Tuesday, June 5, 2012


The Prophet Samuel -- Claude Vignon (1593-1670)

At this point in the year the Lectionary offers a choice between ‘continuous’ and ‘thematic’ readings from the Old Testament. The thematic readings are intended to fit better with the New Testament readings, while the continuous readings allow us to follow a rather longer story over a number of weeks.

This year the continuous readings take up the long story of the Israelites problematic relationship with their political rulers. It begins with the celebrated 8th chapter of the first book of Samuel in which the elders ask Samuel to find them a king so that they can be ‘like other nations’. He warns them about the dangers of kingship, but they persist. And so the stage is set for the turbulent saga of Saul, David and their many successors.

The passage leaves out the verses in which the Israelites' demand for a King is interpreted as a rejection of God. Yet this conflict between divine and human sources of hope lies at the heart of the whole story, and provides the background against which Jesus’ messiahship has to be understood. Jesus emphatically rejects ‘the nation’ as a focus of hope and salvation. More troublingly, the Gospel passage suggests that faith in God requires us to reject the family too, since Jesus appears to disown his ‘mother and brothers’.

This is one of those passages known as the 'hard sayings' of Jesus, and indeed it is difficult to interpret properly, even allowing for the exaggeration typical of middle eastern thought. But however we interpret it, this implication seems inescapable. God demands, and requires, and rewards, a devotion far deeper than any human being – king or parent -- could warrant.

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