A little over 3,000 years ago – according to the First Reading for Proper 5 in Ordinary Time – the Prophet Samuel warned the Israelites about their desire for a king. He warned: “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots…some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers” (1 Samuel 8: 11-15).
The Israelites had chosen a king rather than God – to be like the other nations, not to be different.
Today we do not have a king like Saul. Perhaps we rejected monarchy and royalty precisely on the same principles of Samuel’s warning. But, think of the institution that has taken the place of the king. Do you see any differences?
Two things come to mind:
First, the war machine: Samuel warned the Israelites that they would bear a costly price on the king’s war machine both in terms of human life and their economy. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S spent $682 billion on defense which was “more than the combined military spending of China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy and Brazil”. The countries listed are in every respect, major players in world affairs and their combined expenditure was $652 billion.
Think also of the lives that have been lost in conflicts because of the war machinery and how the cycle of violence increases almost proportionately to the military spending. And of course the whole society is directly and indirectly involved in running the war machine – there is no difference between sons and daughters.
The second thing is the inequality in the economic system. Everyone contributes proportionately to the economic well-being of the state. Yet some – like the king’s courtiers – benefit disproportionately from it. We have a system where a few are becoming wealthier and wealthier while a large majority are becoming poorer and poorer.
Perhaps this is the greatest challenge of our time – especially for people of faith. It is not simply that prophetic voices should be heard from priests and pastors, rabbis and imams, but that congregations especially, be vocal in obedience to prophecy. And perhaps this is strong language, (which, of course, we are afraid to own), but, in the words of Albert Einstein, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”.
So, what are you going to do?