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Leave Ramah, take up your bed, and walk

by davesandel on January 14th, 2022

Friday, January 14, 2022                                 (today’s lectionary)

Leave Ramah, take up your bed, and walk

All the elders of Israel came in a body to Samuel at Ramah.

First Eli and now Samuel … they were the last two judges of Israel. Like Eli, Samuel anointed his sons Joel and Abijah as judges, but they took bribes and were rejected by the people. Instead, the people wanted to be like the people in countries around them, and be led by a king.

Now that you are old, and your sons do not follow your example, appoint a king over us, as other nations have, to judge us.

When Samuel prayed, God told him, “It is not you they reject. They are rejecting me as their king.”

Of course we’ve gotten tired of kings. Even the best king is one of us, a human being from everlasting to everlasting, rich with ego and self-certainty. No human king can be god. But then and now, we make the substitution anyway, in our minds, because God is … what? God is not real. God is gone somehow. God can’t be seen. God doesn’t do what we think She should.

But God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Consequently, so do we. She gives good gifts to her children, God never gives us rocks but always gives us bread. Why do I have such trouble believing that?

Samuel painted a nasty picture of a selfish king, surrounded by slaves and sycophants.

He will take your sons … he will use your daughters … he will take the best of your fields … he will tithe your crops … he will use your servants and oxen to do his work. You yourselves will become his slaves, and then you will complain against the king whom you have chosen, and on that day the Lord will not answer you.

The people didn’t listen then, and we don’t listen now, not very well, not so that we turn back to God and return to our place as created ones, inheritors of the garden of Eden and the fabled Tree of Life.

A KING? God told Samuel to give the people what they want.

What sadness in Ramah, Samuel’s birthplace and hometown. Many decades later Jeremiah’s neighbors, family and friends (if he had any friends at that point) were gathered in Ramah after Jerusalem was destroyed. In this early Jewish ghetto, once the center of the land of Samuel, they were lined up and listed for exile in Babylon. Centuries later, just a few miles south, Jeremiah’s words came true a second time in Bethlehem when Herod, looking for Jesus, killed all the children.

A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more (Jeremiah 31:25).

We fellow humans appreciate the king when grain and new wine abound (Psalm 4), and then blame God when they do not. We do not sustain appropriate allegiance to the One who made us. Psalm 88 is a profound example of that confusion. It ends with, “You have taken from me friend and neighbor, and now the darkness is my closest friend.”

But today’s lectionary highlights the next psalm, and it’s hardly a coincidence that the last line of Psalm 88 is followed with Psalm 89’s first line: “I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever.”

You are the splendor of our strength. To the Lord belongs our shield, and to the Holy One of Israel, our King. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

Jesus is coming.

A great prophet has arisen in our midst and God has visited his people.

Jesus brings the old message back to life. God has chosen to come to earth and save you. The Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Turn back to God. Your kings will never save you.

Child, your sins are forgiven. And so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth, I say to this paralytic, yes, my son, I say to YOU, Rise, pick up your mat, and go home.

No kidding. Jesus is looking straight into my eyes and telling me to find a way to trust him completely. There is no one else. Do not be confused. Do not be afraid. You are safe with me, from everlasting to everlasting. Take up your mat, and walk.

(1 Samuel 8, Psalm 89, Luke 7, Mark 2)

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