Archive for the ‘Saul’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 17 (Ackerman)   2 comments

Above:   Rehoboam, by Hans Holbein the Younger

Image in the Public Domain

Divisiveness

SEPTEMBER 2, 2018

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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1 Kings 12:1-20

Psalm 119:57-64

Romans 7:7-13

John 7:40-44

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The Law of God is holy; both the Psalmist and St. Paul the Apostle agree to that proposition in two of the assigned readings for today.  Yet St. Paul admits that he also finds the definition of sin that the Law proves to be a temptation to sin.  This passage precedes the famous portion of scripture in which the Apostle confesses that he knows the difference between right and wrong yet often commits the latter, even though he wants to do the former.  He is divided within himself.

In 1 Kings 12 the foolishness of the newly crowned King Rehoboam leads to the division of the Kingdom of Israel.  He ends up as the King of Judah instead.  So begins the decline of the realm King Saul once led.  We know via hindsight that both kingdoms will fall and ten tribes will become lost.

We also read of division in John 7.  Is Jesus the Messiah?  Or is he a blasphemer?  His life is certainly at risk.

As David Ackerman writes in Beyond the Lectionary (2013), unity does not require unanimity.  In the Christian context Jesus is the source of unity and the Christian Church

is a group of unlike-minded people who live out their faith and practice discipleship together.

–Page 96

Yet frequently one reads and/or hears of and encounters denominations and congregations formed or divided by the quest for like-mindedness and founded by the act of schism.  Even those who seek to reject denominationalism create new denominations, although many members of officially “undenominational” bodies object to that statement.

Part of the problem of divisiveness is that it is inherently human.  We like to keep company with people similar to ourselves.  Although the variety of denominations certainly keeps many people in the Christian fold by providing options, the scandal of denominations is that they divide the body of Christ.  I belong to a denomination–a fairly liberal one, in fact.  I like attending church where nobody will call me a heretic, for I know the sting of hearing that accusation.  Nevertheless, I also understand denominational inertia and am willing to surrender certain minor points of doctrine and practice for the sake of organic unity with a denomination or denominations with which mine is quite similar.  When organic union is not yet an option or never will be, perhaps ecumenism is on the table.  But how common are these attitudes?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 18, 2017 COMMON ERA

PROPER 6:   THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINTS DELPHINUS OF BORDEAUX, AMANDUS OF BORDEAUX, SEVERINUS OF BORDEAUX, VENERIUS OF MILAN, AND CHROMATIUS OF AQUILEIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF ADOLPHUS NELSON, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF ANSON DODGE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM BINGHAM TAPPAN, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/divisiveness/

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Devotion for Thursday and Friday Before Proper 28, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Saul Consulting the Spirit of Samuel

Above:   Saul Consults the Spirit of Samuel

Image in the Public Domain

God Concepts and Violence

NOVEMBER 10 and 11, 2016

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The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,

without you nothing is strong, nothing is holy.

Embrace us with your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide,

we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 28:3-19 (Thursday)

2 Samuel 21:1-14 (Friday)

Psalm 98 (Both Days)

Romans 1:18-25 (Thursday)

2 Thessalonians 1:3-12 (Friday)

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In righteousness shall he judge the world

and the peoples with equity.

–Psalm 98:10, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Judgment and mercy exist in balance (as a whole) in the Bible, but God seems bloodthirsty in 1 Samuel 15 and 28 and in 2 Samuel 21.

The divine rejection of Saul, first King of Israel, was due either to an improper sacrifice (1 Samuel 13:8-14) or his failure to kill all Amelikites (1 Samuel 15:2f), depending upon the source one prefers when reading 1-2 Samuel (originally one composite book copied and pasted from various documents and spread across two scrolls).  1 Samuel 28 favors the second story.  In 2 Samuel 21, as we read, David, as monarch, ended a three-year-long drought by appeasing God.  All the king had to do was hand seven members of the House of Saul over to Gibeonites, who “dismembered them before the LORD” on a mountain.

The readings from the New Testament are not peace and love either, but at least they are not bloody.  Their emphasis is on punishment in the afterlife.  In the full context of scripture the sense is that there will be justice–not revenge–in the afterlife.  Justice, for many, also includes mercy.  Furthermore, may we not ignore or forget the image of the Holy Spirit as our defense attorney in John 14:16.

I know an Episcopal priest who, when he encounters someone who professes not to believe in God, asks that person to describe the God in whom he or she does not believe.  Invariably the atheist describes a deity in whom the priest does not believe either.  I do not believe in the God of 1 Samuel 15 and 28 and 2 Samuel 21 in so far as I do not understand God in that way and trust in such a violent deity.  No, I believe–trust–in God as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, who would not have ordered any genocide or handed anyone over for death and dismemberment.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 6, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANKLIN CLARK FRY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA AND THE LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLAUDE OF BESANCON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MONK, ABBOT, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF HENRY JAMES BUCKOLL, AUTHOR AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM KETHE, PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/god-concepts-and-violence/

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Prologue to Posts Scheduled Around Proper 12, Year C (Revised Common Lectionary)   1 comment

Esther Crowned by Ahasuerus

Above:  Esther Crowned by Ahasuerus, by Paolo Veronese

Image in the Public Domain

Esther I:  Vehicles of Grace

JULY 2016

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The daily lectionary for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), as found in their service book-hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), is the one attached to the Revised Common Lectionary.  For the Thursday before Proper 12 through the Wednesday after that Sunday in Year C the first readings come from the Book of Esther, starting with 2:19 and continuing through 8:17.

The Book of Esther exists in two versions–Hebrew and Greek.  The Hebrew version, which does not even mention God, probably dates to 400-300 B.C.E., at the end of the Persian Empire or the beginning of the Hellenistic Age.  The 107 additional verses in the version from the Septuagint bring the word “God” into the story and elaborate on certain details.  The Greek version of the Book of Esther is canonical in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

As I read the Book of Esther again I will consult Jewish and Roman Catholic Bibles.  My plan is to read the Greek version fully in English-language translation.  The New American Bible labels the Greek additions conveniently as Chapters A-F, a system I will cite.

The Book of Esther is a satire, comedy, burlesque, and work of religious fiction.  Jewish exegetes have known this for a long time.  Some characters are buffoonish, our heroes (in the Hebrew version) are strangely less dimensional than other characters, and exaggeration abounds.  One should not, out of piety, become so serious as to misread a book of the Bible.  There are various contexts in which one should read scripture; genre is among them.  Furthermore, the internal chronology of the Book of Esther (in either version), like that of the Book of Daniel, makes no sense.

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In the Greek version the book begins with what The New American Bible calls Chapter A, containing 17 verses.  We meet Mordecai, a Jewish member of the court of King Ahasuerus (sarcastically “the great,” according to A:1) at Susa.  Ahasuerus is a fictitious monarch of the Persian Empire.  Sources I have consulted indicate elements from the actual Xerxes I (reigned 486-465 B.C.E.) and Artaxerxes I (reigned 465-424 B.C.E.).  Mordecai has a dream in which, on a gloomy day amid “tumult, thunder, and earthquake,” two dragons prepare to go to war.  The just live in fear of what might happen to them.  They cry out to God, a mighty river arises, sunlight breaks through, and the lowly rise up and devour the boastful.  Mordecai awakens and attempts throughout the day to comprehend the dream and what God intends to do.

We read in A:1 that Mordecai is not only of the tribe of Benjamin but a descendant of Kish.  This makes him a relative of King Saul (whose father was Kish), who conquered Agag the Amalekite in 1 Samuel 15:1-9.  Haman, Mordecai’s foe, is an Agagite.

Mordecai overhears two eunuchs plot to assassinate Ahasuerus.  The loyal courtier alerts the monarch directly.  Ahasuerus orders the arrest, interrogation, and execution of the eunuchs.  Mordecai receives a reward for his fidelity, but Haman, who had conspired with the eunuchs, begins to plot to harm him.

Chapter 1 depicts Ahasuerus as less than great.  The text states that the king ruled over 127 provinces, or satrapies, but historical records indicate the existence of between 20 and 32 satrapies during the duration of the Persian Empire.  Ahasuerus is wealthy, living in luxury.  He is also mostly powerless, for people manipulate him easily.  The king is also too fond of alcohol in excess.  Ahasuerus orders Queen Vashti to degrade herself  by displaying her beauty to his courtiers .  She refuses the command, thereby disgracing the drunken Ahasuerus.  Thus an imperial incident occurs.  Can the monarch restore his honor?  Vashti loses her position and possibly her life, for he proceeds to choose a new queen from his harem.  Among the virgins in the harem is one Esther, cousin and foster daughter of Mordecai.  This is a secret relationship, however.  He coaches her in how to become the next queen.  She succeeds Vashti.

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What are we supposed to take away from this material and apply to life?  God works behind the scenes in the Book of Esther.  God even works through drunk and easily manipulated monarchs.  Vehicles of grace come in many shapes and sizes; many of them will surprise us.  Many of them do not even know that they are vehicles of grace, but that does not prevent God from working through them, does it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/esther-i-vehicles-of-grace/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 24, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Icon of Samuel

Above:  Icon of Samuel

Image in the Public Domain

Rejecting or Accepting God, Part II

OCTOBER 24, 2018

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the peoples on earth.

Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom,

and make us desire always and only your will,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 12:1-25

Psalm 37:23-40

John 13:1-17

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When your steps are guided by the Lord

and you delight in his way,

Though you stumble, you shall not fall headlong,

for the Lord holds you fast by the hand.

–Psalm 37:23-24, Common Worship (2000)

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This post flows naturally from its predecessor, in which Jesus identified the servant as the greatest person in the Kingdom of God.  He acted on that principle in John 13.  Long before then, elsewhere, the prophet Samuel never used his office to benefit himself.  Actually, sometimes he placed himself at risk while performing his duties.

In 1 Samuel 12, early in King Saul’s reign, the population (as a whole) had rejected God’s rule.  Yet God had not rejected the people:

For the sake of His great name, the LORD will never abandon His people, seeing that the LORD undertook to make you His people.

–1 Samuel 12:22, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Since God has remained faithful, so should we.  This is possible by grace.  One aspect of this fidelity to God in Christ is following our Lord and Savior’s example of service and humility daily.  Details will vary according to circumstances, but the principle is constant and timeless.  Recognizing the image of God in others and extending them the respect consistent with that ethic requires one to lay aside certain preconceptions and illusions of self-importance one might harbor.  That can prove to be difficult, but it is necessary and proper.  And, if one professes to follow Jesus, not to pursue that course of action increases one’s hypocrisy.

To be faithful in this way has long been a challenge for me.  Challenges, however, are possible to meet; they are difficult.  Fortunately, I have noticed much progress, for which I give thanks to God.  The room for improvement contains much potential for spiritual growth.  I welcome that growth.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/rejecting-or-accepting-god-part-ii/

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Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 24, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Samuel Blesses Saul Gustave Dore

Above:  Samuel Blesses Saul, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Rejecting or Accepting God, Part I

OCTOBER 22 and 23, 2018

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the peoples on earth.

Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom,

and make us desire always and only your will,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 8:1-18 (Monday)

1 Samuel 10:17-25 (Tuesday)

Psalm 37:23-40 (Both Days)

Hebrews 6:1-12 (Monday)

Hebrews 6:13-20 (Tuesday)

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Keep innocence and heed the thing that is right,

for that will bring you peace at the last.

–Psalm 37:38, Common Worship (2000)

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The people of Israel asked for a king.  They had one already; God (Yahweh) was their monarch.  That arrangement proved unsatisfactory to a sufficient number of people for the petition for a human king to succeed.  The prophet Samuel warned against abuses of monarchy, to no avail.  Saul became the first in a line of kings, and Samuel proved to be correct.

The request for a human king constituted a rejection of God.  Rejecting God after having accepted God is committing apostasy, or falling away from God, which is what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews warned against doing.  Committing apostasy is possible via free will; grace is not irresistible for those not predestined to Heaven.  (There goes one-fifth of TULIP, the five points of Calvinism.)  Maintaining a healthy relationship with God requires both divine grace and human free will, which exists because of the former.  Thus everything goes back to grace, not that free will ceases to be relevant.  May we use our free will to cooperate with divine grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

INDEPENDENCE DAY (U.S.A.)

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/rejecting-or-accepting-god-part-i/

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Devotion for Thursday Before Proper 14, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Witch of Endor--Nikolai Ge

Above:  Witch of Endor, by Nikolai Ge

Image in the Public Domain

Building Up Our Neighbors, Part I

AUGUST 9, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven

to be the true bread that gives life to the world.

Give us this bread always,

that he may live in us and we in him,

and that, strengthened by this food,

may live as his body in the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 28:20-25

Psalm 34:1-8

Romans 15:1-6

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I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me

and saved me from all my troubles.

–Psalm 23:6, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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That verse from Psalm 34 functions as a counterpoint to King Saul’s situation in 1 Samuel 28:20-25.

Saul was at the end of his reign and at war with Philistine forces.  He had, according to 1 Samuel 28, disguised himself and gone to a necromancer (some translations say “witch”) at Endor, so that she would summon Samuel, who had anointed the monarch then announced God’s rejection of him.  The necromancer was in a difficult situation, for Saul had outlawed her profession.  (So, according to the monarch’s own standards, by what right was he there?)

The story in 1 Samuel 28 reflects an old understanding of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible.  Concepts of postmortem reward and punishment came later, by means of Zoroastrianism, for forces of the Persian Empire ended the Babylonian Exile.  (This does not mean, of course, that Heaven and Hell are figments of imagination, just that Zoroastrians had the concepts before Jews and, in time, Christians.  God’s agents come from many backgrounds.)  The understanding of the afterlife in 1 Samuel 28 is Sheol, the underworld.

In 1 Samuel 28 the necromancer, whose profession was, according to the Bible, forbidden due to its heathen nature, summoned Samuel successfully.  The prophet and judge, who was irritated with Saul, stated that the monarch had no more than a day left on the earth.  Saul took this badly, so he refused to eat for a while, until the necromancer and some countries convinced him to consume food.  The woman, who had risked her life to help Saul, cared about his well-being and fed him and his entourage.

God’s agents come from many backgrounds.  Sometimes they save us from our afflictions.  On other occasions, however, they simply provide aid and compassion until fate arrives.

Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.

–Romans 15:2, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Our neighbors include those similar to us and different from us.  Some like us, others are hostile to us, and still others are neutral or apathetic.  We like some of our neighbors, despise others, and have little or no knowledge of the existence of still others.  Yet we are all in this life together; that which we do to others, we do to ourselves.  We are, in the ethics of the Law of Moses, responsible to and for each other as we stand side-by-side in a state of responsibility to and total dependence upon God.  Certain attitudes, therefore, fall outside the realm of righteousness.  These include greed, bigotry, rugged individualism, self-reliance, and Social Darwinism.  There is no divine law against compassion, however.  And, since whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves, caring for others effectively and selflessly (at least as much as we can) is to our benefit.  Whenever we build up our neighbors, we build up ourselves.

MAY 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED ROOKER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST PHILANTHROPIST AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, ELIZABETH ROOKER PARSON, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES WILLIAM SCHAEFFER, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HISTORIAN, THEOLOGIAN, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE DICKINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/building-up-our-neighbors-part-i/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 4, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   2 comments

Showbread

Above:  Priests Replacing the Showbread

Image in the Public Domain

Compassion and Identity

JUNE 6, 2018

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

throughout time you free the oppressed,

heal the sick,

and make whole all that you have made.

Look with compassion on the world wounded by sin,

and by your power restore us to wholeness of life,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 21:1-6

Psalm 78:1-4, 52-72

John 5:1-18

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Yet still they tested God Most High and rebelled against him,

and would not keep his commandments.

–Psalm 78:56, Common Worship (2000)

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Falling into legalism is at least as bad as having disregard for divine law.  Both errors arrive at the same destination:  missing the mark, which is the definition of sin.

One must, if one is to be thorough, read the Gospel of John in the context of its composition:  rising tensions between Jews and Christians.  Many of the latter category were also Jews, but they had become marginalized within Judaism.  Thus invective infected the text of the Johannine Gospel.  The “scribes and Pharisees” of the Synoptic Gospels became “the Jews.”  Jews were labeling other Jews “the Jews.”

That does not mean, however, that the Johannine Gospel contains no history.  We ought, however, to read it with an awareness and understanding of the filters.

The story in John 5:1-18, as we have received it, is one of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath, identifying God as his (Jesus’s) father, and contending with plots because of these actions and words.  According to the Law of Moses, the penalty for profaning the Sabbath is death, as is the punishment for committing blasphemy.  These were the charges against our Lord and Savior in the story.  The man Jesus healed even had to contend with charges of carrying his mat on the Sabbath (John 5:10).  He got off, though, for accusers found a “juicier” target.

Legalism–born out of respect for divine commandments–is misguided because it transforms the laws into idols.  A legalist is so lost among the proverbial trees that he or she cannot contextualize them within the forest.  Often attitudes and actions lacking compassion flow from legalism, as in the pericope from John 5.  Was joy that a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years was now able-bodied too much to muster?

Part of the socio-economic-political context of the story is the central role of Sabbath keeping in defining Jewish community, especially while living under Roman occupation.  Indeed, the importance of keeping the Sabbath as a way of setting the Hebrew community apart from its neighbors and its recent plight in slavery in Egypt forms part of the background of the Sabbath laws in Exodus 31:12-18.  I am not a rugged individualist, for I affirm that we humans depend entirely on God and rely upon each other and each other’s labor.  Others assembled the car I drive and paved the roads I paved the roads I travel on the way to work, for example.  A community focus in society can be positive, for we are all responsible to and for each other.  But community ought never to crush an individual.

Our Lord and Savior did more than heal on the Sabbath.  He and his twelve Apostles, for example, also gleaned food from fields, for they were hungry.  Some people criticized them for doing that too.  Jesus, in Matthew 12:3-4, Mark 2:25-26, and Luke 6:3-4, cited the precedent of David in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.  David, then fighting a civil war against King Saul, was hungry one day.  He acquired food by lying (claiming to be on a secret mission for Saul) to a priest, who gave him the Bread of the Presence, which only priests were supposed to eat.  To consume that bread was to commune with God, according to theology at the time.  The author of that story did not condemn David, but Saul condemned the priest to death for aiding an enemy.

Our Lord and Savior’s purpose in citing that precedent was to say that breaking ritual law in a time of need is permissible.  If saving a life, according to that standard, how is healing a man paralyzed for 38 years beyond the pale?  And how does anyone have so little compassion (if any) as to complain about the day of the week on which someone commits a good deed?

Identity matters a great deal, but compassion is more important.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 13, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PLATO OF SYMBOLEON AND THEODORE STUDITES, EASTERN ORTHODOX ABBOTS; AND SAINT NICEPHORUS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, PATRIARCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT HELDRAD, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINTS RODERIC OF CABRA AND SOLOMON OF CORDOBA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/compassion-and-identity/

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