By Barbara Klugh
1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15; Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 Mark 3:20-35. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, Saul becomes Israel’s first king, Paul looks beyond his present suffering to his eternal home, and Jesus is accused of demonic possession by the scribes.
1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15: Originally a single book, the two books of Samuel describe the history of Israel’s transition from a tribal confederacy to a centralized monarchy. Samuel was the last of the judges, and a priest, prophet, and military leader as well. In this week’s reading, Samuel is getting old, his sons are corrupt, and there is no one to succeed him. The elders distressed Samuel by asking him to appoint “a king to govern us, like other nations.” Samuel reported the request to God, and surprisingly God allowed the people to have their way.
Samuel warned the people of the consequences of allowing a king to rule over them: a king will force military service and slave labor upon their sons and daughters; he will impose heavy taxes; he will take their lands and give it to his followers; he will take the best of their livestock. And worst of all, “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” Despite Samuel’s warning, the people still were determined to have a king.
Here the lectionary skips over a couple of chapters in which Samuel anointed Saul as king, the people cast lots and learned that God had chosen Saul, they proclaimed Saul king, and Saul scored a military victory against the Ammonites.
We close out our reading when Samuel leads the people to Gilgil to reconfirm Saul’s kingship, and “Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.”
Psalm 138: Our psalm this week is one of exuberant thanksgiving and praise to God “with my whole heart.” The Lord answered the psalmist’s prayer, and expresses prayerful confidence that the Lord will keep him safe throughout his life. Here is a video of Psalm 138 sung by Westminster Abby Choir.
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1: Much of Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians deals with the pain of leadership. Paul needed to defend his ministry and his authority as an apostle—from unjust criticism, misrepresentation, and outright rejection. Yet we also see Paul’s unshakable faith in his God-given mission that carries him through hard times.
In this week’s reading—the first in a sequence of five—Paul quotes Psalm 116:10 to confirm that it is his faith that sustains his preaching . Paul speaks, preaches, and teaches even though he is persecuted because Paul knows that suffering and death is not the end of the story. In fact, it is because Paul and his coworker Timothy are willing to suffer, that the gospel is reaching more and more people, and bringing more glory and praise to God.
Paul continues, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” as Paul is growing more into Christ each day. He will not give up his ministry because he is looking beyond the affliction of this present world to eternal life. “For what we can see is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” Our “earthly tent,” our earthly bodies, are destroyed by death, but the “building from God” is “eternal in the heavens.” Thanks be to God.
Mark 3:20-35: In this week’s reading, Mark uses a sandwich technique called intercalation, in which one story is sandwiched in the middle of another story, so that each story informs the interpretation of the other. Here, a controversy between Jesus and the scribes is sandwiched between a story about Jesus’ family.
First, we have two verses unique to Mark’s Gospel. This takes place after Jesus had healed many people and performed exorcisms, so he was already famous and crowds followed him. Jesus went home, and…
“The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’”
I think his family may have been trying to protect Jesus, or maybe they thought he had become an unhinged religious fanatic.
Next (the middle of the sandwich), the scribes from Jerusalem, who have obviously heard about what Jesus had done, said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” I think the religious establishment was jealous or maybe even afraid of the idea that Jesus’ power came from God and were eager to discredit him. Jesus answered them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Since Jesus’ exorcisms defeat the power of Satan, they could not have come from Satan’s power. Actually, they show that God’s kingdom is at hand. The scribes were blind to the possibility that Jesus was from God.
Jesus cautions against blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’” As Jesus truly is possessed by the Holy Spirit, to claim otherwise is to commit blasphemy.
Now the narrative returns to Jesus’ family. When Jesus heard that his family were asking for him, he said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’” I like what Margaret Guenther says about this in Toward Holy Ground: “Jesus’ seemingly harsh treatment of his mother and brothers is not so much a rejection of his biological family as it is a command to enlarge that family….he is inviting us to enlarge the garden…that we are all related…in the mystical communion of all the saints, past present and to come.”