Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday in the 1st Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Crowning the King

Readings: 1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22a; Psalm 89:16-17, 18-19; Mark 2:1-12

At a time when many eyes around the world are turned with interest to the United States of America and the long and complicated process that will result in the election of a new occupant of the White House, our first reading today speaks to us about the appointment of a king for the people of Israel. Of course, a democracy is not a monarchy, and a president is not a king. Even so, what we have in both cases is the eventual choice of, and submission to, an earthly authority. And it may be useful to consider one interesting aspect of this process.

Some scholars tell us that the first reading probably presents one perspective on the development of the monarchy as an institution in Israel. Quite obviously, this is a view that emphasizes the disadvantages of submitting to a king. Kingship will mean taxation and national service: he will take your sons… he will use your daughters… he will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves… Worse still, submitting to an earthly ruler seems to imply the rejection of God. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king. And yet, in spite of all these disadvantages, the people are adamant. The reading tells us why: we too must be like other nations, with a king to rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles. In the mind of the people, having a king brings certain advantages that outweigh the considerable disadvantages. And they are willing to take the good with bad. They are willing to pay the price.

At least among Christians today, few, if any, will dispute the need for political leadership of some sort. Theocracy is no longer a viable option. Even so, isn’t there something we can learn from Israel’s experience of appointing a king? Like Israel, in choosing and submitting to our leaders, don’t we routinely endure what might be seen as disadvantages for the sake of perceived benefits? Don’t we quite naturally accept the bad for the sake of the greater good?

And yet, isn’t it also true that we tend to find it far more difficult to do the same in the spiritual realm? How difficult it is to accept from God, our King of kings and Lord of lords, the bad along with the good. How difficult it is to pay the price of discipleship. Our complaints can vary, ranging from the trivial to the traumatic. Some may chafe at simply having to go to church every Sunday, perhaps the only day of the week when they can sleep in. Others may be led by the experience of terminal illness to seek solace in the teachings of another religion, in the power of some other god. Whatever our particular complaint, don’t we sometimes find ourselves stubbornly refusing to take the bad with the good? Like the scribes of today’s gospel, don’t we also wonder to ourselves, why does this man speak that way? Don’t we sometimes find it difficult to accept that God might actually be revealing God’s self to us in the difficult situation at hand?

Which is why the experience of the paralytic and his friends can be as instructive as that of the people of Israel. In contrast to the scribes, they are willing to go to great lengths to present themselves before the Lord, to submit to his divine authority, even to the extent of climbing walls and stripping roofs. Could their eagerness be because they realize, at some deep level, the immensity of the good that Jesus brings? Child, your sins are forgiven…

How are we being invited to accept Christ as our Lord and King today?

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