Friday, January 17, 2014

Afternoon meditation: Careful what you pray for!

The Mass readings do it again. This time it is a question of authority. In the first reading, the Israelite people want to be "like the other nations," even though they were "a people set apart" precisely not to be like other nations. They were tired of being "in the world, not of the world," witnessing to the invisible Lordship of God. They wanted to make a good show, according to the customs of the peoples around them. They wanted a king.

Samuel warned them: This will be a king who takes. He will take your sons and daughters; he will take your crops and fields; he will take your freedom… All because he does not have authority of his own. Just as he must draw his authority from elsewhere (hopefully from God), he must depend on his subjects for his sustenance. The kind of king you want has nothing of his own to give you.

"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," Shakespeare knew (Henry IV). The kings of Israel (and Judah) knew this well enough, too. Every so often they had to shore up their authority with appeals to David, or claims of divine sonship (a typical enough understanding in ancient societies), the way American politicians invoke the Founding Fathers or "traditional values."

The Gospel shows us a King who gives. This is the kingship that was rejected in the first reading. This king has an authority that is not delegated or received; he brings the unexpected, not the established. His kingship surpasses all our categories.

It is easy for us even today to try to anoint a king for ourselves; an attractive or effective spokesperson who can hold his own with the great ones of this age; a TV star to represent us on the stage of the world. How many of these idols have already fallen of late! It is as if we want to be like other special interest groups. But God still has his original plan in mind: a people set apart witnessing to God's kingship by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in their lives until the people around them have to glorify God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this."
Christ the Prince of Peace, from the Crypt of St. Peter's Basilica.

No comments: