Today in the first Book of Samuel, we read:
“Do not judge from appearance or lofty stature. Not as humans see does God see, because humans see the appearance while the Lord looks into the heart.”
Amen to that!
I am remembering a time when my cousin’s daughter was dating a tattoo artist and relatives in my generation began to worry about her reputation as piercing and tattoos began to appear on her body. Never mind that she was bright and attending college while living with her grandparents to help them as they aged. Never mind her wonderful personality and winning smile, because tattooed ladies did not belong in our family! Now when “body art” is everywhere, my young cousin is moving toward the ripe old age of 40 and is recognized by everyone as the brilliant star that she has always been, if only others had taken the time to truly know her.
How often we judge by appearances! Today’s lesson from chapter 16 of the first book of Samuel has a great example of the danger of that stance. As Samuel was introduced to seven sons of Jesse from whom Saul’s successor was to be chosen, God kept saying, “Nope, not him!” until there were none left before him. (It sounds a little bit like a comedy routine if we imagine Samuel getting more and more agitated every time God rejects one of those presented to him.) When Samuel says to Jesse, “Don’t you have anyone else???” (Can’t you hear the exasperation?) Jesse had to wake up to the fact that it might be David, the youngest, the sheep herder, the dreamer that God had chosen. And so it was.
It’s a great story and an important lesson for us – not to judge a person by clothing or speech or degree of education or position in the work-a-day world…because not as humans see does God see, because people judge the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart. (1 SM 16:7) I will remember that today as I go about my various appointments and look for clues to the hearts beating all around me.
One of my friends calls me Valerie. Urban legend has it that my mother wanted that to be my name but that she was convinced otherwise. It was probably the same dramatic flair in her that desired to call my sister “Heather Angel” which I’m told was the name of an actress back in the day. I smile now when that image of my mother bubbles up. She had her own delightful story of being named Mary Frances but always being called May. Her birthday was May first and the story goes that she was put in a May basket when she was born. I don’t really know what that means specifically (and never asked!) but I envision ribbons and flowers surrounding her sweet self as she greeted the world.
All this palaver about names derives from Samuel’s confusion about who was calling him out of sleep in the first reading from today’s lectionary. (1 SM 15:16-23) He thought it was his mentor, Eli, when it was really a deeper, inner call that he was hearing. Still a small boy, he didn’t yet understand the call of God in his life but was obedient to the directive of Eli who finally got the message of what was happening. So little Samuel began to respond when he heard his name – most likely before he had any idea of the meaning for his life – with the unconditional declarative statement: Here I am, Lord!
We are called by name in formal and informal ways during our lives. When in a situation of a roll-call vote, there is a sense of weightiness, of “putting your life on the line” for what you believe and are willing to stand up for. Additionally, when someone uses my name in a sentence (as in: “Can you see, Lois, the importance of this issue?”) I tend to wake up a bit more to what they’re asking. Thus, living into our names means living into truth and to deep listening for God’s word in our lives. Psalm 40 says it clearly to me today in the following translation.
For even in the scroll of Torah, the book you wrote, it is said that I should simply do your will. That is it, your whole desire, which has now become my soul’s delight. So from my heart I keep your ways, your law of life. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 99)
Jealousy is a very dangerous trait in a person. It seems to me a bit more serious than envy although it appears in the dictionary as envy’s synonym. I might be envious of someone’s good looks or good luck but, if I have a positive attitude about my own life, I don’t spend a lot of time comparing my lot with those of others. If jealousy takes hold of my life, however, it can lead to wishing harm to others – sometimes instigating events that will cause very bad things to happen.
In this morning’s lectionary reading from the first book of Samuel (1 SM 18:6-9, 19:1-7) we read about what seems like a childish attitude on the part of King Saul who is returning from a great victory over the Philistines. At his side was David, the hero that we know from his fame with his slingshot; he used it to slay the giant, Goliath. Everyone was singing and dancing as Saul and David approached. Unfortunately, the lyrics to their song (“Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands”) planted the seed of jealousy in Saul and as it grew he feared that David would take over the kingship of Israel.
It’s always good to have a friend who can see such a situation honestly and speak the truth to the parties. In this case it was fortuitous because Jonathan was both Saul’s son and David’s friend. Well-placed to see the situation as it truly was, Jonathan convinced Saul (for the moment at least) that David had been a faithful servant, desiring nothing but the good of the nation and, in fact, had helped Saul very much by his deeds.
Two adages come to mind as I think about applications of this story for us. The French are known to say: Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose (The more things change, the more they stay the same) and in English we hear that it was ever thus. In our culture of today, there is so much pressure to get ahead, to be the best (which means the most successful or the richest), to climb to the top of the corporate ladder – as well as to be the best-dressed, most glamorous, the richest. We do well to cultivate the qualities of honesty, gratitude and the willingness to be satisfied with what we have and who we are. Oh yes, and don’t forget to thank God for good friends!
The Scriptural texts for this morning tell good stories. I especially always like hearing how David became king. What a surprise for his family! When Samuel came to speak to Jesse and asked to meet his sons, (1 Sm 16) nobody even gave a thought to David, the youngest, who was probably happy living in obscurity, spending his days with the sheep of his father’s fields. And this time when Jesus cured a blind person it wasn’t because the man was crying out asking Jesus for healing, as in the similar gospel stories, but rather just because of a question from the disciples about why the man was blind in the first place. (Jn 9). What got me thinking, however, was the reading in the middle (Eph 5:8-14) that begins with a startling teaser if we don’t read it quickly. At least in my translation we might think it reads: Brothers and sisters, you were once IN darkness but now you are IN light in the Lord…but there are no prepositions preceding the words darkness and light! What Paul seems to be saying is that our identity was darkness and living in God changes our very existence into light.
Think about David. What was it that made Samuel know David was the one? He must have seen something in Jesse’s youngest son that did not exist in any of David’s brothers. Maybe he was able to become light because of spending so much time in the natural world, watching things grow and observing the behavior of the animals – probably without much human interaction. Somehow, light had found a home in him, perhaps because of this simpler existence. After Jesus cured the blind man, his life got much more complicated. Maybe Jesus (and whoever asked the question about sin) saw something of light in him already that made him noticeable and that got strengthened enough for him to withstand all the repetitious questions about whose fault the blindness had been and what that said about who Jesus was.
If we think about it, we might conclude that in some ways it’s easier to be darkness. There’s less responsibility in the darkness where most of us sleep for the majority of the time. If we become light, people notice us. We shine so we have to be sure what we’re manifesting to the world is good, motivating others to justice and love and peace, for example.
It took a long time for David to find his way to manage the light that was in him, making good choices and not taking advantage of the love God clearly had for him. When he learned those lessons, however, how his brilliance shone for all to see! And the man born blind? My guess is that, after all the hubbub about his cure died down, he was blown away by all the color and beauty in the world that made him a very happy, shining presence.
Perhaps the moral of this story is that the possibility of “being light” is in all of us. The question we probably need to answer is how willing we are to stand in the light so others can see and benefit from our presence.
cries of freedom, distress, forgive, forgiveness, Jesus, King David, Nathan, Pharisee, Pope Francis, psalm 32, Samuel, shelter, sinfulness, sinner, The Sophia Center for Spirituality, your sins are forgiven
When we think of King David, it is natural to focus on his greatness, his love of God and his importance in the history of the Hebrew people, even though we know his failings. Today, however, we hear the prophet Nathan speaking for God, recounting all the favors God has done for David and then listing all of David’s egregious transgressions (2 SM 12: 7-13). Most stunning is the question: “Why have you rejected the Lord and done evil in his sight?” If David had been ignoring the seriousness of his sins or trying to rationalize his actions, that question must have shocked him into recognition of the depth of his sinfulness, because immediately he responded to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” His deep remorse is difficult to grasp from that simple sentence, but God knew his heart. Nathan answered for God saying, “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die.”
In the gospel, it is Jesus who points out the sinful behavior of Simon the Pharisee who has invited him to dinner (LK 7:36 – 8:3). When a woman known to be a sinner approached Jesus, weeping and anointing his feet with ointment, Simon judged not only her but also the legitimacy of Jesus as prophet because he should not be allowing the touch of such a woman. When Jesus points out Simon’s lack of hospitality to him and compares it to how generous the woman has been with her love, everyone at the table is surprised when he then says, “Your sins are forgiven.” Again we have a simple sentence that holds so much meaning! Her life was undoubtedly changed forever.
Pope Francis surprised the world some time ago by declaring that he is a sinner; he knows and admits that this is a fact of his life. In a way, it seems, the Pope’s declaration has opened a way for all of us to admit the same. God’s forgiveness of David was immediate because, in spite of his sin, David loved God intensely. Jesus saw that same love in the woman who bathed his feet with her tears and welcomed her because of that love. We suffer in our sins because we cannot accept the possibility of God’s forgiveness and the reality that God is just waiting to hear us say, “Please forgive me.”
Psalm 32 proclaims that if we acknowledge our sin it will be taken away. As a result, the psalmist sings to God: You are my shelter; from distress you will preserve me; with glad cries of freedom you will ring me round. And what could be better than that! So let us run to God’s heart and feel the words we long to hear: “My Beloved, your sins are forgiven!”
acceptance, acknowledgment, contrition, David and Bathsheba, evil, forgiveness, grace, guilt, just, personal sin, Pope Francis, psalm 51, recognition, relationship with God, repentance, Samuel, sinfulness, The Sophia Center for Spirituality, Year of Mercy
Yesterday I was having a conversation about sin – not sins but sin, as in “the sin of the world” or “social sin.” It’s much easier to look at it that way, not so difficult then to exclude myself from the topic rather than talking about my personal sin and guilt. Today, however, I could not avoid such a “close encounter” in the face of the story about David and Bathsheba. (2 SM 11:1-17) David’s actions of adultery and the subsequent plotting the death of Uriah when his attempts to hide Bathsheba’s pregnancy from her husband had failed sound like a modern movie plot! This from God’s chosen one, the king of Israel, the one whose reign was to last forever through his descendants!
Most of us know our own sinfulness and try to hide our shadow side from others for fear that we would be abandoned if anyone “really knew me.” David’s story gives us opportunity for a different way to proceed. It comes in a series of steps: recognition, acknowledgment, contrition, repentance, forgiveness and finally acceptance – all of which come in his relationship with God. His waking up to the seriousness of his sin came at the death of the child born of his liaison with Bathsheba but that recognition was so deeply felt not only by the loss but also because of his great love for God and the knowledge that he had severely damaged that covenant. Thus, his sorrow matched his guilt as he sang, “I have done such evil in your sight that you are just in your sentence…Let me hear the sounds of joy and gladness; the bones you have crushed shall rejoice. Turn away your face from my sins and blot out all my guilt!” (PS 51) It is because of the depth of relationship that David could come to trust God’s forgiveness. Still cognizant of the enormity of what he had done, David was then able to accept himself and let go of his guilt to live into God’s welcoming embrace. I am confident that we are called to the same willingness in the face of our sin.
Serendipitously as I was pondering all this, my eye fell on a quote that seems apt for both this reflection and this “Year of Mercy.” Pope Francis writes that the Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person. Having received the grace and ability to acknowledge our own sins, may we be moved to extend such mercy to our companions and, yes, to our broken world.
appearances, encounter, God looks into the heart, Jesse, judging others, King David, King Saul, lifelong companion, non-judgmental, occupation, relationship, Samuel, The Sophia Center for Spirituality
When I was young, early in the television “game show” era there was a program called “What’s my line?” where panelists who were blindfolded attempted to guess the occupation of the guest by asking questions that began by eliminating large categories of careers and then became more and more particularized until finally someone (usually) guessed the person’s work. The first reading for today (1 SM 16:1-13) brought this show to mind although it barely seems to have relevance except perhaps in the process of eliminating people for a job rather than the other way around.
God is looking for a replacement for King Saul and tells Samuel to go to the House of Jesse where he will find God’s anointed one. Jesse had seven sons whom he presented to Samuel who thought even as he saw Eliab, the first son to appear, that “surely the Lord’s anointed is here before Him.” But God said to Samuel, “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because he sees the appearance but God looks into the heart.” Samuel must’ve been getting nervous as one by one the seven were rejected by God. Thankfully, when he asked, “Are these all the sons you have?” the answer was yes and, as we know, the youngest, the sheepherder, became the great King David, God’s beloved, from whose line Jesus was born.
Just two days ago I spoke of clothing and how we often judge by appearance. Here it is again. The italicized sentence is good advice for us if we are trying to live a good and godly life. “Looking into the heart” can’t be done in a quick encounter, unless it leads to a deep and meaningful conversation. Usually it takes some time for a relationship to develop, for trust to become the basis for sharing. There are exceptions, times when God surprises us with unexpected people who appear on our path for the first time and who, from that first encounter (which includes that deep and meaningful first conversation), become life-long companions. Our job is to stay alert for the gifts of relationship, whether they seem to come instantaneously or grow incrementally. If we foreclose on possibility without exploration, we always lose.
So blessings on all of us whose desire is to be non-judgmental, who welcome people into our hearts and give them the opportunity to find God’s presence there.
Today’s readings reflect on the question and content of authority. In the Hebrew Scripture (1 SM 8:4-7, 10-22) the elders of Israel come to Samuel in his old age and insist that they need a king to rule – as is the case in other nations. Samuel points out what that might mean in terms of the authority a king would have over the people that would change life as they know it, but they continue to insist. God tells Samuel to give them what they want and learn by experience what it means. In the gospel (MK 2:1-12), when Jesus heals a paralytic by saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” the scribes grumble about where he gets the authority to talk that way. Jesus, knowing his own authority and that it comes from God, asks whether it is easier to tell the man his sins are forgiven (indicating, I think, a deeper healing) or to get up and walk. As with Samuel, Jesus then says to the man, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat and go home.” When he did, the people “were all astounded and glorified God.”
The question of how people view authority and where true power really lies led me from those readings to the psalm refrain (PS 89:16-19). In both traditional and modern language, the seat of power seems to rest in the balance between the light of love and justice. Here are three translations.
Blessed are the people who know the joyful shout; in the light of your countenance, O Lord, they walk. At your name they rejoice all the day, and through your justice they are exalted. For you are the splendor of their strength, and by your favor our horn is exalted. For to the Lord belongs our shield, and to the Holy One of Israel, our King.
Your guiding hands, your strengthening arms embrace us and draw us in and place us everywhere in right relationship to all: to truth and love and justice done, their one true source your face, your throne. And all who seek that face shall shout in festive praise. They walk and your abiding faithfulness lights up their way; their feet keep balance on the path of right towards you.
Blessed are those who know your Love, who walk in the Light of your countenance! Blessed are those who call upon your Name and extol truth and justice! For You are the glory of their strength; You give wise counsel. Our very lives belong to You, O Loving Companion Presence.
To all of this I would add for our world today that those are blessed who are able to look deeply – past any “politically correct” rhetoric – to discern the heart of where true authority lies in others but also in ourselves. And blessed are we when we act from that deeper place regardless of the favor or criticism that may arise as a result.
This morning I woke at 4:40am, much too early to begin the day. I snuggled back in but at 5:50 I opened my eyes a second time. I blamed this interruption of my sleep on the fact that in New York it was already nearly 7AM and settled back to wait until 6:30CST for my alarm. Five minutes later I heard the small sound alerting me that I had a text message on my phone and I knew I had a choice of how this day would proceed. With less than great gusto but with determination I got up from my bed saying to myself, “I greet this day with thanksgiving for all it will hold for me.”
God does have a sense of humor! As I began to read the Scriptures for the day, I recognized immediately the familiar story of the boy, Samuel, who sleeping in the temple near his teacher, Eli, wakes to the sound of his name being called. He goes to Eli and says, “Here I am; you called me.” Eli tells him to go back to bed because he hasn’t called him. When the scene is repeated twice more, Eli is finally awake enough to say to Samuel, “When you are called, say ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening'” because he knew that it was God calling Samuel. (SM 3:1-10)
Whether we hear the call of God in our sleep or during morning Scripture reading or in the circumstances of an ordinary day, Samuel’s willingness gives us a good example of how to respond. Psalm 40 adds an even more generous note to the message this morning as the psalmist sings, “To do your will, O my God, is my delight!” May you be blessed with a delightful day of wakefulness in God’s love.