Today’s reading from 1 Samuel 8: 4-22 has fascinated me for many years.
The elders of Israel are sick and tired of relying on charismatic judges to rise up and govern the people. They want a king to rule over them.
Samuel feels rejected but God tells him that they are really rejecting God – wanting to rely on human power and might. God tells Samuel what is wrong with this and Samuel relates the message to the people.
A king will be a tyrant; he will tax you, take your children for his personal servants, make you his slaves, recruit your sons for his armies, and take your land.
The list sounds like an anarchist’s diatribe against government. Yet it is not like the libertarianism of the Tea Party but more like the personalist anarchism of Dorothy Day – who emphasizes personal responsibility in place of relying on “Holy Mother the State,” especially a state that is based on militarism.
The elders want someone to lead them, someone who will be their spokesperson. Moreover, they want someone who will make them look as strong as other nations, even if he “lords it over them.”
We too must be like other nations, with a king to rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles.
The elders are blinded by the desire to have power over others, like other nations do. The king will lead them in warfare.
In order to have power over others they are willing to let a tyrant have power over the people.
But what does the Lord ask of us?
Jesus offers a different vision of leadership, in Matthew 20: 25- 28;
You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. [The Christian Community Bible translates the second half of this verse as “the powerful oppress them.”]
But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall become your servant; … the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life to redeem many.
This is both a political and a personal challenge.
Do we want a Jesus, who was a servant king, washing feet, dying for us – and calling us to be servants who give our lives for others? Or will we look for rescuers who rely on violence, on oppression – as long as we retain our national power?
Are we willing to give up “power over” others – and serve them as Jesus does?