Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Seeking the Shape of Holiness
The responsorial psalm between the scripture readings is like a hinge today. This 89th psalm extols David, who was anointed while still a youth to replace Saul. Saul’s lack of loyalty to God occasioned his rejection as king, and Saul apparently did not take it well. Samuel, who anointed Saul king, was grieving in his way, which made him reluctant to lead as God chose.
God: “How long will you grieve for Saul, whom I have rejected as king of Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.Samuel overcame his inertia and went to those God sent him. Samuel worried when none of Jesse’s sons appeared to be God’s anointed. Unlike Saul Samuel waited on God; we can almost hear Samuel’s thought echo within: “God’s chosen must be here!” Unexpectedly, he was.
Samuel: “How can I go? Saul will hear of it & kill me.”
David reshaped the role of king as we echoed God: “I have found David my servant!” David served the holiness of God. The whole people’s vocation was to be holy as God is holy./1/
The shape of holiness is difficult to name. The positive command be holy is more difficult to define than a negative command like do not kill. The Sabbath showed that.
The people were to keep holy the Sabbath./2/ Legislating that wasn’t easy or simple; the largest number of commands grew around the Sabbath. Many of them defined what actions were work. Because Sabbath meant God’s rest, much human activity distracted one from rest at best or violated rest at worst. The resulting Sabbath commands grew constraining, confining and restrictive, emphasizing human work more than God’s rest and humans' participation in it.
Constraint rather than freedom focused people more on themselves than on God. Jesus recalled David’s unlawful action. After his resurrection Jesus’ followers recalled David’s freedom and Jesus’ freedom to support people first of all. The balance is tricky but the norm is clear: Humans take priority over sabbath laws. We are not to serve it but enter its rest. That experience of God helps us grow more holy. Weak David needed God’s holiness; we weak Christians do, too. It’s why we were made.
/1/ Leviticus 11. 45; 19.2; 20. 26; the last two verses begin and end the same section.
/2/ Exodus 20.8
Wiki-image of the anointing of David is in the pubblic domain.