The reading from First Samuel is humorous if not sad. For many generations the “nation” of Israel has been a loose confederation of people who had a common history and religion but no central government. In theory they were committed to helping one another if a tribe was attacked by its enemies but in practice they were individually too weak to do anything but barely keep themselves alive, let alone help each other. The Book of Judges shows the extent to which the tribes suffered because of their lack of unity in worshiping God and coming to the defense of each other. Their solution? The nations around us are defeating us because they have a king and we don’t. Samuel explains to them that they already have a king and that they simply need to be faithful to their king. To them, God is simply not a good enough king. In one of the most humorous passages in the Bible, Samuel sets forth the cost to them of having an earthly king. He will conscript your sons and daughters, take away your servants, fields, vineyards, fruit trees, tax you on whatever crops you have left, take your best animals and tax you on the ones you have left, until you become his slaves and cry out against him. The response of the elders of Israel? Bring it on. We have to have a king. We have to be like the nations around us. God’s response? “Give them what they want.” Certainly walking by faith and trusting in the great King is not easy. But what is the alternative? Slavery. To be like the nations around us is to become slaves. Sadly, I often cannot see the end result of my choices. In my rush to fit in with the world I give up my freedom.
For the psalmist, a blessed people are those who know the Lord as King. They know his goodness, walk in his light, rejoice in his name, and experience his justice. Their strength is found in God who pours out his grace upon them. The Holy One of Israel is the shield, the King, of the nation.
The gospel lesson is the story of the paralytic who is let down through the roof into the presence of Jesus. Jesus is preaching the word and the paralytic wants to be healed. Upon seeing their faith, Jesus forgives the man’s sins. The response of the religious leaders? He is blaspheming. Only God can forgive sins. Well, only God can heal people, too, right? Jesus heals the man. If Jesus has authority from God to heal, then he has authority from God to forgive sins. So, yes, only God can forgive sins and heal people and Jesus has the audacity to do both.
A Christian is one who gives up the baubles of the nations for the treasures of the great King. In the words of St. Clare, “What a laudable exchange!”
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