Today we begin a cycle of readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, from First Samuel to Second Samuel and finally into First Kings in August. This way, the Sunday lectionary provides a semi-continuous narrative from an important time in Hebrew history: the rise of a king in Israel – first David, then Solomon. These were great – but flawed – men. Unlike much other ancient literature, the Bible does not wallpaper over the faults of hits heroes. They are presented to us “warts and all,” with all their virtues, vices, and contradictions. And somehow, God uses them to move forward the story of God’s people.
I’ve always liked the story of the prophet Samuel going to pick out a new king from among the sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite. Each of Jesse’s sons is brought out, like models on a runway. But starting from the eldest, the Lord rejects each one in turn – seven of them. “Are all your sons here?” asks Samuel. Jesse replies, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” So David is sent for, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As the youngest of four boys in my own family, I like the idea that good things can come in smaller packages, that it’s not always the eldest or the most important whom God chooses to use. David was a little shepherd boy (although we are told that he was ruddy and handsome and had beautiful eyes…that never hurts!). He would grow into the role of leader, sometimes excelling, sometimes faltering badly. And yet God is always with him… encouraging, strengthening…sometimes chiding, confronting…but always loving David: sometimes with gentle love that renews and inspires, sometimes with tough love that demands repentance.
In these stories, we see what God can do, starting with small, seemingly insignificant people, and leading to great acts of leadership, compassion, and justice. The little mustard seed scattered on the ground grows up to be a great shrub, such that the birds can nest in its branches.
When you feel small and powerless, God can do great things with you, too, if you are willing to say yes when God calls. JBM