10 June 2018
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 5B (RCL)
1 Samuel 8:4-15; 11:14-15
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
There is a strong strand of tradition in the historical writings that sees the monarchy as a failure of faith on Israel’s part. We have here one of the clearest expressions of that tradition. The author warns the people that a king will enslave them just as Joseph and Pharaoh did in Egypt. The Joseph story, cited as one of the clearest examples of the Wisdom tale of the suffering righteous one who is finally vindicated by God, also contains in it a stern critique of Joseph. Joseph ended up enslaving his own people. One wonders if this is a critique leveled by Judah against Ephraim, Joseph being part of the Northern pantheon. Here, Israel, as so often throughout the story of the Exodus, desires to return to Egypt. Reliance on God isn’t as easy as it seems — much easier to have the certainty of knowing one’s place in the scheme of things, even if that place is at the bottom of the pyramid.
It may very well be that the ending of the story of Joseph is a reading back into history of current misfortunes, much like the story of the Golden Calf is a retrojection of Jeraboam’s golden calves back into the Exodus narrative. The telling of the story then would be a subversive way of critiquing the current state of affairs, the narrator giving the listener a knowing wink.
There is certainly plenty of detail in the Samuel’s speech that we could recognize in our own situation. Those at the top prosper at the expense of those at the bottom. And this is what we asked for. The author’s insight is that we ask for this in order to be like other nations, having a king who will fight our battles. The protection of our borders (or in our case, it might be property rights) is an idol to which we are willing to sacrifice the real flourishing God intends for us. And the author gets in on final jab, telling Samuel, it is not you they have rejected, but it is me they have rejected from being king over them. The current state of affairs is a rejection of God.
Jesus seems to face the same kind of situation in different circumstances. Demon possession occurs primarily in historical circumstance when on people is colonized or oppressed by outside forces. The rules are very strict and isolate one from another. For those on the margins, there is now way back in. It is among these marginal people that demon possessions occur (cf. the Gerasene demoniac, and mental illness among street people). Jesus is casting out demons, restoring people moved to the margins by the heavy oppression of the Roman Empire, and collusion with it. The scribes think that Jesus is casting out demons by the prince of demons. If so, then Satan has already fallen, Jesus declares.
When his family sends for him, thinking that he himself has gone out of his mind, he looks at those healed misfits sitting around him, and says that he is establishing a new kinship of those who do God’s will. It is interesting that he does not mention ‘father’ in the list of those relations in which he stands to those who do God’s will. Is this a nod to the tradition that Jesus was illegitimate and that his father is not known? Is it a reference to his claim to have God as his father? Probably both. No matter how far one has been pushed to the margins, one can claim kinship with Jesus through doing God’s will. Mark, of course, leaves that phrase without content, leaving us to figure out what is God’s will, but at a minimum it is claiming kinship with the marginal and demon-possessed.