recognizing the anointed

(cyprian, tues 2nd week of ordinary time)

It’s interesting to have David appear in both readings today, first in the story of the recognition of David as the anointed one (1 Sam 16:1-13), and then Jesus doing his own exegesis on 1 Sam 21, when David ate the holy showbread while fleeing from Saul (Mk 2:23-28). It’s a thstriking archetypal image, really; we have learned that David is the anointed, maybe in a way that surpasses the high priest, a king and priest in the line of Melchizedek rather than Aaron, and so in some way has the right to eat this bread. He’s not the obvious priest, just as he wasn’t the obvious king, but he is the real one.

The beautiful coincidence is how these two Scripture passages carry a common theme, perhaps approached from different angles. On the one hand, the obvious point of the story of David’s being recognized as the anointed ahead of all his other brothers is that ‘The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ Even the fact that David is described as ruddy and handsome with beautiful eyes, like some kind of teen idol, can be distracting. He was the youngest, a gangly kid with a sling shot who reeked like sheep. In the gospel reading we have the other side of the story. We inherit from the Jewish tradition the idea that if something is holy we set it apart, or else that we make something holy by setting it apart, putting it on a pedestal, behind a veil, behind walls. That was the history of Israel’s relationship with God’s own self in some way: they start out walking with God in the garden in the cool of the evening, and gradually God is portrayed as farther and farther away, by the time of Moses shrouded in cloud and darkness on top of a mountain, and even to touch the mountain was to risk death! But in Jesus, the veil is removed: We have drawn near to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering.[1] God comes close to us in Jesus: ‘If you have seen me you have seen the Father… I no longer call you servants but my friends.’[2] I was no more drawn to the sacred in the Gothic cathedrals of France and England than I was sitting on the floor around the puja stone in the humble little chapel at Shantivanam.

To bring it closer to home yet, this is one of those things that is always on my mind with young people who come our way exploring our life. Especially in this day and age, the vocation candidates of today just may not all look like the buttoned down seminarian of times past. And not only that, the young spiritual seekers of today have experienced the sacred in ways that were unknown to older generations; their hierarchy of values is different. The sacred is not so far from them, behind a veil. They find the path to the sacred in their own physical beings, in caring for the planet, in health food and yoga, in “dance church” on Saturday night, in organic gardens and in fighting for economic justice, in interacting with people of different religions and cultures, in a tribal consciousness that is now global. These may not look like holy things to us, but they’re sacred to them––because they are holy things, ones that we hadn’t recognized! As Bruno might say, these folks, who often look like unwashed pagans to us, have actually continued the incarnational trajectory of Christianity that we in the Church have often abandoned, and in some cases are living a life of great discipline and integrity and a thirst for Spirit that is really inspiring. They may be the David’s, the anointed ones in our midst that we don’t recognize. On the other hand, “The church seems at once too matter-of-fact, too ordinary, and [at the same time] too exalted in an artificial (and obviously human) rather than a spiritual way. The church often seems a kind of intermediate world of institutional pseudo-reality, sometimes even a solemn out-of-date world of clerical artificiality, tediously mediating between two realities which are already one: God and humanity. It is this [version of the] church which is not real but a comic fantasy…”[3]

To the extent that the church of both East and of West has resisted incarnation (and the Incarnation!), “history has moved beyond it, pursuing its incarnational trajectory.” So in some ways Christianity needs to catch up with “the world,” at least that part of the world that has continued this incarnational movement in some areas without us, both to learn from those “in the world” what we should have been leading the way in all along, as well as to remind the world of its divine origin and re-root this incarnational trajectory in its Source.

The Holy Father said recently that this is not an era of change, but that we are in a change of era. Let’s pray that we would have the courage and creativity to be open to the surprises, to holiness and anointing appearing in unexpected places and unexpected faces, and be ready to be challenged out of our staid comfort zones to truly be the prophetic voice of the Spirit who is calling us to a deeper and deeper realization of the holiness that surrounds us.

[1] Heb 12:22.

[2] Jn 14:9; 15:15.

[3] Future of Wisdom, 171.

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