David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”
Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in apparance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”
When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Two conflict stories occupy our Scriptures for today. The fight to the death between David and Goliath is told in detail, and the Gospel tells of a conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus, about what is proper on the Sabbath. He is "deeply grieved" by their insistence that not even a work of healing should be allowed on the day of the Lord. It invites us to think about the rights and wrongs of conflict in our lives and in our world. The more militaristic a nation is, the more do its citizens need to form a mature view on the nature of war and the limits to be placed on weapons of destruction.
David is absolutely convinced about the outcome of the proposed single-handed conflict: "The Lord will keep me safe from the Philistine's hands!" The question of whether or when warfare is legitimate is a thorny one, to which we cannot find a definitive answer in the Bible, since it offers such a variety of viewpoints on the matter. What it does say, unambiguously, is that we should live our lives responsibly, with justice and compassion. This can mean speaking out against evil and injustice, even at some cost to ourselves.
Jesus could have side-stepped the issue of how to keep the Sabbath, by healing the sick man in private, but he chose to confront the issue squarely and publicly, performing the cure in full view of all. In the debate about what is proper on the Sabbath, he puts his view very clearly: it is a day for life-giving activities above all. He stresses the contrast between "good" deeds that preserve life, and "evil" deeds, that destroy it. For God is Lord of life, not death; of peace, not violence; of justice, not oppression.
We need to remember our Lord's warning that "those who take the sword shall perish by the sword" (Mt 26:52) and his explicit ruling out of violence, even in self-defence (Mt 5:39). These ideals make it very hard for us to justify militaristic adventures for the expansion of one's kingdom or ideas, since our Christian calling is not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45) and give one's life in this service.
Jesus does good on the Sabbath; he does God's work on the Sabbath by healing the withered hand of a man in the synagogue. Yet, because of the good that Jesus did, some religious and political leaders immediately began to plot together to destroy Jesus. This is only the beginning of the third chapter of Mark's gospel, and, yet, it points ahead to the end of the gospel story. It was because Jesus was faithful to doing God's work that he was crucified. Jesus' life shows very clearly that the good that we do does not always bring a reward; sometimes it can bring the opposite of a reward. It is a strange paradox, but one that is often true to life, that good can sometimes generate evil. The goodness of some brings out evil in others. Yet Jesus was faithful to the good work that God gave him to do, regardless of how negatively it was received by some. Jesus teaches us that goodness is its own reward. We try to be faithful to what God wants of us, because it is what God wants of us and not because of any benefit it might bring us. We remain faithful to our calling to share in Jesus' work of bringing healing and life to others, even though it may, at times, bring us suffering.