Archive for the '1 Samuel' Category

For Jan. 18, 2015: 2 Epiphany, Year B

The Reading                                                      1 Samuel 3:1-10

Priests in Israel were priests’ sons, except for Samuel. The son of a woman who had been barren for decades, he was dedicated to the service of God. In the verses after this reading, the Lord tells Samuel of the disaster in store for Eli and his proud, devious sons. Samuel himself goes on to be a mighty prophet and anointer of kings.

The Response                                                    Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

Eli’s sons chose to sin and flout the Law because they assumed the Lord would not notice. Psalm 139 states a different case very clearly: the Lord knows where we go, what we say, even what we think, from before our birth—and, even when we sin, we are still marvelously made and wondrous works of the Lord.

The Epistle                                                          1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Though Samuel was not a priest’s son, his grateful mother consecrated him to God. The life and death of Jesus free us from the Law—but, as 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 points out, each of us is consecrated to God as God’s temple, and so we are not free to do just whatever we want to.

The Gospel                                                           John 1:43-51

In John’s gospel, once Jesus is baptized he seeks followers. Nathanael, initially skeptical, seems won over by Jesus’ use of scripture: “no deceit” favorably compares Nathanael to the trickster Jacob (Genesis 27), later renamed Israel, and the predicted vision of angels echoes Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Genesis 28:12).

 

Further thoughts

As the lections for the second Sunday after the Epiphany make clear, we are known and sought out by the Lord—but we all have choices to make, and even making the right ones cannot protect us from grief.

In the Old Testament, the boy Samuel hears the call of God and becomes a true prophet who anoints kings. But he grows up sundered from his own mother, his counsel to Israel is spurned, and he mourns the failure of the first king he anoints. In the gospel of John, Nathanael is blessed to be first to proclaim Jesus the Son of God, but later he is a horrified and secretive witness as the Son of God dies on the cross. In 1 Corinthians, Paul argues that Christians freed from sin are not Christians free to sin, for we are the Spirit’s temple; yet he frames his point in terms of men’s sexual purity and the baseness of the very body that the Lord so wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13), and the Body of Christ has dealt ambivalently with the human body ever since.

As I write, the bishop suffragan (successor to the current bishop) of the Episcopal Church in the diocese of Maryland has been charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol, among other offenses. Because of choices she made on December 27, a man is dead and Facebook is aflame with allegations that Christians in general and Episcopalians in particular are hypocrites who mean to sweep the bishop’s misdeeds under the rug by wielding the magic broom of Jesus’ forgiveness.

The allegation that sticks here is that Christians are hypocrites. We are, for we are humans—humans who can make very bad choices, humans who sort each other into Them and Us and shame Them for the evil we fear in ourselves, humans who can then feel so terrified of that shame that we dare not reach for the hand of help. I write this not to accuse but as another such hypocrite.

Heather Cook’s choices remain her choices, mortal consequences and all: the grace of the Cross will not restore Tom Palermo in this life to his widow and orphans, and neither should it exempt Heather Cook from time in jail. I believe both propositions as surely as I believe that it is not at God’s bidding that anyone drives drunk.

That bad choices can be made to seem less attractive, and that even bad choices can be redeemed, is another matter—and the path to redemption, shadows and all, is best lit by the love that knows all frailties and loves not the less. What if it is each Christian’s proper task to follow Christ in being a stairway by which heaven opens and the love of God pours into this world?

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For March 30, 2014: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A

The Reading            1 Samuel 16:1-13

When the first king, of Israel, Saul, stopped being the Lord’s man, the Lord rejected him in favor of a new king. The reading from the first book of Samuel dwells on God’s criteria: what matters is not how someone looks or seems to fulfill the script, but what is in that person’s heart.

The Response            Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is the familiar and heartening hymn to the goodness of the Lord, our leader. The shepherd’s rod helped him defend sheep from wolves and lions; the staff or shepherd’s crook served to guide the sheep. As with young David in the first reading, anointing is a sign of the Lord’s chosen one.

The Epistle            Ephesians 5:8-14

Whether or not the book of Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul or to the church he founded at Ephesus, the message certainly applies to the twenty-first-century as it did to the first: having been saved from the darkness of our hearts, we are to live as children of light.

The Gospel            John 9:1-41

The very long gospel for the fourth Sunday in Lent of Year A relates the story of a man born blind. Jewish orthodoxy of the day held that people suffer because they or their parents have sinned. Jesus tells the disciples otherwise, and he heals the man.

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.

For June 17, 2012: Proper 6, Year B

The Reading            1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Today’s reading follows a shock and contains a surprise. Samuel the prophet has had to tell King Saul that he is rejected as Israel’s king for disobeying God’s command to destroy the Amalekites totally. It then falls to Samuel to anoint the new king—and God declines to make what seems like the obvious choice.

The Response            Psalm 20

The Epistle            2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Those in the city of Corinth who expected religious leaders to be handsome and rich were disappointed in the apostle Paul, judging from today’s letter. Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church is like God’s explanation to Samuel:  look below the surface and into the heart, for things may not be as they seem in this world.

The Gospel            Mark 4:26-34

 

Further thoughts

Engraved into the passenger-side rearview mirror of every car sold in the United States is this notice:

WARNING: OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

Such a notice never appears on the inside rearview mirror. The reason is this: The inside mirror is made with flat glass: it need only show the view out the rear window and it is close to the driver, so its field of vision can be narrow. The outside mirror that bears the inscription uses glass that is convex or slightly curved outward: this gives the driver a wider field of vision even though it is farther from the driver, but at the cost of distorting the image so that objects in the mirror seem farther away from the driver than they really are.

We see the world using our own mental concave or convex mirrors of our experience. Like Samuel and the people of Corinth, we see external things such as another’s wealth, power, or physical beauty in the concave mirror that makes them loom very large indeed. In that mirror we also see our own preoccupations and needs and entitlements; sometimes we glory in our magnified virtues and sometimes we despair at our magnified faults. We glance in the convex mirror and glimpse another’s heartache, but it doesn’t look like so much; we assure ourselves that we have plenty of time left, till suddenly the end comes up on us like a semi out of nowhere…

That we use the mirrors so much isn’t stupid or wicked, of course: it’s merely human. I for one don’t have a God’s-eye view, much as I may sound like it—and that is a good thing, because it surely takes God’s eye and God’s heart together to keep track of all the hopes and fears and conflicting priorities of everything from the least little microbe up to the universe.

But the skilled driver knows when to switch attention briefly to either mirror in order to get a sense of what’s going on beside and behind the car, and when to stop relying on the mirrors and look directly. More to the point, the wise driver learns when it’s time to stop the car altogether, get out, and consider God’s mustard seed and the inexplicable grace through which it grows.

For Jan. 15, 2012: 2 Epiphany, Year B

The Reading    1 Samuel 3:1-20
The priesthood of Samuel, the anointer of great King David, is full of surprises. He was born to a mother who had been barren for decades, and his tribe was not the priestly tribe of Levi. Today’s reading relates the beginning of Samuel’s service—and, as is so often God’s way, the surprises build.

The Epistle    1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Samuel was consecrated to the service of God. Jesus’ life and death consecrate us as God’s children and frees us from judgment. In today’s epistle, written to the mixed Jewish and Gentile community at Corinth, Paul points out limits on our freedom.

Further thoughts
One of the difficult tasks of parenthood is to balance two realizations: on the one hand, one is responsible for one’s child; on the other hand, one does not own one’s child, even one’s very young child. We don’t meet Samuel’s mother Hannah in today’s reading, but in the height of her gratitude to God for giving her a son, she promises him to God for good, and then in love she sets about giving the boy the best start possible before she makes good on her promise. The priest Eli’s dealings with Samuel in this reading suggest that Eli has also achieved a balance of those realizations, but from the other end of parenthood and more painfully: his sons’ repeated bad decisions reflect adversely on Eli’s parenting, because Eli had opportunities to intervene but did not do so. One also senses that, before the prophesied doom falls, Eli’s hard-earned understanding will contribute to a better outcome for Samuel.
The letter to the Corinthians was primarily intended to deal with matters of doctrine and of community discipline: the church at Corinth, which was a Greco-Roman trading city, included both Jews and Gentiles, and to say that they disagreed vigorously on appropriate ritual practices such as circumcision and dietary restrictions is to understate the case. Today’s reading also continues the theme of our non-ownership. Just as we do not possess our children, we do not truly possess ourselves: we are God’s because God made us and we are God’s because God paid for us. We are freed from sin by virtue of Jesus’ death. This freedom, however, does not allow us to do whatever we will with our bodies, or for that matter with our talents, money, or time or even each other: in exchange for the extravagant gift of grace, it is incumbent upon us Christians to devote all the means at our disposal to do the work of God for the glory of God, and to look for the face and fingerprints of God in every person.
In short, we are to give ourselves back in gratitude for the grace of God that has given us back the true selves that God made. In so doing we will follow and honor Hannah’s hard but healing example.