“Living As A Dual Citizen”
By Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
4th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 6B)
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
Today’s Old Testament lesson shows us one of the strangest political moments in Israel’s history. The prophet Samuel anoints the young David while Saul is still king. Normally, a new king is not anointed until the previous one dies or is incapacitated. In this instance, Saul is still alive and kicking, but because Saul had sinned and led the people astray, God decides that his dynasty should end before it begins. So in defiance of the Israelite government, but in obedience to God, Samuel anoints David as king, while Saul is still the king.
A little bit of background is in order. When the people of Israel asked for a king (see last week’s OT lesson from 1 Samuel), Samuel was taken aback. God was not surprised but neither was God pleased with people’s request. The Lord commands Samuel to give them a stern and thorough warning about all the evils their king will commit and how difficult it will be for the average citizen to live under the rule of an absolute monarch. Eventually, the people persisted and Samuel anointed Saul to be king.
During his reign, King Saul communicated directly with God on multiple occasions. More than once, he was given a direct command from God through the prophet Samuel, and he disobeyed. These often had to do with military and religious rituals that he modified. Saul was given several chances to repent and change his ways, but he never did. So finally, God rejects Saul’s kingship and moves to establish the reign of David.
Since David is Jesus’ ancestor, it’s easy to connect David loosely with the coming of the True Messiah. David is a symbol (or type) for Jesus and the Kingdom/Reign of God. Saul is a symbol (or type) for all earthly governing authorities that stand in opposition to God -- which to one degree or another is all human governments.
It’s helpful to tease out this analogy between David and Saul and Jesus and Caesar (the ruler of his day). Jesus was anointed the Messiah in his baptism while Caesar was still the earthly ruler. Christians declared that “Jesus is Lord” in defiance of the Roman standard “Caesar is Lord.” They refused to offer incense and make sacrifices to the gods of the emperors. They would not participate in normal civic life when it involved worshipping and exalting the emperor. The best they would offer the earthly king was “honor” (1 Peter 2:17). Only the Lord Jesus was worthy of blessing, glory, and worship. This made Christians very strange and unpopular in the Roman Empire. They did not go with the flow of society, and they resisted norms that others took for granted. For this they were often persecuted and killed (much like Jesus).
Saul and David provide one of many examples of God not supporting earthly governments unconditionally. Political leaders can stand in opposition to God’s justice and righteousness. God is love and wants human society to reflect love for neighbor. When our institutions fail to meet that high standard, God will send prophets to speak truth to power.
This highlights an important principle for all Christians: Christians are always dual citizens. The Kingdom of God is distinct from any earthly nation. With respect to human politics, we belong to whatever nation-state has issued us a passport. With respect to God’s politics, we belong to the Kingdom and Reign of God by and through our baptism.
This is often dangerously misunderstood. Christians have often conflated their two citizenships. We often believe that because our leaders are nominally Christian, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of our Nation-State are on the same side. That’s the recipe for nationalism that coopts religion in order to amass wealth and power for some at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable. It is a frightening mixture that has frequently afflicted the Church in her history.
I’ll draw one example from current events. For a long time, US policies toward undocumented immigrants have been very harsh, often entailing long detentions without trial and deportations that separate families. This has been true from Republican and Democratic administrations. But this year, the Trump Administration has enacted an even more severe policy that is finally getting the general public’s attention. The Department of Justice has begun to separate children from their parents as soon as they are detained for entering the United States without prior authorization. I don’t want to get too partisan in a sermon, but I think it’s important to name names when it comes to this policy issue because government officials have claimed that the Bible is on their side. In a speech on Thursday in Indiana, Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the Bible to justify the Administration’s despicable policy.
He said, “Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful” (quoted in Kilgore; watch the full speech here).
Essentially, Mr. Sessions argued that the adults who bring children into this country without documentation are criminals in violation of the USA’s (draconian) immigration laws. Children are treated differently by the law. So the parents are arrested and detained, while the orphaned children are redirected to foster care (and sometimes lost entirely). Because this adheres strictly to the law of the land, Mr. Sessions claims, the administration is doing nothing wrong. God endorses it, he says, because it is law. A former lawmaker should know better.
But more importantly, Mr. Sessions is appealing to the American public as a Christian. And as a Christian, this interpretation is deeply flawed. He misses our key interpretive principle for the day: Christians are always dual citizens. We don’t only belong to the United States of America. And the USA does not always speak for God.
Yes, St. Paul tells the Romans in chapter 13, verse 1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” But just a few verses later Paul also says, 8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. ... 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:8, 10).
The purpose of government is to uphold good, but human governments can and do commit acts of evil. As the saying goes, Absolute power corrupts absolutely. If a civic law asks us to hate or harm our neighbor, it isn’t endorsed by God. And God’s laws supercede civic laws.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached about this very topic in 1956. In this sermon, titled, “Paul’s Letter to American Christians,” Dr. King speaks in the voice of St. Paul the Apostle:
“But American Christians, I must say to you as I said to the Roman Christians years ago, ‘ Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ Or, as I said to the Philippian Christians, ‘Ye are a colony of heaven.’ This means that although you live in the colony of time, your ultimate allegiance is to the empire of eternity. You have a dual citizenry. You live both in time and eternity; both in heaven and earth. Therefore, your ultimate allegiance is not to the government, not to the state, not to nation, not to any man-made institution. The Christian owes his [or her] ultimate allegiance to God, and if any earthly institution conflicts with God’s will, it is your Christian duty to take a stand against it” (King, pp. 27-28; or online in a pdf; emphasis mine).
We have plenty of actual examples of this form of resistance in biblical and church history. Christians have rightly stood in opposition to their governments when they have committed grievous evils.
Moses resisted the slavery of Pharaoh. The prophets spoke against the injustices of Israel’s and Judah’s kings. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego resisted the oppressive laws of Babylon’s kings. John the Baptist criticized Herod and was beheaded for it. Jesus spoke against the Temple authorities and they had him crucified under Pontius Pilate. Peter, John, Paul and all the apostles were arrested and imprisoned for preaching Jesus’ Gospel of life, love, and liberation, and many of them were killed for it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the “Confessing Church” movement spoke up against the Nazi Party in Germany. Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and countless others resisted the evils of American slavery. Rosa Parks, Dr. King, W. W. Law, and many more resisted segregation and oppression through nonviolent disobedience. Many of the leaders of Black Lives Matter and other contemporary social movements are motivated by their Christian faith to name and resist injustices in our country.
When Samuel anointed David, Saul was still the king. God had other plans than the visible earthly government. God’s politics are almost always distinct from our own. God wants a society built upon love, liberation, and life. When left to our own devices, people so often choose otherwise.
But when we remember that our citizenship lies in God’s Kingdom, not just in the nation-state in which we reside, the Holy Spirit can move powerfully among us. We are called to love righteousness and speak for justice, even when it isn’t popular, even when the government calls evil “good.” Amen.
Graham, Ruth. “Jeff Sessions Cherry-Picked a Bible Passage to Defend Trump’s Immigration Policy.” Slate. Published 15 June 2018. Acessed 16 June 2018. https://slate.com/human-interest/2018/06/jeff-sessions-chose-romans-13-to-defend-trumps-immigration-policy-and-heres-why-hes-wrong.html.
Kilgore, Ed. “No, Jeff Sessions, Separating Kids From Their Parents Isn’t ‘Biblical.’” New York Magazine. Published 14 June 2018. Accessed 16 June 2018. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/06/no-jeff-sessions-separating-families-isnt-biblical.html.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by Clayborne Carson and Peter Holloran. New York: Warner Books, 1998.
Harriot, Michael. “A Brief History of People Using Romans 13 to Justify White Supremacy.” The Root. Published 15 June 2018. Accessed 16 June 2018. https://www.theroot.com/a-brief-history-of-people-using-romans-13-to-justify-wh-1826875704
Long, Colleen. “WATCH: Sessions cites Bible to defend separating immigrant families.” PBS News Hour. Published 14 June 2018. Accessed 17 June 2018. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/watch-live-attorney-general-jeff-sessions-talks-about-immigration.
Miller, Emily McFarlan, and Yonat Shimron. “Why is Jeff Sessions quoting Romans 13 and why is the bible verse so often invoked?” USA Today. Published 16 June 2018. Accessed 16 June 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/06/16/jeff-sessions-bible-romans-13-trump-immigration-policy/707749002/
Zauzmer, Julie, and Keith McMillan. “Sessions cites Bible passage used to defend slavery in defense of separating immigrant families.” The Washington Post. Published 15 June 2018. Accessed 16 June 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/06/14/jeff-sessions-points-to-the-bible-in-defense-of-separating-immigrant-families/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.2a62c15ab505