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For our Pentecost readings in Track I over the past weeks, we have been supplied with four key episodes from the first 17 chapters of that book: the Call of Samuel, the Request for a King, the Selection and Anointing of David, and David and Goliath. Today we cross over the entire remaining chapters—14 all told—to the account of the death of Saul and Jonathan and David’s elegy over them.
One of the main challenges of the narration is the overshadowing fact that Saul remains King even as David has been anointed by Samuel as his replacement. Saul is not an old man. How will this play out, for David is successful, winsome, and indeed in position to replace him. What these 14 chapters convey is the extreme patience and care David exercises toward Saul, to the degree that in saner moments Saul refers to him as his son and successor, instead of Jonathan, David’s close comrade and Saul’s real son and successor. It makes for an impossible quandry. Saul remains King and David not only defers to that but believes himself divinely constrained to do so. And he is faithful to that constraint to the point of risking his own life, needing to take cover in difficult circumstances, encountering threats in consequence, negotiating his friendship with Jonathan and evading the ensuing attacks from an increasing demented Saul – conjuring up Samuel from the dead being one of the more painful episodes in his decline.
Why 14 chapters and not just a simple summary. At one level the answer is, such is life. There is no early retirement home for rejected but functioning Kings. The dilemma is equally David’s. And so we cover that terrain in the second half of 1 Samuel, in part I believe to make sure we sense something of the balance in David’s long term time on the stage. To recall and place in the record these moments of difficulty and challenge, for any one, much less the one who God has personally and prospectively and providentially placed on that stage, was important for the narrator. David, warrior and success-at-all-things, is David the patient and deferential.
We come then to today’s reading. Saul and Jonathan die in battle, as the final chapter of 1 Samuel relates it. Along with his two other sons, at the hands of the Philistines, on Mt Gilboa. Saul does not die outright but is gravely wounded by an archer’s arrow. The request for his armor-bearer to finish him off is refused, so Saul dies at his own hand, rather than be made sport of by the victors. Yet that fate is still in store for him anyway as we read on. In the end, the men of Jabesh Gilead are able to rescue the bodies, such as they are, and give them burial and proper mourning.
David’s moving tribute today comes after a man’s report to him that such has transpired. More than this, he claims to have finished Saul off. This is one of those places where sources have been posited to account for the divergence. Yet equally it creates a scene in contrast to all David has himself endured and borne, and through which he has faithfully stayed his hand. We have an opportunist eager to lie to gain favor, not realizing he claims to have done precisely what David refused to do, with far more reason to have done so.
The elegy speaks for itself, given all this. The full 14 chapter full journey of David, vis-a-vis Saul and his family, over rough terrain for them all here tragically ends. Verse 21’s reference to ‘not anointed’ with oil is unlikely an effort to claim Saul was never truly king, but rather refers to his shield; so too the implication of Hebrew poetry, where A and B lines repeat and reinforce. And this is the point of all that has ensued since the day of his anointing, the painful cry for a king and the painful burden placed on him for whom it was so, and his own son, and indeed David himself. Elegy indeed.
When last we left Jesus he was crossing to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to the predominantly Gentile Decapolis. This Sunday he is returning to the side where he had previously been met by opposition from the Jewish officials. He didn’t arrive, touch the shore, and return immediately. Rather, we are passing over the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, after which Mark says he published widely throughout the Decapolis the great things Jesus had done for him. “And all were amazed.”
This time the reception on the Jewish side of the sea is favorable. One of the leaders of the synagogue, whose name, Jairus, Mark supplies, falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him come and heal his sick and dying daughter. This is the first of a series of healings on behalf of those who cannot ask for themselves, and so means Jesus must “cross over” to meet them on the other side. Sick and dying she is unclean. Off Jesus goes with Jairus and the crowd.
En route however we have an unexpected urgency of its own. A woman with a chronic flow of blood, making her ritually unclean as well, who has dumped a savings on false physicians for years, summons up the courage to touch the healer as he passes through the crowd en route to Jairus’s home. The touch, that will do it, just as Jairus has requested for his daughter. She senses in her familiar flesh of distress and chronic isolation instant electric healing. Jesus senses this as well. Mark’s Jesus is authoritative and virtually clairvoyant, but he demands a personal exchange for a personal crossing over to his side by this poor woman trapped in disease and chronic spiral. In fear and trembling—so the disciples in the boat—she responds to his demand and like Jairus falls at his feet. Now he crosses over. Your faith is a solid compass and it brought you home to me. Be at peace. This was not a one-time fluke. Your scourge is gone.
Now this delay along the way, while doubtless encouraging Jairus in what he has witnessed, yet like in the story of Lazarus, has meant the passing of precious time. Flowing from his house is the bad news. Death got here first. Jesus turns to Jairus and says “keep believing.” He takes the big three with him, Peter, James and John, entering the house where the professional mourners are underway. He sends them packing, leaving him alone with the four, and now joined by the distraught mother. Her sleep is no more final than was the deeper sleep of Lazarus, but it was death just the same. He takes her little hand in his own. Arise. She does, and like a good mother Jesus moves things back into the daily rounds. “Get her something to eat.” Amazement ensues. And it will continue. There is no one like this man. He is an unstoppable force of healing, life from death, release from demons, power over waves and seas of doubt. The three are there to bear testimony, and what they do there with amazement they will do later with bold speech. After the forgiving Jesus reroutes them by His Risen presence. But not until his final assault on death, his own, is done. Here is the key to the call for secrecy of course. His hour is not come, but come it will.
Our accompanying poetic texts allow us a choice between Lamentations, which captures the plight of the woman with a flow of blood, or Psalm 30, which speaks of life from death. Lamentations 3 is the central of five panels of lament, confession, and a sitting inside sin and loss. It is the first-person poem, daughter Zion, Everyman, Israel – all can claim this speech. Jesus enters it and does not erase it but forgives and new-creates out of it. It is possible to imagine Jairus telling his daughter how remarkable was that day she came back to life, and later as a young woman hearing this psalm summarize her plight and its life giving reversal.
There is very little internal OT commentary on the story of Adam and Eve, surprisingly. The Wisdom of Solomon’s opening chapter offers the first such reflection. It matches nicely both the healing of the woman afflicted and the young child brought back to life. Death is foreign to God’s good purposes. It came as an alien intrusion. All generative forces made by God are wholesome. Jesus comes to defeat the devil who out of envy sought to distort and kill, scourge and condemn. The woman with the flow of blood touches this time the Tree of Life and the Knowledge of Good and Evil and in that act, Satan’s destructive ploy is brought to an end. Envious not for knowledge but for life, her act is acknowledged by Jesus to be the end of his rule over her.