Lenten blog | April 2, 2020
Seeing like God sees
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Thursday, April 2nd: 1 Samuel 16:11-13; Psalm 31:9-16; and Philippians 1:1-11. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
I love the story of David’s anointing that is shared today. The call and ascension of David is a confused story because it is the combination of multiple stories. The first account told is that David was brought into King Saul’s service to play the lyre when Saul was tormented by “an evil spirit from the Lord.” (1 Samuel 16:14) He was chosen because he was “skillful in playing, a man of valor, a warrior …” (16:18) In the next chapter, however, we hear the familiar story of David and Goliath, and David is anything but a warrior. He is an untested and unknown youth. “‘Whose son is this young man?’” asks Saul incongruently.
The accuracy of the accounts is not the main point of these stories. Their purpose is.
The “facts” are in service of the “truths.” For example, I’m waiting for Amazon to deliver my copy of Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. I read this novel back in high school. (I thank Professor Thomas Roberts of my alma mater, Smith College, for his help in tracking down this title.) One of the main characters, Bazarov, believes in nothing. Life is absolutely meaningless. And he confronts every other character in the novel with his insistence on this point.
Then, at the end of the novel he dies from a small wound and an even smaller infection. He challenged everything including the grand and respected, but his death was at the hands of the smallest bit of reality. I thought this would be a good read during the COVID-19 pandemic’s shelter in place. I’m hoping to find “truths” even though the story’s “facts” are clearly fictional.
Likewise, the “truths” of David’s call to greatness, however told, are that they are unexpected, but guided by God. In today’s passage, Samuel is sent to the home of Jesse to anoint God’s chosen successor to Saul. Jesse marches out all of his sons. Samuel had been impressed by the “stature” of the eldest son, Eliab and was ready to anoint. God scolds His prophet and tells him not to judge by “outward appearance.” Rather, “the Lord looks on the heart.” The rest of the sons also fail to excite God.
Samuel is bewildered and asks Jesse if there are any other sons. This is when the youngest, David, is brought in from tending the sheep. His “stature” is lacking, but as soon as David walks in the room, Yahweh commands His prophet, “‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one!’” The message that God does not see as we see but that God looks inward, is a revelation filled with hope. It is a “truth” far more important than the “facts.”
I worry about the social and economic divide in the world and in our country. I’m afraid this pandemic and the worldwide recession it has given birth to will only exacerbate the separation. When it hits the poorest nations, how will those people practice social distancing? Our economy struggles forward on the labour of its lower paid workers who must continue to face exposure. The ones living paycheck to paycheck will likely fall deeper into debt and yet I hear stories of corporations like Boeing being cradled (https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/03/no-we-shouldnt-bail-out-boeing/). In a world that also threatens doctors with termination if they complain publicly about the failure of their institutions, I see where power accumulates. But there’s always the hope that comes from the “truth” that God does not see the way the world does.
God is not impressed by “stature” however that is judged. God looks inward. Our value is not based on our valuables. God cherishes each and every one us so much that even God’s Son dies on the cross for us all. God chastises His prophet to see like God sees. May we do the same so that our world may become fairer and more compassionate, that all God’s creation may be valued.
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