Saturday of Week 1 in Ordinary time – First Reading


Commentary on 1 Samuel 9:1-4,17-19;10:1

Today we hear about the choice of Saul as Israel's first king. Here, in contrast to yesterday, the attitude towards monarchy is much more positive. It represents the royalist view. Today’s narrative has, in fact, nothing to do with yesterday’s where we saw a negative view of monarchy. Saul, the king-to-be, is the central figure. Samuel is presented as a prophet whom Saul meets apparently by chance.

Here, the monarchy is seen as something willed by God and Saul is clearly God’s choice as the first king.
We are introduced to Saul as the son of Kish and belonging to the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest of the tribes and named after Jacob's youngest son. His name means “asked for [from God]”. He is presented as having qualities suitable to his future role: young, handsome and a commanding figure, well above average in height.

The hand of God is now seen as events unfold. The donkeys of Saul’s father, Kish, had wandered off somewhere and Saul was sent by his father to bring them back. It is perhaps symbolic that Saul is presented as a handler of donkeys, which tended to stray far from home. He is, after all, going to be the king of a rebellious people. On the other hand, David will be introduced as a shepherd, taking care of his father’s flock and will later, as king, be pictured as the shepherd of the Lord’s flock. As such, too, he will be a prototype of Jesus.

Saul’s search brought him a long distance and finally, not having found the donkeys, he suggested to his servants that they turn back. But one servant says there is a “seer of God” in the city and that perhaps he can help them find the lost animals. “Good idea!” says Saul and, with the help of some girls drawing water at a well, they are pointed in the right direction. (These details are omitted from our reading.)

The apparently accidental encounter between Saul and Samuel is clearly presented (in the full text) as something clearly planned by God. When they first meet, Saul does not recognise the prophet. Samuel, for his part, has already been told by God that this Benjaminite has been specially chosen to lead God's people and save them from the hands of the Philistines.

On the morning of the following day, at a designated rendezvous, they meet and go to a place outside the city. Then, having dismissed Saul’s servants, Samuel pours oil on Saul’s head and kisses him. At the same time he gives Saul his mandate: “The Lord anoints you commander over his heritage. You are to govern the Lord’s people Israel, and to save them from the grasp of their enemies roundabout.” The Lord’s “heritage” includes both the people and the land.
After departing from Samuel, Saul will receive three signs (in the passage immediately following the end of today’s reading) to authenticate the prophet’s words and to assure him that the Lord has indeed chosen him to be king.
In our lives, too, we can see apparently chance events leading us into certain, sometimes very unexpected, situations. While we should not see God as simply manipulating events in an arbitrary way, we can say that in every experience we have, in every person we meet, God is communicating something to us. Let us recall some of those events today and how we responded (or did not respond) to them.

It is for us to discern what God is saying and where he wants us to go and what choices he wants us to make arising out of every experience. It calls for a pro-active and not simply a re-active response.

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