a vision for something even better. God has chosen mortal bodies in which to display God’s power. God is in the act of transforming our bodies and our lives. A few verses before this passage, Paul likens our bodies to “jars of clay”. According to Paul, the reason that God has chosen such fragile vessels is to make clear “this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us”. The good news is only possible because a powerful God is at work.
But, fragile as our wasting bodies may be, they also hold something. God is not just “out there” or “up there”. The holy and the sacred also exists in us, working through us, transforming us even as we speak. As Paul says, our “inner nature” is being renewed day by day. It is something that is not obvious, but that is always and ever there with us. We can rely on the promise that God is beyond what we know and, yet, that God lives in us, that we live the Resurrected Christ. We ARE the new thing that God has promised. We just have to live into it, to live toward that which we cannot see and which we do not understand. God’s presence is both external and internal. We live in an intersection between what we know and what we do not, what we see and what we cannot, and who we are and who we shall be. Earth and heaven are not separate. The holy and the sacred spill into us all the time. It’s called new life in Christ. It’s called transformation. We United Methodists would call it “going on to perfection” each and every day.
At some point, all that we know, all that we see will crumble away. But it will not matter. Because what will be left was there all along. We just have to be open to seeing in a new way. In Feasting on the Word, Mark Barger Elliott relates an old wisdom tale about a disciple and his teacher:
“Where shall I find God?” a disciple once asked. “Here,” the teacher said. “Then why can’t I see God?” “Because you do not look,” “But what should I look for?” the disciple continued. “Nothing. Just look,” the teacher said. “But at what?” “At anything your eyes alight upon,” the teacher said. “But must I look in a special kind of way?” “No, the ordinary way will do.” “But don’t I always look the ordinary way?” “No, you don’t,” the teacher said. ‘But why ever not?” the disciple pressed. ‘because to look, you must be here. “You’re mostly somewhere else,” the teacher said.
- What meaning does this passage hold for you?
- Why is it so difficult for us to accept the idea of this ongoing transformation in which we live?
- Looking back at the previous passage from 1 Samuel, how could this speak to that situation?
- Where in your live do you see this Presence of God, this transformation?
- Where in your life do you think you most neglect to see God’s Presence?
GOSPEL: Mark 3: 20-35
This is not an easy text. In fact, it’s probably one of the most misused texts in the Scriptures. We read of Satan and Beelzebul (which means “Lord of the Flies”) and our 21st century minds immediately go to a depiction of some sort of “other-worldly” character that keeps messing around in God’s business as well as our own. You see, all this stuff that Jesus was doing did not make sense. It did not fit in with the world they way people had imagined it. So they begin picking at everything Jesus did. After all, he was threatening everything they thought. He was going against the rules that society and the religious authorities for generations before had so carefully laid out. What Jesus was doing was just not right. He must be possessed by a demon! Even his family didn’t know what to do with him. Well, after all, you can imagine that this was a bit embarrassing. Why couldn’t he just get in line with everyone else?
But, let’s be honest. If we totally dismiss demons, or satan, or Beelzebul, or whatever else you want to call it, we are denying that there are forces in this world that do serve to pull us away from God. It is not that God pulls away from us or even that some other-worldly force “takes over”. But there are evils in this world. There are things that we are called to name and admit their presence and then work to cast them out. Wasn’t that what Jesus was doing, after all?
Jesus takes seriously the realities of satan and other demonic powers but, in the context of this first century understanding, “satan” does not necessarily mean a personality with horns and a red tail, but rather a power that is actively engaged in the world against the compassionate and reconciling love of God. “Satan”, refers to those powers that continue to keep our allegiance—racism, cultural elitism, sexism, materialism, militarism, etc. (you can come up with all sorts of “isms”!)—over and above the recognition that the power of God is what our lives are all about.
Jesus wasn’t denying his birth family; he wasn’t shirking his family responsibilities or disrespecting his parents. Rather, Jesus was reminding us that we are part of a larger family—the human family. And if we don’t remember that, then we are lost from God. In fact, perhaps Jesus was raising the possibility that his own family, whom he deeply loved, was sometimes standing in his way, sometimes stepping into that place over and above God’s place in our lives. It is wonderful if that is not the case, but sometimes even our families are full of “isms” that need to be named. But when it was all said and done, even dying on the cross, Jesus made sure that there was someone that would care and nurture his mother.
Again, Jesus is not denying the world or our place in it. We all have things that are important to us. They are part of who we are, part of the wonderful and unique self that God made us to be. It’s not about separating oneself from the world; it’s about perspective. It’s about seeing the world, the whole world, as God’s world and seeing all of those with whom we share this world as God’s people. It’s about putting ourselves in a place where God’s will for our lives and God’s will for the world will truly come to be. And that, too, can be named. It’s called life, the life that God envisioned us to live.
- What meaning does this passage hold for you?
- What are the evils that are called to name in this world?
- What are those things in your own life that pull you away from noticing God’s presence in your life that you are called to name?
Some Quotes for Further Reflection:
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God where we met thee,
Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.
Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand
True to our God, true to our native land. (James Weldon Johnson, 1871-1938)
We are on the road to heaven if today we walk with God. Eternal life is not a possession conferred at death; it is a present endowment. We live it now and continue it through death. With God, “time is eternity in disguise.” (Abraham Heschel)
Am I my brother’s keeper? No, I am my brother’s brother or sister. Human unity is not something we are called upon to create, only to recognize. (William Sloane Coffin)
In his time, in his time; he makes all things beautiful in his time.
Lord, please show me every day as you’re teaching me your way, that you do just what you say in your time.
In your time, in your time; You make all things beautiful in your time.
Lord, my life to you I bring; may each song I have to sing be to you a lovely thing in your time.
(Diane Ball, “In His Time”, in The Faith We Sing, #2203)