In the Lections for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, Jesus’ lesson about the mustard seed suggests that big things come from small beginnings. The story of David’s anointing hints at how easy those things might be to miss if we simply go for the obvious.
I am with Dawn in tending to choose the Hebrew scriptures for summer preaching after Pentecost. This is not just because the stories are good, indeed the lectionary skips a few. But if the seasons from Advent through Pentecost roughly outline the life of Jesus, it seems that “ordinary time” may be thought of as a season that is about the church. And all the readings about problems in leadership, the temptations of power, and the failures and abuses of authority speak volumes to the history of the church since Pentecost.
The story of the anointing of David is a gift for preachers of narrative and we get a tiny glimpse into the psyche of Samuel; that great king maker who stands as the transitional figure between the times of the Judges and the times of the Kings of Israel. If we remember that Mary’s Magnificat is a reiteration of Hannah’s praise we get the idea the Samuel like Jesus was expected to upset the world order.
The suspense in this story is not just that Samuel is risking his life and that of anyone put forward as a replacement for Saul. The suspense lingers through typical Hebrew repetition because not even the prophet knows the mind of God ahead of time. Why didn’t the LORD simply tell Samuel that the choice was going to be David? Instead the LORD leads Samuel through the process of elimination. The point of that process thus seems to be not just discerning the choice of God as quickly and efficiently as possible, but rather deliberately realizing which options the LORD is not planning to bless.
This is a bit more than presuming the LORD will bless whatever project or ministry we can imagine accomplishing. Have you ever had what seemed like a logical or even great idea but the Lord didn’t seem to give you permission to pursue it?
Perhaps typical of divine guidance in our lives, what we reject in faith, still not knowing what the better choice might be, is perhaps just as significant (for our own formation and the revelation of God’s purposes) as what we ultimately decide and act upon.
Culmination of the suspense in the story is prolonged and we slowly realize that the one to be chosen by God was so unlikely in human terms that he was not even invited to the party. Once again the refrain that has been echoing from the book of Genesis is heard. The younger is chosen over the elder. The least likely is favoured over the favourite, and in this case that principle is made explicit:
“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” God knows the tendency of we mortals to choose by virtue of appearance, and our culture is more image conscious than ever. It could be argued that Canadians no longer (if we ever did) elect leaders on the basis of their principles, platform, wisdom or character but rather on the basis of their media-produced image.
The theme of God making unlikely choices recurs. We had been told to expect it in the Servant of God: “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2). So we shouldn’t have been surprised last week when we heard that Jesus’ family and friends, those closest to him, were worried about his mental health and tried to restrain him. The pundits and academics of his day labelled him diabolically inspired. It wasn’t just in his crucifixion that Jesus was “despised and rejected”.
The point that we can probably preach is that God tends to reject those that we think most suitable and conversely tends to choose and use those that we would reject. Who are those today that we tend to reject as being used by God? Are we rejecting the very ones God has chosen to lead us?
Paul does more than hint that God’s unlikely choices show up in our church membership. “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” (1 Cor 1:26) The church has been so influenced by models from business and politics and sports that we tend to strategize for mission by thinking about how the Lord could use our greatest and most obvious strengths, whereas this recurring theme suggests the LORD is apt to be more intent on choosing and using the least likely candidates.
Are we prepared, as Samuel was, to hear the instruction of the LORD to make choices not readily apparent and be bold enough to anoint a reject?