Yet now you have rejected us, disgraced us;
you no longer go forth with our armies.
You Make us retreat from our foes;
our enemies plunder us at will.
Psalm 43 (LXX)
. . .
The Psalm reflects the story related in the first reading, from 1 Samuel. The Israelites had the Ark of the covenant brought into the camp, and the army gave a shout. When the Philistine army heard the noise, they were afraid. ‘Who will save us from this mighty God?’ they cried; but they took courage, engaged the Israelites in battle, and won a decisive victory. The Israelites lost a great number (30,000), including the two sons of Eli who had brought the Ark into the camp.
Some days are like that: where is that mighty God, anyway? The Israelites put their trust in God, and were terribly disappointed. It is the most frustrating theological question: where is God when the enemy is bearing down hard on us? We have trusted in the Lord, and answered his call faithfully. Why then does he not save us? Why does he not deliver our enemies into our hands, instead of letting us be trampled?
I don’t know. But the gospel reading stands diametrically opposed to the experience related in 1 Samuel and Psalm 43: Jesus heals the leper. For no particular reason. Mark just tells us that the leper said to Jesus, ‘If you want to, you can heal me’ (a loose rendering!).
Why doesn’t God always want to save us? I don’t think we can say. But we can say that Jesus did heal that leper (and a great many others), and we can say that eventually the Israelites defeated the Philistines (but not in a way anyone would have anticipated!!). And we can–therefore–hope.
So goes the next Psalm: ‘Hope in God, for again I shall praise him, my help and my God.’