The Lectionary for Holy Communion today continues to juxtapose the lives of David and Jesus, bringing together 1 Samuel 24:3-22 and Mark 3:13-19.
The former is a playful account. King Saul has renewed his intention to kill David. David has escaped, hiding in the wilderness, where a large band have made themselves outlaws by gathering to him. Saul and his men go searching for them, but are frustrated in their manhunt. We pick the story up with Saul caught short, in desperate need of a poo. Mindful of preserving the respect of his men, he removes himself into a cave, oblivious that he has unwittingly stumbled upon the very cave where David and his men are hiding.
Saul takes off his cloak to do his business, and while he is so occupied, David creeps up behind him and cuts off the corner of the cloak. Job done, and Saul headed out and at a safe distance, David emerges from the entrance to the cave to shame the king by his starkly contrasting choice of sparing the life of the man hell-bent on taking his.
David remains true to himself. But being true to himself does not mean living a self-determined life. Indeed, quite the opposite. David recognises this; and Saul confirms it.
The Gospel reading is the account of Jesus going ‘up the mountain’ (into a wilderness place) and calling a group of men to gather to him: a band of followers who will return with him, ‘Then he went home’. Yes, appointing twelve would appear to be an intentional reference to the twelve tribes of Israel; but this unlikely band of merry men tips it hat to acknowledge David’s outlaws too.
Jesus, and his apostles, root the call of God on their lives in a specific history.
Today’s readings underline the paradox that being true to ourselves requires being what the apostle Paul described as being grafted-into a story that is not our own, but which may become our own, through the action of another. We are not the primary author or actor. Not all stories are equal. Your own simply does not have the necessary thickness to sustain you, let alone allow you to flourish.
There is the distracted escapism of shell-thin stories, in which we cast ourselves as the hero. And then there is the purposeful escape from all that of the outlaw who joins God’s anointed one, eventually returning with him as part of a new society.
The biblical view of history is incredibly cyclical* with God proving himself to be true to his word** through it all. It may be that the Church must find itself once again outlaws, and not, at present, as those who live in palaces. In other words, we don’t get to choose whether we poo in a cave or not: but we do get to choose whether we do so with a clear conscience or a troubled mind; as patient residents or those caught out by circumstance.
*Just read the book of Judges, or the surviving chronicles of the kings of Judah and Israel to get the picture. Even at the end of the biblical record, the book of Revelation, Rome is cast as Babylon-the-Great (the city God raised up to judge his people: Judah was exiled to Babylon in 587BC and destroyed by Rome in 70AD) and Babylon-the-Fallen (having used them as an instrument of judgement, God then judged them for their own sins: Babylon falling to Persia in 539BC and Rome falling to Christianity in the fourth century AD) and as the new Jerusalem, the seat of the triumph of Christ(-ianity; that is, through his followers who remained faithful through persecution) over the pagan nations of the (Greco-Roman) world (the mechanism through which Rome was itself judged: see—circularity).
**Ultimately by raising Jesus from the dead and seating him on the throne of David, established for ever, to rule, contested-but-secure, over the often-rebellious nations. This faithfulness is the grounds for faith, and template for faithful living, in the face of ever-changing fortunes.