Posted by Michelle Anne Schingler
Readings: 1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16 and Psalm 133; Job 38:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 ; Mark 4:35-41
The word “subversive” was rendered a very dirty one in the last century, so much so that most of us probably still have a negative reaction upon hearing it. The irony is, of course, that its intonation should be sweet to us; after all, our holiest book is rife with accounts of subversion.
This week alone, we encounter two—and both are significant stories to our religious heritage.
In the first: David, after recalling how he’s already conquered lions and bears, vanquishes Goliath, a Philistine so fearsome that none think him vulnerable. In the second: Jesus subverts nature itself.
These giant figures of our religious tradition remind us that we’re not supposed to get so comfortable in this world that we think we can, or should, predict its ways; they remind us that the things we bodily fear are ultimately not fearsome, and that those things which we ought to reckon as great are the same which we often forget to place our trust in.
David is multiple times described as a “ruddy and handsome” youth, qualities which cause people, including Goliath, to mistake him as inconsequential—utterly incapable of a warrior’s actions. His life’s work, prior to his anointment, was centered in the fields, where he was a shepherd.
There’s nothing particularly grandiose about that; “shepherd” tends to evoke rather calm feelings, of wide fields, bells tinkling around the necks of bleating creatures, days nearly clones of each other, minus variations in weather. A shepherd is not, in this world, someone you turn to in order to win battles. They are not people whose help you think to ask when facing invading forces.
And yet David subverts these notions. Without armor, without real weapons, he goes before Goliath to protect the people of Israel. Goliath all but mocks his challenger. He assures David that he’ll return him to the dust from whence he came.
And yet David ends up defeating Goliath with one loosed stone.
David is the least shocked by this of any witness—including most of us, reading the story for the first time. Nothing suggested the odds would go in his favor. And David’s explanation is all the more surprising: his strength comes purely via faith; his victory is God’s. God, who had always been reliable in saving him from bears and lions, saved him from a warrior no one else wanted to go against (1 Samuel 17:37).
God, after all, does not play by the rules of human beings; God does not bend to our whims, and does not justify our pettiest fears. God, in fact, subverts them all—simply by being more generous, kinder, and more reliable than we ever hope to expect.
David defeats predators, both amongst men and beasts; and in Mark, Jesus defeats nature itself. Nature is, of course, something before which we feel even less in control; one might run and hide from a bear, or the leader of a marauding army, but there’s no escaping variations in the natural world when they find us. Corresponding terms—flood, fire, hurricane, volcano—fill us with such despair that, in their face, we simply throw our hands up and meekly hope for the best.
We are as aware of the powerlessness of this as were Jesus’s disciples—who, when they found themselves tossed about in a tiny boat in the middle of a sea during the storm, didn’t wonder what’s going to happen next; they, in fact, didn’t bother with hope at all—they simply woke Jesus and informed him that they are about to perish (Mark 4:38).
All of their life experiences, all of the life experienced of their predecessors—the whole of human history—stood to uphold their estimations. And yet Jesus was calm. They were both dumbfounded and afraid, puzzled by his placidity, certain it didn’t correspond to hopeful coming moments.
And yet, Jesus rose to calm the sea. He offered one “Peace, be still!” and the waves obeyed. The moment seemed to defy all logic, and yet it was he who ended up rebuking them—and directing their attention to the “obvious”—“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).
These were subversive men, these two anointed ones—who subverted, ultimately, our false convictions that we comprehend and have control over the world independent of its maker; they raised above this, ultimately, the ignored reality, that nothing is more grand, or less susceptible to our direction, than God.
Ultimately, the moments which we think of as “miracles” are simply those in which God’s hand is apparent. They are not moments in which the known world, and its operations, are interrupted by inexplicable, unnatural events; they are moments in which nature’s maker is made known, in which ultimate reality becomes, for a few shining instances, gloriously visible.
Our eyes are again directed to God’s coming world: in which the meek become strong; in which the poor are greeted with plenty; in which the troubled find peace. We are reminded that the coming kingdom of God is one defined by subversion, and that it’s this we have to look forward to: the upending of all of our meager expectations; the delivery of glory beyond our very imagination. And that gives us reason to hope.
Images borrowed from: http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6194/6153588609_cc4278b01a_z.jpg