Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
Our Biblical Blog /'Examined Life'
It is possible to say no (1 Samuel 24; 2 Peter 2) / Tuesday after second Sunday after Trinity, Matins, Book of Common Prayer lectionary
‘The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, tostetch forth mine hand against him… So David stayed his servants with these words, and suffered them not to rise against Saul. But Saul rose up out of the cave, and went on his way. David also arose afterward, and went out of the cave, and cried after Saul, saying, My lord the king…. See that killed thee not, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee.’
These lines show David’s spirituality. Despite the darkness that engulfs him, he makes an effort to keep his ‘heart’ alive. He wants to remain faithful to that beauty and peace that marked his being as a child and young man.
The success of his spirituality is a great lesson for our age. When cruelty, terror, mistrust and divisions prevail in the world, it is possible to say no to the spirit of the age. This decision is modelled in Saul’s request and David’s response. ‘Swear now therefore unto me by the Lord, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my father’s house. And David sware unto Saul.’
It is also worth noting, in the previous passage, how this counter-cultural attitude of David disarmed Saul and brought him to repentance. ‘Is this thy voice, my son, David? And Saul lifted up his voce, and wept. And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil…forasmuch as when the Lord had delivered me unto thine hand, thou killedst me not. For if a man find his enemy, will he let him go well away?’
The lesson? Yes, indeed, it is possible to revert the negative currents in our life. However, it is impossible without a spiritual life (efforts) which David never gave up.
The Peter letter examines the problem from a different angle. What happens if we abandon that spirituality, the efforts of faith? ‘For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again.’
Cannot it be read as a warning, what happens to a generation which has abandoned their (previous generations’) faith? The loss of faith, unfaithfulness to the Covenant, entails a post-generational trauma. Not merely spiritual and moral ways are lost. A vital defence system: orientation and faith are lost. Self-harming replaces the vigilance of faith.
The Sacred that tears our darkness apart (1 Samuel 16; 1 Peter 2,11-3,7) /Morning Prayer, Wednesday after first Sunday after Trinity, Book of Common Prayer
It is not accidental that in the Rule of Saint Benedict books like that of Samuel is not recommended for night readings. There is too much cruelty in it that might upset the minds of the younger monks. In view of this cruelty there are some significant details in our text.
Saul as king is despised by the Lord. Now there is a search to find the new king whom God shall reveal. ‘And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Sameuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the Lord said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he. Then Ssamuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.’
David as a young man, almost child, is not yet socialised into sin, the collective sin of history. Such a start contrast… He does not come ‘from among arms’, but from a modest background, almost ‘from nature’.
The moment of anointment is significant. God makes the person ‘pure’. In the moment of consecration he is set apart, he is exempt from the blindness caused by the violence (bloodshed) of the age. This is the meaning of the Sacred, belonging to God. In the act of consecration and anointment, we can see in a more clear way.
As a contrast, Saul’s soul got wounded by the cruelty and killings in which the whole epoch was entangled. This is today’s main danger: step by step we are sinking into a dark age of terror, that of perpetuated violence.
Art and beauty emerge as a healing side to our darkness. The evil spirit that tortures Saul was not mere depression. Today we would call it post traumatic stress disorder, the almost inevitable damage caused by the reality of war. ‘And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.’ The evil spirit of the age, that of war, which we are breathing in and out daily from the news, and sadly, from our streets.
The Gospel offers healing in a more focused way. It gives healing by a new ethos of personal and loving presence. By this ‘image’, Christians can bring God into the world… Letting God be God among us, and letting the world be God’s world. Saint Peter’s words are only seemingly show Christians as passive. On the contrary, they live in the midst of the cruelty of their age, becoming a light in the darkness. And the nature of light is that it immediately dispels darkness. Good becomes discerned, and clearly seen, from evil. The rest us up to individual and collective conscience.
‘For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the forward. … Because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.’
Liberation (1 Samuel 14,24-48; 1Peter 1,22-2,10)
What a stark contrast it is between the two worlds represented by our readings. On the one hand, it is a lifetime spent in endless struggles. ‘So Saul took the kingdom over Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side…’ A whole generation, nay, chain of generations, can be trapped in a dark age of violence fighting for mere survival. ‘The age of terror’ is a historical reality...
On the other hand, from Apostle Peter, we hear the call to recognise the value of time used for doing good. ‘The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.’
What makes the contrast real with ‘the dark age of terror’, however, is the process of growing, which the Apostle draws attention to. The images are about the future aim, those values that are unfolding in our lives. The emphasis is on what we will become if we grow into the Kingdom of Jesus. ‘To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.’
Future lived right now; when future can be lived − this is the best definition of our liberation from the age of violence. In new testament Biblical words:‘But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.’
Real love at the very heart of our life (1 Samuel 13; ‘ Peter 1,1-21) / Monday after First Sunday After Trinity, Matins, Book of Common Prayer)
That the trial of your faith might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.’
Developing this personal love for Jesus counteracts all the uncertainties of a restless external history. This love is not a fictitious one. This is real love: this real communication is offered at the very heart of our life. It is a genuinely felt presence of a real person.
This encounter (personal love) is the revelation of heaven in a special sense. Our love for Jesus ‘whom we having not seen’, reveals our truer self. This ‘having not seen’ insinuates that we are on a journey. Our discipleship, our person is still in ‘fermentation’, our self is still growing and being shaped by this ‘invisible’ but real encounter.
‘God wills us and all humanity to have a place there (cf 1 Tim 2:4) and, by our Baptism, we have expressed our desire to be numbered in that company [of saints]. To encounter Christ in that heavenly assembly is also to encounter myself as he wills me to be, my true self, my best self, my real self.’ (Paul McPartlan, Sacrament of Salvation, An Introduction to Eucharistic Ecclesiology. p.7.)
The Sacred: a responsible relationship (1 Samuel 4; James 2,4-end) / Wednesday after Trinity Sunday, Matins, Book of Common Prayer lectionary
After a defeat, the elders of Israel decide to ‘use’ the ark of the covenant to give boost to their military operation against the Philistines. ‘Let us fetch the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of Shiloh unto us, that, when it cometh among us, it may save us out of the hand of our enemies.’ This does not work, they suffer a second, devastating defeat.
There is so much depth in this story, and there is so much to learn. The Sacred should not be manipulated. It should never be put into human service in an instrumental way. In this story, it is idolatrous use.
There is a personal level of the story’s meaning. The scene is also a model of ‘lie’. When we don’t tell the truth, we want to put the sacred (‘truth’) into our selfish service. We want to manipulate reality according to our narrow interest.
Having received the news (both the death of his sons, and the loss of the ark of the Lord), Eli, the chief judge of Israel dies. His daughter of law, when learns of the death of her husband, though gives life to a son, also dies. The woman that stood by her ‘named the child I-chabod, saying, The glory is deperted from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband.’
It is moving to see how people related their personal lives to the Sacred. It is a very close connection. The Sacred is read through their lives; their personal lives are read through the Sacred.
This story also shows us the nature of paradosis, handing over Tradition. Tradition cannot be passed on to the next generation only through a personal commitment and conviction. Namely, that God’s grace is the centre of my life.
James’ letter, from the angle of faith, also sheds light on our relationship to the Sacred. ‘Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone… Faith without works is dead.’ The works of faith connect us to God as a prayer, and as concrete relationship to our neighbour in whom God is present.
There is a profound meaning attached to these lines. Our deeds are a ‘microcosm’ of Salvation History. Our deeds, stemming from faith, are cells of God sacred history with us. To put it differently, the acts of love give us the sense of ‘history’. It is particularly important in a cultural climate when the sense of time, space, past, and belonging (the Biblical dimensions of faith) are erased by the mixture of cyber worlds and consumption.
The Sanctuary: a special space for prayer (1 Samuel 2,22-end; James 2,1-13) /Tuesday after Trintiy Sunday Book of Commom Prayer lectionary/
The old Eli hears of the corruption of his sons at the Sanctuary and says: ‘Why do ye such tings? I hear of our evil dealings by all this people. Nay, my sons; for it is no good report that I hear: ye make the Lord’s people to transgress.’
The ‘Sanctuary’ needs to be cherished. It is the moral power-house of the community. It is a place where God speaks to individuals and the community. In terms of parish life, it should be visited as a special space of Revelation. Here God reveals his ways, things which cannot be heard with such clarity in other places.
This special nature of the Sanctuary, of which nature our chapels share, is described in the Book of Numbers. Moses enters the Tabernacle to speak with God. There, the voice emanates between the two Cherubim decorating the Ark. Here, God as it were, ‘speaks to himself’ and Moses listens to it! This is the nature of God’s voice. The voice which spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai was loud and clear. But in the Tabernacle, when God’s voice reached the entrance, it stopped and did not proceed outside the Tent.
This is the nature of our Churches and chapels today as special places of revelation. We need to enter. Our parishioners need to make this pilgrimage, the effort to listen to God’s voice, so vital for their life. Our truer self cannot be ‘revealed’ elsewhere with such clarity.
Apostle James’ letter gives an example of how it is in the ‘assembly’ (‘Tabernacle’, ‘Sanctuary’, ‘Church’, ‘Chapel’) that God reveals a vital insight. Namely, the correct discernment is to recognise the dignity of the poor, and not side-lining them among the rich. ‘Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor.’
We should appreciate more the Eucharistic, special personal presence of our Lord in our churches. The ethos of ‘visiting God’s voice’ for the sake of our truer self should be strengthened. The ‘praying person’ or the ‘discerning person’ is a gift arising from the Sacred Space, specially dedicated to prayer. Our first reading describes this emerging new person in us. ‘And I will raise me up a faithful priest [‘discerner’], that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever.’
Intimate speech and ascesis for depth (1 Samuel 1; James 1) (Monday after Trinity Sunday, Book of Common Prayer lectionary)
‘And Hannah was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore…but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life… Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard.’
In our passage, the importance of when individuals and a culture can speak intimately to God is shown. This intimacy - telling our needs with honesty and where we are - is in important contact point with the Sacred. It is a point of contact of healing for our internal history, and History itself. It is through the Hannah-type of intimate prayer that we and history are being recovered for God’s grace.
In the letter of James, an other dimension of this intimacy is revealed. ‘Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.’
Overcoming ‘superfluity’ is crucial in transforming human life and History, our collective abode. James calls for ascesis (self-denial, self-discipline), that is, the ‘depth’ for the mind, heart, and soul. Then shall we be able to pray intimately, as Hannah did, for new life.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..