1 Samuel 9:1-4; 17-19; 10:1; Psalm 21:2; Mark 2:13-17
Guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Church takes great care to choose readings for each day that highlight certain themes, most often represented by the psalm that comes between them. Today we hear a wonderful case in point, Psalm 21. On a purely human level, this is a joyful song of praise that God has endowed authority on an earthly king. On a divine level and as a messianic psalm it speaks of Christ, who indeed is glad and rejoices in the full authority given him by the Father. With good reason we repeat the second verse: Lord, in your strength the king is glad. But that doesn’t answer how the readings highlight that theme. As we will see, they do so in very different ways.
As the story of Saul begins, it’s hard to know what he would have been glad about. It must have come as such a surprise! One minute he’s out looking for his father’s animals; the next, he is anointed as the first king of Israel. But although we can’t tell his mindset in the beginning, as the story unfolds it becomes clear: This king isn’t glad in the Lord at all. To the contrary, he has little regard for God’s authority; he has his own ideas and doesn’t want anyone, even God, to correct him. Worse, despite Samuel’s warnings, Saul never sees the problem; he remains blind to his own arrogance and self-exaltation until everything ends for him in complete disaster.
By contrast, the story of Matthew doesn’t end with disaster but it does begin that way. Like Saul, Matthew is a man going about his business; unlike Saul, his business was what most Jews would have called a complete disaster: the customs post. Such men were among the worst of sinners; quislings who took money from their own people, gave it to their conquerors, and even kept some for themselves. Yet this is the kind of darkness where the light of Christ most brightly shines; passing by, the Divine Physician diagnoses Matthew, and in two words prescribes the remedy: Follow me.
As with Saul, we have no idea what went through Matthew’s mind at that moment, but as always Mark invites us to put ourselves in the scene and contemplate. What would we do? Would we have doubts, fears, or misgivings? Did Matthew? Perhaps. All we know is what Matthew actually did, and here Mark couldn’t be clearer: He got up and followed Jesus. Again, this is only the beginning; the story unfolds in the fullness of time. Mark tells us that Jesus went to his house, ate with him and his friends, and told others that he came to call sinners. Though Mark then goes silent about it, that doesn’t mean we know nothing. We know that Matthew was glad in the strength of the Lord who called him out of his sinful life and offered him another, so glad that he followed Christ to the end and to the point that a gospel account would bear his name for all time.
Two men, two calls, two responses, two completely different endings, yet the same theme: Lord, in your strength the king is glad. How does this apply to us? In two ways:
First, we must understand that we, the baptized, are kings. At our baptism we were anointed kings and called as Christ was called – not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). And if we are kings, then we are glad in the strength of the Lord from the moment we decide to be a king less like Saul and more like Matthew; when we see every day as a call to live not on our own strength but on God’s, for it is he and he alone who points the way, who leads the way, who makes a way, and who is the way.
Second, we must remember that good intentions aren’t enough; actions are required. How we act will depend on the gifts God has given us and the circumstances we find ourselves in. Whatever they are, the time is now and we will not be – we cannot be – glad in the Lord’s strength until we take what the Father has given us and, through the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit, put it at the service of the kingdom he gave us through his Son.