November 20, 2016
Christ the King
First Reading: 2 Samuel 5:1-3
Many times we are called to live in between two different realities. We might be studying for our chosen profession, where we learn, practice, even play-act the role which we hope to adopt at the conclusion of our training. Or we might be acting in a play, repeatedly rehearsing as if it were the real performance, but knowing that it isn’t. These moments of preparation, of being in between, shape our mindset for who we are and who we hope to become once we actually have entered into a new phase.
David’s Potential Kingship
This Sunday’s first reading about David’s life illustrates the young king’s approach to living in between two states and the new relationship he establishes with his subjects. While David had been anointed king years before as a teenager, he had to wait a long time to come into possession of his throne. In fact, he undergoes three different anointings. First, the prophet Samuel anoints him at Bethlehem (1 Sam 16). Second, years later, after Saul’s death, the tribe of Judah anoints him as king (2 Sam 2:4). Finally, in our passage, the Israelites anoint him as king (2 Sam 5:3). What this means is at first David was a king “in name only.” He had no actual political power, no throne, only the anointing of a bony old prophet. He had the potential, the divine sanction, but not the throne. Only after a long period of service and struggle, infighting, and even civil war does he come to be the sole king over all God’s people. After the death of Saul, the first king of Israel, David becomes king of only one tribe, his own, Judah. The rest of the tribes are ruled over by Saul’s son, Ishbosheth. Yet after a bloody conflict of seven-and-a-half years in which Ishbosheth’s army commander is murdered and Ishbosheth himself is assassinated, finally the elders of the tribes of Israel come to David asking him to be their king.
Accepting God’s Anointed
After a long struggle, it would be tempting for the elders of Israel to try and form a separate kingdom (which, in fact, Jeroboam will later do), but instead they come to David with the olive branch of peace, offering themselves as loyal subjects to the man they had recently been fighting against. They begin their overture to him by recalling kinship ties: “Behold, we are your bone and flesh” (2 Sam 5:1 RSV). That is, everyone here is family and that’s the basis for our whole relationship. Second, they recall the past—how David commanded the armies when Saul was king. His past, legitimate authority under Saul serves as a basis for his present royal claims, claims which the Israelites had been combating. Third, they recall a prophecy which had been spoken to David, “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel” (2 Sam 5:2). Strangely, the prophecy does not appear in the biblical text earlier, but could be attached to Samuel’s original anointing of David. In our reading, this prophecy serves as a divine basis for David’s rule over all Israel. In effect, the elders are telling him: “While we fought against you, now we admit we were wrong and acknowledge your right to rule based on our kinship, your prior appointment and God’s divine sanction.”
Acting Like a King
Before this point of public recognition, David had a choice. He could either reject the prophecies of Samuel and continue his life as a shepherd, or he could believe the prophecies and act like he was a king. David chose the latter path. He chose to act like a king even before he was a king. He relied on God’s anointing before actually receiving the kingdom for which he was destined. He showed himself to be a king by resisting the temptation to kill Saul (1 Sam 26:9), honoring the bodies of Saul’s men (2 Sam 2:4-7), and punishing those who killed Saul and his son (2 Sam 1:14-6; 4:12). David acts like the king of Israel before the people have acknowledged him as such and thus prepares the way for his reign.
I think this passage holds two lessons for us. First, though God can anoint a king, only we can accept him. Samuel anointed David, but it took years for the people of God to acknowledge his right to rule. The same goes for us. Jesus has been anointed by God as king over us—Christ the King—yet his reign only extends into our lives to the extent that we allow it. While we can’t undo his anointing as king, we can frustrate his kingship by not fully and joyfully submitting to his rule over us. The Israelite elders set a great example for us by acknowledging they were wrong and asking for David’s reign, just like we should do whenever we sin—by confessing our sins and acknowledging Jesus’ lordship over us. Second, David’s faith in God’s promise is an example for us. He could have forgotten about Samuel’s anointing and walked away from his potential kingship, but instead he energetically worked for the throne. David did not waste his time or wonder whether he was worthy, but aggressively pursued God’s plan for his life. He chose to trust God’s word and to act like a king. We too have been selected as “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9). We have been anointed by God, but have yet to enter into the kingdom. However, we should already be walking by faith, not by sight, already acting as members of the kingdom of God. While we are living in between the “already” and the “not yet,” we wait with hope and confidence in the Lord.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I hate to say it, but my time’s up. Believe it or not, I’ve been here with you, helping you read and interpret the first reading for every Sunday for three years! This is the 155th edition of this column. That means we’ve made it through the whole Sunday cycle, so you can always look back on an old column if you want to hear my thoughts on it. But don’t worry, while my weekly column will come to an end with this post, I’ll be writing on Catholic Exchange periodically. You can always find my writing at my blog, CatholicBibleStudent.com. In addition, I wrote a book you might be interested in: “Light on the Dark Passages of Scripture.” And you can find me on Twitter, on my podcast and on YouTube, or teaching a class at the Augustine Institute. Thanks for reading the Word with me and happy Bible reading!