17 January, 2020. Friday of Week 1 in Ordinary Time

St. Anthony, abbot (Memorial)

1st Reading: 1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22

When the people demand a king, Samuel warns of the dangers

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your locks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.”

Responsorial: Psalm 88:16-19

Response: For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord

Happy the people who acclaim such a king,
who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face,
who find their joy every day in your name,
who make your justice the source of their bliss.
For it is you, O Lord, who are the glory of their strength;
it is by your favour that our might is exalted:
for our ruler is in the keeping of the Lord;
our king in the keeping of the Holy One of Israel.

Gospel: Mark 2:1-12

A crowd gathers at Jesus’ home in Capernaum; he heals a paralytic and forgives his sins

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he said to the paralytic — “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
May your words, O Lord, be on my lips and in my heart. May they guide my life and keep me near to you.

Authority and service

In Samuel’s time, Israel’s national existence was threatened by their immediate neighbours, the Philistines. Since their traditional tribal structure of Israel kept them from putting up a united fron against the Philistine forces, the leaders decided that theyy could no longer remain independent tribes, loosely united by their religious sanctuaries like the one at Ramah. So, rather unwillingly and under pressure, the prophet Samuel names a king for Israel.
God works through human means within imperfect situations. He had shaped Israel’s past in the land of Egypt, then by the chastening years in the desert and later while they gained control of the Promised Land from the Canaanites. No single form of government is perfect. So, while doubting whether monarchy would work, Samuel anoints Saul as their first king. Any power structure allows abuses in the wielding of influence, and has its own forms of oppression. Yet at the start, king Saul offered hope and promise. Later on we learn how monarchy can be corrupted by pride and arrogance.
The Gospel episode shows both the authority of Jesus and the creative helpfulness of some friends of the sick man. Without his friends the paralytic man was unable to get anywhere, let alone get close to Jesus. The Lord shows himself a healer of body and spirit: Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk again’? To come close to God there must be forgiveness — not only from Jesus, but among ourselves too. Together we can support each other in changing times, rallying round to help, willing to serve with love.
The story of those four men carrying their friend to Jesus is a powerful call to be helpful where we can. They were so determined to get him to Jesus that they opened a hole in the roof above Jesus when their way through the door was blocked because of the crowd. They wanted to get their friend to Jesus because they recognized Jesus as the source of health and life. They were taking their friend to a fuller life. The image of the four who carried their sick friend towards the source of life is a powerful lesson.
At times we can do little for ourselves and must depend on others for health, for life, for safety. At other times we might be like the friends of the paralysed man, able to help others to their feet, or bring them from despair to hope. St Paul urges us to carry each other’s burdens. When we try to do that we align ourselves with the one who said, “Come to me all you who labour and are burdened and I will give you rest.” He wants us to help him to carry the burdens of others and help them in any way we can.

One Comment

  1. Eddie Finnegan says:

    A good reflection on the Gospel reading – one of the miracles recounted in all three synoptic gospels. Also for many of us a visual flashback to the simple artwork of our Primary school days, based maybe on the illustrations of the ‘Maynooth Catechism’ or a Bible Stories series. ‘Take up your mat and go home’ suggests that in Capernaum the man’s four friends didn’t have to cope with the heavy bed or stretcher and strong ropes of our young imagination. Yet the Berlin artist Bernhard Rode in his 1780 version had a sort of compromise of deep cushioned couch and rough ropes let down from a strong raftered roof. And of course Seamus Heaney, recalling his own friends’ struggle to get him downstairs to the ambulance after his 2006 stroke in a Donegal guesthouse, returns to the Capernaum original for his own ‘Miracle’, raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing at Letterkenny Hospital:
    Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
    But the ones who have known him all along
    And carry him in –
    Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
    In their backs, the stretcher handles
    Slippery with sweat. And no let-up
    Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
    And raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
    Be mindful of them as they stand and wait
    For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,
    Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
    To pass, those ones who had known him all along.”
    – ‘Miracle’ in ‘Human Chain’ 2010.

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