Parallels: Present and Past

14th June 2024

Our reading at St Mary’s this Sunday tells of an event that took place 3,000 years ago. However, if we reflect on the story, we find several themes that are very familiar and contemporary.

The action takes place in Bethlehem where Samuel anoints David with oil to set him apart to be king. Just last year we witnessed something very similar as the Archbishop of Canterbury anointed King Charles. The oil used in Westminster Abbey was made from olives that had been pressed just outside Bethlehem. So, then and now, we have Bethlehem, anointing with oil, and a new king.

Most of the country celebrated Charles’ coronation and the continuation of the monarchy, but there were those who objected. This too has a parallel in the Old Testament. Earlier in their history the Israelites looked to God as their King and to Judges as their leaders. In his old age, Samuel appointed his sons as judges, but they were corrupt and so the elders asked for a king. They wanted to be like the other nations.

Samuel warned the people that a monarch would take their sons to be his soldiers, their daughters for domestic service, and their land and produce for himself and his officials. The people did not listen and so it was that a young man called Saul was chosen and anointed with oil, as the first King of Israel.

Saul reigned during a violent time in the Middle East. There was conflict between Israel and the Philistines. The story takes a tragic turn when Saul is deemed to have been arrogant in his failure to obey God’s instructions. He is rejected and Samuel anoints David as his replacement.

Many things have changed since Old Testament times, but others remain the same. Debates about monarchy, conflict, violence and corruption are all features of our world just as much they were all those years ago. Disappointment in leaders and the search for a new way forward sounds very familiar in this election season.

And the key verse from Sunday’s reading is as relevant today as it was 3,000 years ago: ‘People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’

I hope you will join us on Sunday as we think together about this ancient text and its present-day relevance.

Revd Stephen