3 June 2018
Reading—I Samuel 3:1—10
The Lord Calls Samuel
The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
6 Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
New Testament 2 Corinthians 4
5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Gospel Mark 2:23—3:6
Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
The reading from I Samuel is all about God’s call. The influence of religion and people’s awareness of the Lord had reached a low ebb. The references to light and darkness are surely deliberate. At a time when God revealed himself in dreams, the passage explains that:
In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
Eli was getting old, and his eyes were dim. His apprentice Samuel did not recognise God’s call because he did not yet know the Lord.
The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
Even the Temple at night was in darkness. God’s light was not recognised, the light he spoke into being at the time of creation. But eventually, God’s call was plain, and Samuel is told to reply:
“Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Like Samuel we pray the same prayer today, that God will speak and that we will listen, but the New Testament experience of God is very different. You may have to re-read the passage from II Corinthians several times to try and appreciate what Paul is saying, but briefly he rejects any cleverness, holiness or value in himself, describing his body as a clay jar which is fragile and vulnerable, but which contains the treasure of the life and death of Jesus which we continually witness to in our daily lives.
When we proclaim the Messiah as Lord, this truth does not come from us. What we announce to others does not come from our personal or collective egos. Our achievements, what makes us special, our learning or understanding—all these are meaningless. Why?—because God’s Word lives in us—fragile clay jars—and it is God’s light, spoken into existence at Creation, that is being announced, not by us but God himself. The light of God shines in the darkness, and sin and death cannot overcome it, even though in Jesus his death and resurrection live side by side.
Anyone who has plant pots knows how vulnerable they are—how easily damaged by frost or chipped by the slightest knock—how cheap and fragile. That is why earthenware was used in the Temple sacrifices, according to Leviticus, and not just precious metals and fine wood. Clay jars symbolise the vulnerability and fragility of our human form, yet like the sacred vessels there is treasure in God’s indwelling of us through Jesus Christ.
Because we are clay vessels, Paul explains our affliction:
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
Not only are we afflicted, but Jesus shared our vulnerability.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34; see also Psalm 22:1).
But it is through the death of Jesus that all that disfigures us, distorts and spoils our created goodness dies. Jesus’s life is manifest as the flourishing of new creation in our lives. Treasure in clay jars. The light of God’s glory shining amid our fragile human existence.
Breaking through the bonds of sin in all its forms is something Jesus seems to have rejoiced doing. Today we rejoin Mark’s gospel and continue reading from it until November. There are two incidents which we must understand if we are to grasp the meaning of Mark’s gospel as a whole.
You can illustrate the incidents in this way:
1. Lawlessness and those who hunger
2. Lawlessness and those who suffer
The Pharisees are good at laying down the letter of the law. Jesus is good at interpreting its intention, and adapting its rules to those in need.
Both incidents take place on the Sabbath day. In the first, the Pharisees complain that the disciples of Jesus are eating ears of corn from the fields as they cross because they are hungry. The law prohibits gleaning on the Sabbath day, and any food for the Sabbath must be prepared in advance.
In the second, the Pharisees watch to see whether or not Jesus will heal a man who suffers from a shrivelled hand on the Sabbath day.
Both incidents sound totally nit-picking—and they are—but the direct challenge to the authority of the Pharisees and the violation of the law’s very foundations drive those in authority to rid themselves of this troublesome rabbi.
In asking whether it is lawful to do good or evil on the Sabbath, Jesus poses a bit of a conundrum. The answer is obvious to us—doing good is the best choice—but not to the Pharisees whose whole foundation of life is challenged by any thought that the law should be interpreted, rather than applied directly to every situation. In the end, the man with the disability seems to have healed himself—Jesus did not touch him or do any of the things that were usually associated with healing. But the die was cast, and it was the violation of the Sabbath and the suggestion the law could be applied more compassionately that let to the plots to kill Jesus and do away with him.
Both of these cases seem to be in direct violation of God’s command to keep the Sabbath holy, but Jesus sees the wider picture. This is that human beings are not shackled—slaves to the Law—but free. The Law is intended to serve human beings and not the other way round.
Only 79 verses into Mark’s gospel, and the Pharisees and Herodians are already plotting to do away with Jesus. This is why is say that understanding what is happening at this early point in the narrative is important for helping interpret the rest of the gospel.
But Mark has good news to announce, and does not leave us with all the controversy and threat. Jesus, like the God who instituted the Sabbath, is committed to preserving life. His ministry will expose the oppressive and corrosive tyrannies of fear, pretence, and hypocrisy, wherever they reside. Yet, finally, he will deliver us from them. Amen