Lectionary for June 9, 2024
Third Sunday after Pentecost
1 Samuel 8:4-20; Psalm 138;
2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1; Mark 3:20-35

I’m grateful for extended family these days and for grandparents who help out with our kids every day. Living in a multigenerational house has huge advantages. Yet my tolerance for my kids’ Legos on the floor is higher than my mother-in-law’s. She is also way more consistent with washing the pots in the sink than I am. I’m sure that I disappoint my in-laws sometimes, but that’s been part of life as long as there have been families.

In the lectionary passage from 1 Samuel, the people ask Samuel to choose a king for them so they can be like all the other nations. God and Samuel both feel a sense of disappointment and rejection. God instructs Samuel to tell them about the cost of appointing a king over them: their children’s futures. A king would force their kids to work for him in his army and in his palace. The king would take taxes and lands (and servants) to serve him and his noble friends to the detriment of the common people (1 Samuel 8:11-17). The people would have to be crazy to think a king was still a good idea, right? Yet, they still want to have a king appointed for them, specifically to judge them and to fight their battles. Why?

The answer is found just before this week’s lectionary reading. In 1 Samuel 8:2-3 we learn that Samuel’s sons were profoundly corrupt judges. They took bribes, turned to dishonest gain and perverted justice. Say what you will about Eli and his two sons, but they were a threat only to those in and around the tabernacle. But Joel and Abijah, Samuel’s sons, threatened the whole society with their corruption. In a relatively short time frame, the people went from a deeply corrupt and violent priestly family to a good judge and then back to corrupt religious judges. No wonder the people wanted a king like other nations! The clergy was a mess! Even God and Samuel’s warnings about the economic impact of the monarchy weren’t as much of a threat as the continued waves of corrupt spiritual leaders.

Sadly, in the history of Israelite and Judahite kings and queens, heavy taxation was quickly joined by economic corruption and spiritual perfidy as well. Disappointing sons in Israelite history repeatedly led to societal collapse.

Earthly disappointment may last for a time, but Jesus shows the pathway forward, into following our heavenly parent.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus and his earthly family had a disagreement. To be clear, I don’t think Jesus was a disappointment to Mary and his siblings. They followed Jesus to the end—and beyond. Jesus’ brothers were profoundly important leaders in the early church, James perhaps more so than Peter and Paul until his murder. Instead of being disappointed in Jesus, I think his mother and siblings were concerned for him.

Mark tells us that the crowd squeezed Jesus in a house so tightly that he couldn’t even eat. What mother wouldn’t be concerned about such a situation? So “his own family” came to take custody of him because he had lost his senses. He was giving so much to the crowd and healing so many people that he couldn’t eat or rest in peace.

In a word, Jesus was not sustainable. Yet, Jesus’ goal was not sustainability but the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven. Make no mistake, Jesus went too hard and too fast, making too many enemies. He didn’t engage in the slow process of coming to consensus, and it got him killed. His mother and siblings were right to a certain extent. Jesus’ ministry wasn’t good for his long-term bodily health! But Jesus’ goal was not to prolong his earthly life. The depth of disappointment and grief that Mary must have felt while watching the Romans torture her son to death cannot be described.

Again, Jesus’ ministry was to spread the kingdom of heaven, not to live a long time on this earth. So he said to the crowd that was crushing him, not letting him even eat a meal in peace: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35).

We have two episodes of disappointing sons in the lectionary text this week. Joel and Abijah disappointed their father—and the entire people of Israel—by being so corrupt that even an oppressive monarchy sounded better than their corrupt judgment. Jesus’ choices disappointed his mother and siblings—who wants to watch a family member die? But Jesus’ obedience to his salvific mission greatly pleased his Father in heaven (Philippians 2:8-9). And Jesus gave us the right to become children of God, our loving parent (John 1:12). Earthly disappointment may last for a time, but Jesus shows the pathway forward, into following our heavenly parent.

Cory Driver
Cory Driver is the director of L.I.F.E. (Leading the Integration of Faith and Entrepreneurship) at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. His book on wilderness spirituality, Life Unsettled, is available from Fortress Press.

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