For Nov. 18, 2012: Proper 28, Year B

The Reading            1 Samuel 1:4-20

When a Jewish man offered a sacrifice, he would receive part of the animal back to share with his family at a ceremonial meal with wine. Hannah, weeping, refuses her portion and then goes to pray; the fact that the priest Eli assumes her to be drunk speaks of both the depth of her grief and his limited competence. Her prayer results in the birth of Samuel, who grows up to prophesy Eli’s destruction and anoint David as king of Israel. The Response which follows is Hannah’s exultant and even revolutionary song of thanksgiving to the Lord.

The Response            1 Samuel 2:1-10

The Epistle            Hebrews 10:11-25

Today’s reading from Hebrews summarizes the claims about Jesus as the perfect high priest. Jewish priests stand to perform the sacrifices again and again; Jesus sits, because he sacrificed once for all. Since we are forgiven, we can enjoy a good conscience—and through the community that is the Church, we can hold up and spur on each other in love.

The Gospel            Mark 13:1-8

 

Further thoughts

The first and third of today’s readings show us, among other things, the fruits of insecurity.

In Hannah’s time there was no theology of personal resurrection. One lived on through one’s remembered deeds—and memorable women were not generally respectable women—or through one’s children. More practically, childlessness for a woman was disastrous. Everything a woman had with her husband would pass, on his death, to some other woman’s son, who might not feel it his duty to give the widow a pallet to sleep on and a crust to gnaw. Hannah’s presence embodied this uncomfortable truth to Penninah, and Penninah’s own insecurities (for a woman can’t give birth that many times without her body telling the tale) were surely rubbed raw each and every time Elkanah did anything even remotely special for the still-svelte Hannah.

As for Eli the priest, in accusing Hannah of drunkenness, might he have been projecting his sons’ vices that he should have controlled, or even feeling guilt about tepidity and stale formula in his own prayer life? In any case, he never did actually ask Hannah what was wrong.

Elkanah at least recognized that Hannah was wretched and why—but in groping for magic bullets to fix her or at least distract her, he failed dismally to foresee the corrosive effect that buying Hannah off would have on the rest of his household. Worse, Elkanah then made it all about him: Baby, you’ve got me! What do you need sons for, when I have plenty?

The disciples were the disciples we know so well: overawed hayseeds goggling at the magnificence of the Temple and almost pathologically desperate to be in the know for once: Ooo, when’s the disaster? Can we watch? The similarities between them and Penninah are eye-rollingly more than superficial.

Worst of all, all of these witchy, hypocritical, self-absorbed, flawed and flawing oafs are—me.

There is hope, however. To paraphrase the reading from Hebrews, it’s not that I can haul myself out of the swamp of myself by myself, because none of us can—but the sacrifice of Jesus is meant to free me to grasp the human hands reaching down by grace to help lift me up and reaching up by grace for me to help lift.

For thus indeed is the kingdom of God at hand.

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