Today’s reading from Samuel portrays a difficult time in which King David went against the advice of his trusted friend, Joab, who had warned him against taking the census. David stubbornly persisted, only to regret it later. Commentators on these verses connect them to 1 Samuel 8 (in the lectionary for January 13), in which the people demanded a king from Samuel. Samuel warned them what being ruled by a king would mean to them, including loss of their property and their freedom, but the people said “No! There must be a king over us!” (1 Sam 8:19).
So they got what they asked for – but it was not at all what they had longed for. The same thing seems to happen to David when he takes the census. Numbering the people would facilitate those oppressive things that Samuel had warned about from the wrong kind of kingship. Eventually David saw this and repented.
Getting what we ask for but not what we long for is all too common for us humans. We all act like David sometimes, pursuing our own ends without listening to cautionary signals from those close to us. Our single-minded pursuit may result in “success”, but that comes at a price. David also gives us a good example, which follows his bad example: he goes to God with humility and admits his error. How difficult that seems to be for us, when rationalizing and blaming others seems so much more to our liking!
Today’s psalm brings us hope: “For this shall every faithful man pray to you in time of stress. Though deep waters overflow, they shall not reach him.” Tough times come and hope buoys us up when we trust our Heavenly Father, who is full of mercy. We can take comfort that if he welcomed back our prodigal brother, we can come back, too. Thanks be to God!
Rationalizing and blaming seems to be the mode of operation for Jesus’ audience in today’s gospel. Though they were “astonished” at Jesus’ teaching, they chose to push it away. Maybe it did sting a little, or they would not have been so offended. Jesus was “amazed at their lack of faith” – sometimes those who are close to us can disappoint. Though Jesus repeats ancient wisdom about a prophet’s honor in his own country, perhaps it disappointed him all the more to see his own kin and neighbors dismiss his words.
Jesus did not perform any “mighty deed” there, other than healing a few sick. I imagine those who were healed were grateful for the miracles. Would those miracles soften some hearts? We can hope and pray that such softening can occur, even in the midst of our own generation that actually seems a lot like this audience – skeptical, stubborn, looking for faults to bring others down so that somehow we can lift ourselves up. And we who welcome Jesus can also seek a softening of our own hearts, too, so that we may receive the Word and allow it to bear fruit. Amen.
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