Holy Week 2024: Jesus and David Part 2 – The Anointing of David


Holy Week 2024: Jesus and David Part 2 – The Anointing of David

Published: 2nd April, 2024

Monday in Holy Week
1 Samuel 16.1-13

In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

What is the purpose of anointing?  It has more than one function in the bible and in Christian faith.  Sometimes the significance of anointing can be related to a sense of healing or forgiveness, as in the anointing of the sick.  And sometimes the significance of anointing can be related to a sense of setting apart, of dedicating, of commissioning a person for a particular role or task.  And of course these two things are themselves related: a part of accepting a particular Christian vocation will be accepting the need for healing and forgiveness; and contrariwise, a part of accepting healing and forgiveness is a desire for the restoration of a state of holiness and being set apart by God.

The concept of anointing may seem obscure in this secular-minded age, and yet a little reflection will remind us that there is still quite a lot of it about.

We might remember the still quite recent coronation ceremony; a part of the coronation of an English monarch is the anointing with oil, something that was taken very seriously both by King Charles and also by the late Queen.  It provides a strong sense of continuity with the biblical tradition in general and with the Davidic monarchy in particular.

Anointing is also often a part of the baptism liturgy, and sometimes of the confirmation liturgy too.  In the baptismal rite, anointing is received both to signify healing and the forgiveness of sins, and also to signify that sense of being blessed and set apart: in baptism we become a part of the royal priesthood that is the people of God.

The story of David’s anointing is one that emphasizes David’s humility.  “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep”.  David is presented as someone who is not made much of, and also who doesn’t seek to make much of himself, someone who is simply getting on with the job of a shepherd.  The shepherding will turn out to be very important, as the skills that he has learned as a shepherd help him to defeat Goliath.  Later he will become the Shepherd King, providing the central image for kingship that will later be taken up by Jesus.  As well as his humility, this story of David’s anointing emphasizes also the related point that God’s judgement is different from human judgement.  In a traditional hierarchical and patriarchal society, the youngest son is the least important; but God’s judgement is different, and as so often in the bible God turns the preferred order of human society upside-down, and puts the youngest before the eldest.

And so David is anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel, and the spirit of the Lord comes mightily upon him.

This last verse – “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him” – might remind us of a story about Jesus, one found, more-or-less, in all four of the gospels, namely the baptism of Christ.  It is a story that is slightly awkward: why does Jesus need to be baptized?  Why does Jesus need the anointing of the Holy Spirit?  If Jesus is the Word made flesh, if Jesus is fully divine as well as fully human, if Jesus is without sin, then what can baptism add?  What can the Holy Spirit give Him that He does not already have?

Here we need to understand the deep humility of Christ, manifested in the full humanity of Christ.  By Christ and in Christ and through Christ, humanity is to be redeemed.  Yes, humanity is already sanctified in Jesus through the union of the human and divine natures.  The gap between God and humanity is decisively closed in the Incarnation.  But sin and death must be confronted in a more direct and definite and decisive way, and Jesus’ baptism is perhaps the first step along the path that leads to the Cross.  In accepting the baptism of John, the baptism of repentance, the One who knows no sin puts Himself in the place of sinners.  Like David before Him, He is humble, He accepts the lowest place.  In receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit, He is like David set aside as prophet, priest and king.  In receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit, He reveals the possibility of a redeemed humanity that is already foreshadowed in David.

The word Christ, or rather Christos, is simply the Greek word for the anointed one, and is a translation of the Hebrew term Messiah, which means the same thing.  Jesus Christ, Jesus the Anointed One: the anointing of the Holy Spirit is central to Jesus’ identity.  In Him, the whole fulness of Deity dwells bodily.  And yet, in the fulness of His humanity, and in the wonder of His humility, He accepts the anointing of the Holy Spirit just as David did before Him.  In this anointing He is set apart to be the Good Shepherd who will gather and guide the flock, the Good Shepherd who will lay down His life for the sheep.

The gospel set for Monday in Holy Week tells the story of another anointing, the anointing of Jesus by Mary at Bethany.  In John’s account it is Jesus’ feet that are anointed.  This is a deeply moving act that speaks of the tenderness and affection of the one doing the anointing.  It is an anointing that is in some respects outside of the usual pattern.  Jesus Himself connects the anointing with His coming death and burial.  It is generally heads that are anointed; Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.  There is clearly a pre-empting of Jesus’ washing the feet of His disciples.  The juxtaposition of the anointing of Jesus’ feet with the piercing of His feet is also particularly moving.  And perhaps here too we have a sense of anointing as a setting aside, anointing as a sign of a particular vocation; the anointing of the feet rather than the head is indicative both of humility and of the nature of the coming hour that will turn the world upside-down.

In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.