Psalm 116:15–19; 1 Samuel 26,27; John 6:1–15

Originally published 10/6/2016(Psalm) and 10/6/2014 (OT & NT). Revised and updated 10/6/2018.

Psalm 116:15–19: Having himself escaped death, our poet reflects on God’s love which extends even to those who die:
Precious in the eyes of the Lord
is the death of His faithful ones
. (15)

Even in death God does not abandon us. While he is alive, our psalmist knows that he is God’s faithful servant but never God’s slave, for it is God who has set him free:
I beseech You, Lord,
for I am Your servant.
I am our servant, Your handmaiden’s son.
You have loosed my bonds. (16)

And in this freedom, the concluding verses of this psalm describes how our psalmist transforms gratitude into public action at the temple in Jerusalem:
To You I shall offer a Thanksgiving sacrifice
and in the name of the Lord I shall call.
My vows to the Lord I shall pay
in the sight of all His people
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in the midst of Jerusalem.  (17- 19)

The questions for me are, am I grateful to God for all that he has done for me through Jesus Christ, and how willing am I to express that gratitude and joy publicly?

1 Samuel 26,27: In this famous encounter, David once again has the opportunity to kill Saul, who in his monomaniacal obsession continues to pursue David. Standing over the head of the sleeping king, David resists the temptation, realizing Saul’s fate is in God’s hands, not his: “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him down; or his day will come to die; or he will go down into battle and perish.” (26:10). He takes Saul’s spear and water jar and retreats.

The next morning, David shouts across the valley to Saul’s guard, Abner, accusing him dereliction of duty. Saul hears the commotion, comes out and David asks the king almost plaintively, “Why does my lord pursue his servant? For what have I done? What guilt is on my hands?” (26:19). A seemingly contrite Saul replies, “I have done wrong; come back, my son David, for I will never harm you again, because my life was precious in your sight today; I have been a fool, and have made a great mistake.” (26:21).  David replies, “As your life was precious today in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord,” (26:24).

Notice that this is not a quid pro quo: David does not say, “may my life be precious in your sight, Saul” but he is laying his—and Saul’s— fate in the hands of God. The author’s message is clear: it is God who is protecting David because David, unlike Saul, is following the Lord. At some deeper level Saul seems to understand this dimly and he tells David, “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” (26:25)

David knows he is protected by the Lord, but he nevertheless wisely elects to stay out of Saul’s presence, knowing that the mercurial king could turn on him in a trice. He heads to King Achish of Gath, and remains there for a year and 4 months. There is real wisdom for us here. Yes, like David, we should rely on God to protect us, but we should also use our common sense and refrain from placing ourselves in potentially abusive —or even potentially lethal—situations especially around people like Saul. This is exactly like today’s domestic abusers say they’ll never do it again, but inevitably succumb to the temptation to lash out physically.

John 6:1-15: In John’s telling of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus asks Philip directly, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” (5) And John, ever the great explainer, tells us, “He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do” (6) But Philip certainly doesn’t know this is a test.

We can empathize with Philip’s distress when he says, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” (7) I’m sure he’s thinking, “Jesus is a wonderful guy; he may indeed be the Messiah, but he really has no idea of how the real world works.”  Philip is all of us. We think that Jesus is going to engage the world the way we all do. And that he would at least have a modicum of common sense.

But we can never forget that John’s Jesus will always be doing the unexpected. Be it turning water into wine, conversing with a sinful Samaritan woman or now, asking a seemingly dumb question of Philip. Like Philip, we want to put Jesus into the box of our own experience, our own perspective on the world. But Jesus cannot be contained in our comfortable little boxes. He’s always going to be asking us seemingly innocent questions that open up a whole new way of seeing things.  For John, the feeding of the 5000, as wonderful as it was, is not his point. John’s point is that if we’re going to follow Jesus to expect the unexpected. We have to think—and act— in entirely new ways.

John adds a coda to this story that’s missing in the synoptic accounts. The crowd ‘gets it. Jesus is the long-awaited prophet, perhaps even the Messiah: “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”” (14) But Jesus will have none of it: “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (15)

Jesus did exactly what David did: he withdrew. Would that we would withdraw—especially politicians—rather than seizing power over other people.


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