Desperate measures

Friday, July 15, 2011 — Week of Proper 10, Year One

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 974)

Psalms 31 (morning) 35 (evening)

1 Samuel 21:1-15

Acts 13:13-25

Mark 3:7-19a

Bill, my best friend in seminary, enjoyed playing the organ. It was a form of relaxation and refreshment for him, and occasionally he would substitute in our seminary chapel worship when the regular organist was away.

One day while he was practicing he noticed a woman sitting in the chapel with her infant child. That wasn’t so unusual since the chapel was a place people would come for prayer or reflection. But she wasn’t part of the seminary community, and living in New York City you get used to some degree of vigilance on behalf of your environment.

Bill realized that he had left some music he needed in another place, so he left to get it, casting a discreet look toward the woman. He was gone only a few minutes, but when he returned the woman was standing at the high altar. She had her child lying on the altar in front of her. When Bill looked closer, he realized that she was changing the child’s diaper.

After a moment’s pause, he went to her, speaking in a gentle way, and said, “You probably don’t realize it, but there are some in this community that might be offended at what you are doing, changing your baby there, on the altar. It’s a very special place for us.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, looking furtively about. “I didn’t know.” And she quickly secured her child and left the chapel.

Bill went back to his practice. Then it gradually struck him. Here is a woman, obviously poor, vulnerable, maybe homeless, living in New York City with her infant child, escaping into a sheltered and safe place for just a bit of respite from her hard life. To her the altar was a safe and clean place for attending to the necessities of her child. How much better than many places she probably had to use for that purpose. And he had made her uncomfortable enough that she fled out into that harsh city, leaving a building erected in the name of a child who was born in a stable, a person who had no place to lay his head.

In our story today from 1 Samuel, David is in desperate circumstances. He’s trying to survive. He violates religious laws by eating the holy bread that has been placed upon the altar of the temple at Nob. Yesterday we read of Jesus referencing this event when his hungry disciples violated the Sabbath by plucking grain when they were hungry.

People in desperate circumstances sometimes do thing things that trouble our scruples. Between necessity and scruples, Jesus seems to side with necessity.

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